Metro High School, in Columbus, Ohio, is a public high school emphasizing math, science, and technology in a small, personalized learning environment. Originally conceived through a grant from CES and supported with technical assistance from CES’s Small Schools Network, Metro is an unprecedented partnership of CES, Battelle Memorial Institute, The Ohio State University (OSU,) and the Educational Council, a central Ohio non-profit supporting education in 16 public school districts in Franklin County. Drawing on years of Coalition experience in Ohio, Marcy Raymond and Dan Hoffman led the design and planning for the school in accordance with CES principles and practices. After securing the initial planning and implementation grant from CES, Raymond and Hoffman forged partnerships with Columbus-based science and technology enterprise Battelle, OSU, and the Educational Council to create a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) school centered on CES instructional strategies that would draw students from across the 16 public school districts in Franklin County.
Both in the school’s strategic design phase and in ongoing efforts since the school opened in the fall of 2006, Raymond and Hoffman have sought to position Metro in a favorable light and engage policy makers and partners to create the conditions necessary for the school to be successful. Their efforts have resulted in the creation of a thriving small high school that has received considerable state and national attention, and the development of legislation to support the creation of additional STEM schools across the state of Ohio.
Marcy Raymond is the principal of Metro High School. She has provided leadership in the field of education and strategic school improvement for 19 years, most recently working as a senior program officer for KnowledgeWorks Foundation.
Dan Hoffman is currently the assistant superintendent of Reynoldsburg City Schools. He was formerly the principal of Reynoldsburg High School and also director of the Ohio Center for Essential School Reform, the CES Affiliate Center in Ohio.
Brett Bradshaw, senior director of strategic communications at CES, interviewed Raymond and Hoffman in September 2008.
Brett Bradshaw: When you thought about creating Metro, what was your vision for what a school should be, and how did that vision inform the ways you went about establishing the school?
Dan Hoffman: We created a three-point message during the early founding of Metro to be able to share our story in a concise way. In the middle of the message triangle was our desire to found an intellectually vibrant, highly personalized small school. That’s what we were after. Then our three talking points were, first, that we needed certain autonomies to do that. We wanted everybody to know that this school was not going be part of a larger system that would inhibit us. A second talking point was that we were going to attack the transition years. We planned to go hard after the senior year and hard after the ninth grade year to ensure that students emerge successfully from those years. The third talking point was that we planned to put Metro in a special location with special partners.
Marcy Raymond: We were seeking a partnership-based school. And as a partnership-based school, we were looking at how to create a regional draw that would assist the entire school community through the education of the youth, the training of the teachers, and the best practices that could be shared in the learning community. We wanted to look at ourselves as a part of a bigger community, and how we could create a school that is best able to help to facilitate partnerships throughout Franklin County.
Hoffman: We knew with the initial grant that we received from CES that we could start thinking about a school. However, because the planning grant wasn’t enough to actually start a school, we knew right away that we had to get some people in this game. We developed that three-point message and that tipped us off to a set of partners that were big players: The Ohio State University and Battelle. I think it’s clear that the work at Metro has captured the attention of the state. The governor’s wife has been here and, as Marcy said, both the House and Senate representatives have been here. Battelle’s been a huge influence. And the work has influenced House Bill 119 which provides some statewide STEM funding that’s being matched by the money that the Gates Foundation gave Battelle to get involved in this work. There’s a whole unit at the state Department of Education of about a dozen folks employed primarily to promote STEM initiatives in the state of Ohio. We think Metro had a lot to do with attracting that attention.
Bradshaw: You mentioned a couple of key elements of school design and instruction that you wanted to be fundamental elements of the school: autonomies, transition years, intellectual vibrancy, and personalization. What were the political considerations in your minds about how to represent those to partners? What were the political considerations that went into that thinking?
Raymond: Context is the first element to consider. What is the context in which you’re going to place this intellectually vibrant school? We have a significant number of charter schools in Ohio that have not always operated in concert with the local districts. And because of that, and the resulting tension between local districts and the slice of students they lose to charters, we said early on, “This has to be either a public school or a public school option.” That was one consideration that was very important to us at the beginning.
