Monday, November 26, 2012


Today, we had a staff retreat. I don't talk much about work, because you can read all about my work here, and from that website you can find my bio and a lot of other things that would make my grandmother proud if she knew how to use the Internet. Or, for that matter, a computer.


Icebreakers. Pretty much the worst thing in the universe, right? Suddenly, you're expected to tell strangers two truths and a lie about yourself. Or XXX number of unique things about yourself.

I'm tempted to list lies and truths and unique things about myself. And let y'all choose which are which. But I'll spare us.

So. "Pair and Share." I'm paired with another member of our staff (duh.), and one of the questions from the script we're given is "An experience within a New Orleans school that really impacted you was..."


Before I lived in New Orleans, I worked for the National Center for Educational Achievement, researching high performing, high poverty high schools. (Those of you who read my bio or have spent any time with me already know this.) I traveled the country interviewing district and school staff about what they thought were their best practices, and I wrote case studies.

So when I moved to New Orleans in September 2008, I had an idea of what high schools could (or should) be like.

Within my first week, I was interviewing high school leadership teams to be a part of a program that wouldn't have a name for another three months. As such, I needed to recruit high schools, which meant visiting them.

Now, let's be clear. High poverty, high minority high schools are quite often in not-so-great neighborhoods. I had spent time in three time zones, lost in neighborhoods I didn't want to be lost in, where I didn't speak the language(s), where I did not feel particularly safe.

Never in the history of my life had I walked into a high school with a metal detector. That honor was awarded to Joseph S. Clark High School in September 2008.

Immediately, I felt unsafe. I felt like the front entrance indicated that the focus of this school was not on student learning.

Since September 2008, the school has been chartered. Probably close to 100%* of the school staff have been replaced. (*I am guessing at this. But if we had access to that kind of data, we'd know I was right.)

In August 2012, I once again visited Clark. I did not walk through metal detectors. I observed an Advanced Placement classroom. I fought back tears of gratitude for the opportunity to make this kind of difference in the lives of children.


My partner, who has done lots of work with opportunity youth, visited APEX Youth Center this summer. She said that the woman who runs it claims that it is different from other programs because they do not have entrance requirements.

"The only barrier is the front door."


So many times in my life
the only barrier has been a front door:

parties where I expected to not know anyone
offices I desperately wanted to employ me
restaurants I was scared I was not ____ enough for
planes that would take me to another country
classrooms led by professors who intimidated me

the unknown.

But the door is open
so you leap
and the next thing you know

your focus has changed.

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