CAT: A Thriving Hub of Student and Teacher Collaboration
February 25, 2011 05:55 pm
I have been involved in school reform for some time now. I know this because some one recently referred to me as “seasoned.” Ouch. During all that time, I have been lucky enough to participate in many school visits. My visit last week to the City Arts and Technology High School in San Francisco was hands down one of the most engaging and satisfying visits I have ever made.
City Arts (or CAT as it is known) is part of a small network of schools called Envision Schools. Envision is a charter management company based in Oakland that operates four college prep public charter schools. In total, these four high schools serve 1,300 students. CAT was opened in 2004 and it is a thriving hub of project –based learning, rigorous standards, student and teacher collaboration, and community engagement. The building is literally humming with activity. The student population is 60% students of color, 57% first generation college bound, 51% free or reduced lunch, and 6% English Language Learners. Situated atop a hill in a tidy San Francisco neighborhood, it fits just perfectly….exactly what a neighborhood high school should be like.
The school staffs planned a great visit for us and were generous with both their time and seemingly limitless energy. Envisions’ goal is to create a public high school experience that helps all students go to and succeed in college. Sixty-one percent of all Envision students are what they call “First Generation College Bound.” Envisions is proud to share that 95% of their 2008 graduates were admitted to college and have stayed in college –a really important distinction considering the data on completion rates. That goal is clearly apparent at CAT, and the staff is purposeful and focused on creating an expectation of college-going among all students. Principal Allison Rowland is a sprite of a thing, but clearly a tower of power. She talked about the school requirement that all students apply to at least 2 colleges, one public and one private. She wants her students to take advantage of the scholarship opportunities that exist in private colleges and not make the assumption that public colleges are the only option out there.
Envision Schools employ learning tactics based on the four R’s: Rigor, Relevance, Relationships, and Results. We saw examples of this all day long. The level of collaboration and mutuality among the students and the teachers was exhilarating. As a “seasoned” school visitor, I can tell in a New York minute when a school is putting on a show for me. This was not the case at CAT. The principal and the staff were really straight forward about the challenges of using a Deeper Learning Student Assessment System that includes project-based learning, student performance, and growing mastery in a world that assesses students through the narrowest of accountability measures. The Deeper Learning skills measured at Envision start with rigorous academic standards, but also include a breadth of leadership and cognitive skills that so many researchers have identified as crucial for success in the changing global economy.
I could talk all day about this school and Deeper Learning and the urgent need for next generation assessment systems that support college and career ready standards (like those recently adopted by 43 states and the District of Columbia). For now, check CAT and Envision Schools out for yourself: www. envisionschools.org.