Hoffman: The politics of the charter school movement were clearly at work here. We actually proposed in the beginning to be a charter school sponsored by [the] Columbus [City Schools], in which we would have become their first charter school. I think they would do it differently now, but the politics at the time caused them to back away from that. Another consideration was the politics of public school competition. As Marcy said, we were able to sell the idea of Metro to the 16 superintendents in Franklin County because of the promise of sharing what we discovered. The mantra around here is “small school, big footprint.” That sold the local superintendents and helped disarm the politics of public school competition.
Bradshaw: What was your strategy for influencing Metro’s major policy players and community partners to embrace your vision, given that selling that vision required real work?
Raymond: It’s important to look at the content that would cause somebody to want to have a new school. In this era of accountability and student performance, we know that there were issues in math and science education. It became very clear very quickly that we needed to look at science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. But before we could try to sell that concept to somebody, we had to figure out what the school was going to become within this STEM niche that was emerging.
Hoffman: The STEM niche is what pushed the partners over the edge. They were talking to us prior; in particular, Battelle was in the mix because we were looking at the space at our public science museum downtown, and that’s really what got us in the conversation there. And then Battelle started talking STEM. We listened and said, “You know, we can do that. This can still be a small, highly personalized, intellectually vibrant school that leads with the STEM disciplines.” And so that’s what we did. The other thing you should know is that we took the elevator to the top floor in every organization. We did not spend a lot of time with people that couldn’t make decisions and that was key. We were with the CEO of Battelle. We had the attention of the president of the Ohio State University, who assigned us three deans to plan with us, and we actually brought them out to the CES Small Schools meeting in Tacoma, Washington in 2005. It was important to us for them to see that this is larger than just a few folks in Ohio wanting to do something like this. The trip to Tacoma was educational to the Ohio State deans in particular who just weren’t aware of the small schools movement in the country. We dealt with executives who could make decisions on the spot, and they were doing that with us. Within a matter of ten days we were getting answers on money and space issues.
Bradshaw: Tell me about the ways that educators at the school, students, family members, and others in the Metro community have engaged policymakers and politicians to sustain the school.
Raymond: At the state level, we’re the first recognized STEM school in the state of Ohio. The state was able to build on our plans and what we had accomplished in that first year to help to formulate the policy that allowed for the creation of five additional STEM schools. And because we had already been in practice, the actual policy didn’t turn out looking anything like what they thought that they were going to create on the policy level in the state of Ohio. Our students testified to the education committee. Both the House and Senate education subcommittees visited the school. We had a lot of influence on the way that the state of Ohio’s most recent education funding legislation developed, and how it has been passed and enacted. It’s House Bill 119, and there are five STEM schools on the docket that will open soon as a result. As a school, we would not have been part of that conversation had we not been out there already talking with people about how this is something that is necessary, and about how we’re using best practices. Research capacity exists here. Our partners are highly engaged. There need to be more opportunities for other small schools like this in the state of Ohio, and I think had we not already been out there politically active in that regard, we might have just been another nice school, and the legislation would have gone in a whole different direction.
Bradshaw: What has the school community done specifically to have an impact on how people perceive the school? How has the reputation of Metro been formed, and specifically, what have you done to influence that formulation?
Hoffman: Well, Metro is very highly regarded. People are talking about it. People are hitting the Web site. As an example of its influence, we just passed a bond issue in Reynoldsburg to build some new high school space. We brought the architectural team here to look at the way they’ve organized space. I think it’s now a beacon in the state for these other five projects, and can be a beacon nationally. And we always say, “You can’t replicate a school, but you can learn from its design ideas.” And so I don’t think there’s going be one just like it anywhere, but certainly in Reynoldsburg we intend to steal some of Metro’s best ideas, and I think a lot of school districts are looking to do the same.
