Editor’s Note: Part of the mission of Burien, Wash.-based Highline Big Picture School is to use internships and interest-based projects to immerse students in work they are passionate about. That, the school believes, develops the skills, habits, and knowledge for students to ultimately succeed in higher education, overcome obstacles to their well-being, and contribute positively to their communities. Twice in the past three years, Highline’s building leadership team visited Eagle Rock to pick the brains of our Professional Development Center staff. And twice they have left our campus, armed with an even better vision of what it is that needs to be done — and how to get there.
By: Garth Reeves & Loren Demeroutis, co-principals of Highline Big Picture School
Highline Big Picture School is a part of the Big Picture Learning network — a consortium of more than 100 national and international schools that encourage student success by putting them in contact with the rigorous learning opportunities of real-world contexts, built around real-world issues.
Taking an ethos of “learning by doing,” these schools co-construct personalized educational plans, one student at a time, measuring success by the demonstration of competency and growth as assessed through portfolio and public exhibitions.
At Highline Big Picture, our staff serves up an equity agenda that unfolds along at least two paths. One, we seek to serve and support students who have not been well served — or served at all — by traditional schools. And in order to do that, we focus on the development of meta-cognitive skills and dispositions and model restorative practices focused on developing student well-being and efficacy.
Second, we seek to influence how people view and think about school design, pushing an agenda focused on the issues of student disengagement with, and disenfranchisement from, “school.” There is a deeper than ever disconnect for students and the adults who work with them who feel school as defined in a last century context doesn’t fit them, doesn’t know them, and won’t consider their expectations or goals.
We have been fortunate to be frequent collaborators in this work with the Eagle Rock School Professional Development Center, both as an individual school and a network since 2008. In 2010, we took our building leadership team to Eagle Rock, ostensibly to conduct an inquiry process into our assessment practices. Working with the PDC staff, and in particular Michael Soguero and Dan Condon, we came away with an expanded vision for school improvement and a process of adaptive change grounded in our core values and accountable to identified indicators of success.
For the next two years, we focused our professional development around this vision and its implementation. The effort paid off. In June we celebrated the Class of 2013 (cohort of 26 students) as they received more than $400,000 in scholarships and were accepted to colleges up and down the West Coast in record numbers. Great news!
Then this summer, we found ourselves tasked with evaluating and revising our school improvement plan. And we had questions. What did we say we would do? Did we do it? Did it work? How do we develop the next two-year vision of continuous improvement?
Our first thought was to immediately seek the support of Eagle Rock to frame, tune and inspire this project. Working with Dan and some of the dedicated educator cadre of the Eagle Rock School, we spent three days and nights in a process of reflection, brainstorming, prototyping and then tuning and iterating our work.
The educational landscape we currently work in is complex and fraught with polarities. Concepts of innovation, capacity building, accountability and rigor swirl around a heady mix of stakeholder agendas and assumptions. In this context it is more important than ever to be core value-focused, inquiry-driven and outcomes-based.
Dan provided us with his skillful guidance and support. He was particularly skilled in assisting at key moments in the project and inquiry-based design process, helping us frame our inquiry, check our values, maintain fidelity to our process and incorporate rich and action-focused feedback and tuning.
As a result, we start this year with a robust and clearly delineated vision of where we’ve been, what our successes are, where our growth lies and our plan to get there. Sure, the work will be as difficult and rewarding as ever. But the feeling of purpose and focused clarity in our vision is an invaluable advantage to our staff and students as we push forward collaboratively and coherently.