Raymond: We recognized early on that when you are a demonstration school, you have to act like a demonstration school. The way we set the school up and the facility itself replicates what it is we’re trying to do; this is a wide open space with a lot of big glass windows so that people can see what’s going on every minute of every day. Because we’re open and transparent, we can then invite people in to see what it’s like, how it functions, how classes are different, how instruction is different, how relationships are different, and what it feels like to be in a different kind of environment. We’ve had 400 schools visit our school in two years. We are not afraid to share what our kids are doing, what a STEM school really is, and how we operate, which is very interesting to this community.
Hoffman: The other thing that we did that I didn’t necessarily agree with at the time, but in retrospect I think was a good move, was to have a public relations firm help us with a lot of our work in the early going, things like development of a logo and some of the messages, and our opening meeting. One of our sponsors pretty much insisted that we do this. And so we had an external group help us with our early PR and while I wouldn’t have spent my money that way, in retrospect, it really did put a professional sense on this, and I think that part of the good impression was the professionalism of communications and everything as we launched.
Bradshaw: Marcy, how have you been able to balance your role as an instructional leader at the school with the need to be a public relations specialist? Can you talk about the balance of focusing both internally and externally?
Raymond: It’s hard, and I don’t know that I do it exceptionally well. It’s very difficult to do. My primary purpose has to be the school, the growth and development of each of the children that are here, the growth and development of the teachers that are here, and the coordination of family understanding and access. So that has to be first, and sometimes that causes me not to be able to do some of the things that I probably would like to do or should do with people talking about the school and sharing information. I think we got by pretty good. We did recently hire another person to help to train for the internal capacity about communicating internally so that we have—because the demand and the number of things that are asked of us has increased probably 80 percent over the least year and a half, so that we can help Reynoldsburg better. Amy Kennedy is our new assistant principal, and I anticipate by October or November that I’ll be able to help other schools and people inside and outside of our community and the country more than I am currently able to do because of the constraints of being in a small school. As a small school leader of both the instruction and the facility, you have to know how to do it all. If the walls need painting, I have to paint the walls.
Bradshaw: Currently, what are your challenges and battles, and who are your allies? How are things going to protect and sustain what you’ve got?
Raymond: I think that the battles are relatively small. They tend to be things that we can anticipate and work on before they become huge brouhahas. We tend to try to get out in front of problems. We are an educational option according to the state law, and as an educational option, we are not part of any specific district; we are part of all of the districts. We’re employing teachers in five different districts, and the MOU [memorandum of understanding] about how teachers are hired to work here is different in each one of them, so those kinds of things jump out as potential barriers, or at least things that could trip you up if you weren’t very careful and mindful. We have great partners, so that makes it easier. They want the school to be successful, so that again helps. Good will carries you far, and we’ve been able to sustain good will here. We’ve tried to help, not hurt, anybody and tried to show mutual benefit every minute of every day with every partner. If they can’t see that something’s benefiting them, then it’s very difficult to want to stay in for the long haul.
Bradshaw: Why do you think it’s important for CES practitioners to think of themselves as politically active?
Raymond: One of the things that we ask of all of our CES colleagues is that we are generalists, and as a generalist if you are not able to see the context in which you are working, then it’s very difficult to actually get things done. And I think that as we try to promote using our minds well, that’s not just for getting the students to use their minds well; it’s also for all of us to use our minds well, and we cannot operate in a vacuum. We have to operate within the political context.
Hoffman: All schools everywhere are part of a system, and all systems have politics and if you don’t play, you don’t do very well in the system. It’s a matter of recognizing that schools in general are political. They are part of a larger system, and with that go politics. One of the things that was politically sensitive very early was our relationship with our largest school system, Columbus Public. And I think one of the things that we learned early is we have to try to gain some understanding of where they’ve been, where they stand, and how they see it. In the early planning and in some of the early approaches, we were pretty sure we had the right idea. But they weren’t so sure, and it took us a while to really begin to understand why they would be reluctant. We just couldn’t understand why a district would not jump all over this. The learning that I had out of this in the early planning was that as you approach people, try to understand and think from their perspective as well. That was really true with Battelle also. We had to wrap our heads around why does Battelle want to get involved with this, what do they want out of it, what’s the mutual benefit? We actually went through an exercise in the early plann ing to say, “What are you giving us and what are you getting from us?”
Bradshaw: There’s a metaphor that’s often used, particularly in CES,, about flying below the radar. Can you talk about what the pros and cons are, as you see them, for Metro either flying above or below the radar?
Raymond: I’m wondering if we’re not flying both at the same time. It just depends on what the radar is looking for. You know, is it looking for wind or is it looking for rain? I think every school actually does both. I don’t think that it’s healthy to try to purposefully slide below the radar. I don’t think that it’s healthy to try to stir up controversy. We’ve had very good success with our testing and the performance of the kids on the testing, but we didn’t go out and say, “We’re going to be the gurus of testing.” What we did was we helped the kids to use their minds well. We did not teach to the test, but we taught the things that the kids needed to know and be able to do on the test. We did it very non-traditionally and we did it the way that we thought was best for children and it worked, and the good thing is that the test scores went up and were really good. I think that if we would have jumped out and said, “We’re going to be this school and we’re going to do it without regard to any rules,” I think we would have been in trouble and we didn’t do that. The Carnegie Unit is another one that comes to mind. The state of Ohio requires students to have seat time in order to receive a credit and we don’t think that that’s necessarily the best way to go. We’re more a performance-based school. But if we didn’t pay attention to that rule and we went completely outside of it, then everybody who looks at us could say, “Yeah, but you don’t follow that rule.” So we followed it. We didn’t just jump out there and say, “We’re not going to do this and we’re not going do that.” What we did was what we thought was best within the context of what we’re allowed to do. And we are a little bit above the radar because we’re a demonstration school. We’re out there all the time and people are looking at us constantly, trying to poke holes sometimes, trying to find the benefits sometimes. But we’re not bringing up the things that would cause controversy before we know what we’re doing.
Bradshaw: I think there’s a point there about visibility. What do you think people can learn about making themselves visible and the relationship of that to being able to influence the process and have an impact on the environment in which they operate?
Hoffman: One of our advantages was that we were really transparent about what we were not going to negotiate, and I think that helped us. The notion of starting small and staying small, that was a fight in the early going when we had high demand to get here and people suggested, “Well, let’s just make it a little bit bigger.” The notion of open enrollment and enrollment by lottery where there would be equal access to all kids in the county was a fight because Ohio State had its eyes on the best and brightest young scientists in Franklin County and they wanted to bring them up here on campus. So I think being above the radar screen on the non-negotiables helped us retain the kind of school that we had dreamed of.
Bradshaw: Certainly there seems to be a relationship there with how successfully you’ve been able to influence people about how they see the school.
Raymond: We are a principle-based school. There are certain things that we are going to fight hard for and we’re going to make them work because we know them to be good practice. And there are things that we’ll change along the way, but we’re a highly principled school and I think that allows you to be very strategic. You choose what will work with your school and what won’t work with your school and you’re able to articulate why one thing would work versus another.
Bradshaw: Lastly, what do you think school leaders, teachers, students, and members of the parent community need to be able to do this influence work effectively? What do they need to be effective in influencing people that have a say over how the school operates?
Raymond: A dogged belief in what you’re doing. You cannot waver. You have to truly believe from the inside out that what you’re doing is going to be the best benefit for the people that you’re working with and you have to work on it every day, every minute, every hour.
Hoffman: I think it’s the vision, and I think Marcy’s right on the combination of vision and passion, that you see clearly where you want to go and you know how to get there and then you’re unrelenting in the pursuit. And so I think it’s a combination of both vision and passion. If you look at the history of CES starting with Ted [Sizer], there was a vision and there was a passion. And if you look at all the successful schools we have, you can generally identify somebody that had the vision and somebody that was very passionate. You could go around the country and identify folks that have done good work because of the combination of those two things.
Raymond: I think it takes courage. It takes courage to be able to stand up for what you’re doing that’s good and to take the hit sometimes when you do things that aren’t so good. You have to have the courage to be able to act on your beliefs.
Ohio House Bill 119
A description of Ohio House Bill 119 from the Ohio STEM Learning Network’s website: “Am. Sub. H.B. 119, Ohio’s ‘08-‘09 biennial budget, created the STEM Subcommittee of the Ohio Partnership for Continued Learning (STEM Subcommittee), and charged it with awarding grants for the establishment of up to five STEM Schools, serving grades 6-12, in regions that have assembled a strong base of K-12, higher education and business partners. The budget allocated $6 million over the biennium for this purpose.
“Separately, the STEM Subcommittee was also empowered to fund STEM Programs of Excellence throughout the state, serving grades K-8. Am. Sub. H.B. 119 calls for STEM Programs of Excellence to adhere to the same design principles as STEM Schools. The budget allocated $6,566,000 for the establishment of “STEM Programs of Excellence.” (See www.osln.org/about-osln/battelle-pcl-connection.php for more.)
The CES Small Schools Network
The CES Small Schools Network (SSN) is a learning community of more than 50 CES schools— experienced schools, new schools, and conversions—that share effective practices and provide each other with support and technical assistance to create and sustain effective and equitable small high schools. The initiative, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, creates the space for experienced CES schools to mentor design teams through the process of creating new small schools. Metro High School joined the SSN in 2005 and received technical assistance from its mentor, Federal Hocking High School of Stewart, Ohio, prior to and beyond its opening in 2006. For more information on the SSN, see: www.essentialschools.org/pub/ces_docs/ssp/ssp.html
Ohio STEM Learning Network
Ohio is emerging as a leader for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education nationwide. Visit the Ohio STEM Learning Network online for a “STEM 101” overview, examples of exemplary STEM practices from schools in Ohio and elsewhere, and more.
Metro High School
Metro High School is a small public school located on the Ohio State University campus that emphasizes college readiness in math, science, and technology. In ninth and tenth grades, the student experience focuses on learning that promotes performance and mastery of a foundation curriculum. Students must meet high performance standards in mathematics, science, social studies, and language arts to advance. Eleventh and 12th graders will participate in independent research projects, group projects with other students, and community internships at “learning centers” around the community. Metro High School opened as an Essential school in 2006 with 100 ninth graders and is adding a grade per year to graduate its first class in 2010. For more, please visit www.themetroschool.org.
For more stories of CES schools and related organizations that have created better conditions for teaching, learning, and developing Essential schools and the networks that support them, read Horace Volume 21, Number 4, “Using Advocacy and Communication to Create and Sustain Essential Schools,” available online at www.essentialschools.org/pub/ces_docs/resources/horace/21_4/21_4_toc.html
New Small CES Schools Launching in 2008!
The next generation of CES schools is here! This fall, three new high schools created through the CES Small Schools Network opened their doors, and six existing schools joined the Network. These schools, both new small schools created from the ground up and existing small schools, will join more than 50 other exemplary schools in the CES Small Schools Network and will receive mentoring and ongoing professional development to support their growth and success.
In the Fall of 2008, the following new schools opened:
Capital City Public Charter Upper School (Washington, D.C)
Global Neighborhood Secondary School (Floral Park, New York)
Native American Community Academy (Albuquerque, New Mexico)
In fall 2008, the following schools joined the CES Small Schools Network:
Alma D’Arte Charter School (Los Cruces, New Mexico)
Big Picture High School (Bloomfield, Connecticut)
East Bay Met (Newport, Rhode Island)
Greer Middle College (Greenville, South Carolina)
High School for Recording Arts Los Angeles (Hawthorne, California)
Multicultural Indigenous Academy (St. Paul, Minnesota)
For more information on these schools and the CES Small Schools Network, visit: