EyeGreenA CES Big Idea (with video!) by Linda Nathan

This is my Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) story.

In 1984, I drove to Providence with Abbie Schirmer for our first Fall Forum. I was the assistant director of the newly formed Fenway Program at Boston’s English High School. Abbie was our computer and math teacher. In a workshop on scheduling, at the Providence Fall Forum, we were asked to examine a bunch of different schedules to determine various schools’ priorities. It was a fascinating exercise. One schedule had Community Service twice a week, while another had Advisory every day. Also, some classes were ninety minutes. These were new concepts in many urban public schools in the 1980s. Another workshop, with Grant Wiggins, focused on essential questions and backwards planning. The idea was that you started a class or a unit clearly knowing where you wanted to end up and how you would get there. This approach didn’t take the creativity of teaching away. Instead, it helped educators organize their thinking and tell students the purposes of learning the material. Both these approaches were new to us.

When Abbie and I left the conference, we couldn’t stop talking about the nine Common Principles that we had just learned about, and how we might integrate them into Fenway High School. We actually missed the exit to Boston and ended up in New Hampshire because we couldn’t stop talking about how we needed to change Fenway’s schedule. Why were we teaching in seven 43-minute blocks? Who really learned that way? We had little sense of why schools taught, for example, biology, chemistry and physics in that order. Did students learn the sciences better that way? At the conference, we had heard discussions that this order was a convention of convenience but that it had little to do with good teaching and learning.

The conference and questions were presented by Ted Sizer, the co-founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES). He had been a dean at Harvard Graduate School of Education and had most of his other experience in elite prep schools. Even though Ted’s time in schools differed from our own, we were intrigued by the ideas that dominated the workshops. We also spent time with Deborah Meier, another co-founder of CES, and a New York City principal who had started a school called Central Park East that was based on many of these same ideas. Although Central Park East was an elementary school, she had just founded a high school that seemed very aligned with our visions for Fenway. Had we found an organization of kindred spirits? It seemed that Meier and Sizer spoke a language that we needed to learn. Sizer had just written Horace’s Compromise and we devoured the book, underlining passages and copying excerpts for our colleagues at Fenway. Sizer actually understood how to re-imagine high schools in ways that spoke to the needs of our students and our communities.

Brief History of Fenway High School

Fenway began in 1983 as a school within a school at English High School (EHS) and, as Fenway founder Larry Myatt said, “I had a brochure and an idea of how we could re-engage young people in school.” I joined Larry the following year and together we built Fenway into a preeminent CES school. It was not without struggle. Fenway started in 1983 with just 125 students. We wanted to create a community in which students would want to participate and belong.

Fenway was founded during a large reorganization of EHS, one of the oldest schools in the Boston Public Schools. Unlike the equally old but well-resourced Boston Latin School (BLS), EHS had fallen on very tough times. When I arrived, a custodian, who knew me from my previous school, worried for my safety. EHS occupied a 10-story building across the street from BLS in the Longwood medical district. Students traveled between floors on escalators that constantly broke. Boston’s court case to desegregate had converted EHS into an arts magnet school, and in the late 1970s and early 1980s there were as many as seven visual arts teachers as well as two teachers for dance and theatre, respectively. The arts emphasis was rooted in the belief that white students would continue to enroll at the school if there were such diverse course offerings. For a time that was true. But the funding from court mandated desegregation ran out and by 1984, the art studios and sports teams were financially struggling. When I arrived, student violence and disengagement were at all-time highs. Fenway was founded on the 10th floor of this massive building. As I rode the escalators, I passed the floors that housed the ninth grade cluster program, the bilingual program and the Traditional program (its actual name), which housed the majority of the students.

Fenway had its own floor in order to guarantee its freedom to experiment with curriculum and pedagogy and to re-engage a broad cross-section of students, both racially and socio-economically. Fenway was a “micro-school” for experimentation. In theory, if it worked, its methods would permeate other programs and lead EHS back to its glory days. We implemented early school-to-work programs, Senior Projects, and portfolio and exhibition requirements for graduation. We valued student voice and shared decision-making among faculty. We took kids camping, we had BBQs to open and close school, and we were the first Boston high school to implement the Facing History and Ourselves curriculum.

The faculty believed that poor kids, black kids, and brown kids, could learn at the same high levels as their white and middle-class counterparts across the street at BLS. In addition, although Fenway, like all of EHS, was a Title 1 school, with nearly eighty-five percent of the students living under the poverty line, fifteen percent were from-middle class families. One of Fenway’s key features, since its inception, was its racial and socio-economic diversity.

The questions that Abbie and I raised in our car ride home from Fall Forum were not foreign to Fenway teachers. Although the founding faculty were mostly fairly conventional in terms of their content and pedagogy, they had chosen to join a school that celebrated out-of-the-box thinking.

How Change Happened at Fenway

After that Fall Forum, we introduced Humanities at Fenway. At first, there was a great deal of resistance from the faculty. Teachers had previously expressed dismay at the lack of excitement for their English and history classes. We wanted to move away from oppressive Carnegie Unit structure that separated the school day into seven or eight 43-minute blocks of distinct and different content. Two teachers agreed to try this new approach and combine English and history into a longer interdisciplinary block. This test-run came after months of debate and visits to other schools that were also trying interdisciplinary courses. We believed that students would be more engaged if they could learn content and skills through a combination of history and English.

For a year, I documented these two teachers as they experimented to produce a Humanities course. Even though the class size was much larger than before, it was successful. The two teachers felt alive and affirmed in their teaching. English and history fed into each other, complementing the other. The teachers enjoyed the team-teaching. They became adept and confident at facilitating small groups. Students appreciated the opportunities for leadership in the class. As one student said, “This class is more like a workshop and not a lecture with lots to memorize and then facts to regurgitate on a unit test.” Another student liked the way teachers acted more like coaches and had clear “essential questions.” Students said the learning actually mattered to them because it didn’t feel like a race just to cover material and take a test. “Expectations are clear, and there is lots of support,” another student told me. Class was about finding ways to explore material in engaging ways. Students felt in charge of their own learning and their improved grades were the proof. They demanded more courses like this one.

The teaching team collaborated on curriculum and experimented with group work. They learned to critique one another in ways that helped them grow as educators. As one of the teachers said, “I had spent years teaching Ethan Frome, and I adored that book, but I had never really stopped to consider how my students did or didn’t connect to it. It wasn’t until I started working with Johnny [the co-teacher], and he asked me about connections students made, that I began to think about how I might rework my curriculum so that I put the students’ learning and engagement first. That was different for me. I knew I was a good teacher and had always relied on my own enthusiasm to engage, but the idea of backward planning and thinking of myself as a coach instead of the provider of information was very different for me.” Starting with an essential question such as “Who Built America?” gave rise to a new way of thinking about teaching and learning. “We couldn’t be ‘stand and deliver’ teachers anymore. We had to think deeply about what we expected our students to learn—and to map backwards from those outcomes in order to create essential questions. It was an exhilarating way to teach.”

The duo also began to experiment with “demonstrations of mastery” and “exhibitions of learning.” By using this one Humanities class as an example we could all learn from, the entire faculty began to discuss how to make learning more visible and authentic—by which we meant real and valuable. We borrowed a term from the arts and had students construct portfolios of their learning and defend these portfolios to outside judges. This was a huge change in our teaching and learning environment. It meant that if students were disengaged, others would see that. It also meant that if student work didn’t meet the standards that we had collectively set, it wouldn’t just be the students’ fault. Rather, we opened ourselves up to the views and opinions of others, and engaged more routinely in introspection about our own instruction. Teaching and learning stopped being a private act. We began to feel more comfortable critiquing our students and ourselves. While those of us at Fenway were working in these new ways, teachers in other CES schools were having similar conversations.

This “experiment” of a team-taught class, which began in 1985 or 1986, triggered one of Fenway’s earliest building blocks: Social Issues. Having seen the success of Humanities, we wanted a class that all of our students took and all of our teachers taught. We wanted this class to be the reason that students came to school. Attendance was a problem. Gang warfare and AIDS were destroying communities. We had to create an intellectual and social environment to which kids would want to belong. Through lots of discussion and union negotiation, we managed to get all teachers to teach this new class. This was not without enormous sacrifice. We had a designated 40-minute block once a week for planning, but I knew that was insufficient. We made an additional 30 minutes voluntary, and almost everyone stayed, almost all of the time, which was evidence of the buy-in among empowered Fenway teachers.

Student responses to Social Issues and this new way of learning were very positive. They wanted to be involved with designing units, too. I formed a student curriculum committee and trained them to research curriculum areas and content and also to team-teach. The topics the students chose to write about and teach were important and impacted their daily lives. We studied issues affecting families and neighborhoods such as the rise of crack cocaine, HIV/AIDS, and incest. We brought in medical students, community leaders, and artists to teach with us. We also studied global issues such as nuclear war and the rise in urban environmental issues such as asthma. We read books together. We sang together during a unit on the music of the civil rights movement. We learned together as a small school through another essential Fenway initiatives: panel discussions in which faculty took pro and con positions on the various social issues we were studying. Students looked forward to these assemblies just as they looked forward to reading aloud altogether. For many students, given the rising violence in their neighborhoods, the death toll from AIDS, the havoc that crack and drug addiction had created in families, school was a place of safety—a haven of sorts. Reading together was a normal student activity, and students, for all their bravado they had to show on the streets, just wanted to belong to a community in which ideas were discussed. Community members welcomed being invited to participate in our shared learning because they enjoyed the level of curiosity and intensity that students brought to these issues.

We had a framework for these ideas: the Common Principles. It really did matter that teachers were coaches and students were workers. We talked about creating high expectations for learning, but including the word “unanxious” made us think more critically about the kind of assessments we created. We changed our teaching from, “I taught it. You should have learned it,” to “how I teach matters and I need to construct experiences that enable learning.” Assessments needed to be planned first. Teaching backwards. Essential questions. Teachers as generalists. How could a math teacher effectively teach Social Issues? These topics consumed us in wonderful ways. Our 40-minute planning meetings often went much longer.

Trying to Move CES Ideas into EHS

After that first Fall Forum in Providence, we spent a year in faculty book groups reading and discussing Horace’s Compromise and debating about how the CES principles could be implemented in our large comprehensive high school. Our principal was excited that the theories and writings espoused by Ted Sizer had such relevance to the issues confronting us as a faculty. We invited Sizer to come speak to the EHS faculty. I remember well the feeling of exhilaration that we were on the cusp of making bold moves to change the course of American urban education.

Although Fenway had already implemented many Coalition-inspired ideas, we had stopped short of becoming a CES school because that had to be a whole school decision. Fenway was just a program of EHS. Some teachers in the larger EHS faculty were intrigued by our Humanities curriculum and our Social Issues class. There were other teachers, however, who were very suspicious of change. We knew it would be an uphill battle to convince the entire faculty to embrace new ideas.

Setting up a new advisory system, for instance, was where we decided to begin. Fenway had begun vigorous discussions about Advisory, which we saw as the linchpin for whole-school change. Informed by the CES principle about personalization, we believed that if all students could be known well by at least one adult, then the opportunities for success would increase dramatically. We had spent many all school faculty meetings discussing the nature of Advisory as compared with the homerooms that all teachers already supervised. However, our union representatives had explained that since Advisory was a change in working conditions, we needed, by union contract, two-thirds of the faculty to endorse Advisory. If faculty voted in favor that meant we were one step closer to becoming a CES school. We would take that vote after Ted’s visit. We were cautiously optimistic that we had laid the groundwork for change. Ted talked about the growing CES movement in his calm, professorial way, and we knew everyone would vote for Advisory. This would allow us to become a CES school. We knew that our colleagues wanted to create the conditions for students to be at the center of their own learning. The stories that Ted told about the large comprehensive high schools he had visited through the past eight years as part of his recent “Study of High Schools” resonated with many faculty members. Arts and physical education teachers nodded in agreement at the description of how students came alive during their classes. Most of the faculty understood that the “old” ways of teaching were not helping with engagement, and if a new set of ideas and structures could re-engage our teachers’ souls, it was worth it. We had done a good job of sharing our successes and challenges with team-teaching Humanities. We had documented the level of student engagement. We had “good” data that showed increased student achievement. Our colleagues were eager to try new things, too. Of course there were the usual worries in some corners of the faculty about Advisory being a new prep, and that if everyone went to Humanities would there be a loss of jobs, but for the most part teachers were transfixed by Ted’s oratory, writing and experiences.

That very afternoon, just after Ted’s talk, votes were cast. We fell two votes short of the needed two-thirds approval. Many teachers were devastated. All of the Fenway teachers were incredulous. We felt betrayed. What had been the point of the year of study? How could some folks be so shortsighted? We vowed to find a way for Fenway to become a CES school (at that time, there were no other schools-within-schools that were members of CES). After what seemed like an interminably long period of negotiation with CES, Fenway became a CES school in 1985. English High School as a whole did not.

Collaboration Pushed Us to Do More

A few years later, Fenway teachers were fortunate to meet Vito Perrone, who sent us to visit Ann Cook’s Urban Academy in New York City. At this school, we witnessed Project Week in which small groups of students selected topics for in-depth study alongside a faculty coach. Topics ranged from “What makes a good museum?” to “How to cook for a family on less than $10 a day?” to “What’s a democratic school?” We saw the level of student engagement and we decided that we, too, could organize these kinds of seminars for our 250 students. Project Week continues to be a hallmark of Fenway today, and it has also found its way into other CES-inspired schools in Boston such as Boston Green Academy and Mary Lyon Pilot High School. Boston Arts Academy does intersession, which is an offshoot of Project Week and boasts many student-developed and -run intensive sessions. Project Week’s value stems from the ways it offers choice for students and the opportunity to share learning at the end of the week. It is also highly student directed. After a few years of successful Project Weeks, we began to ask one another, “Why aren’t we doing Project Year?” This question reflected our growing commitment to the Common Principles. Humanities represented just one way to change teaching and learning.

How could we begin to incorporate projects in all of our classes? We began to wonder, as Paulo Freire writes, about students “owning the word” and being committed and conscious of their own learning. We imagined developing complex, long-term projects that gave students permission to go deep into their own learning instead of skimming the surface. Slowly, teachers became more comfortable and adept with backwards planning and long-term projects. We hired a graduate student to provide curriculum support and to begin documenting our various experiments with project based learning. In this way, we developed a library of projects and we weren’t always re-inventing the wheel. More importantly, we were becoming a community where fighting about intellectual ideas superseded fighting with knives and guns. It was a slow, process. Being a CES school didn’t mean that violence in our neighborhoods disappeared, but it did mean that students were becoming more curious and engaged about learning.

When Larry Myatt and I founded the Center for Collaborative Education in 1995 as the local Boston CES Center, we did so for several reasons. First, autonomous schools (or Pilot Schools) were just emerging due to the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 that introduced charters and high stakes testing. We wanted some kind of mechanism to organize our various schools. We needed a network. We needed an advocacy organization. We also wanted a collegial community in which we could critique our new practices. Along with some other CES schools, we were graduating students by portfolios and exhibitions. What did excellent work look like? We knew our students were committed to their own learning and passionate about describing their learning, but what about the student who, for his graduation portfolio, described his tattoos? Was that rigorous? By having colleagues who were asking similar questions, we were able to continually improve our practices. (In fact, that young man didn’t pass his graduation review the first time, but by the time he came back to the committee he knew more about the history, science and art of tattooing than anyone I have ever met before or since). Journalist John Merrow documented our work with graduation by Portfolio and Exhibition. His film didn’t shy away from the difficulties of the work, and what happens to students who don’t have the expertise or mastery of content. It raised important questions about how to balance student engagement with the importance of learning basic concepts.

To this day, I still talk to Fenway alumni who remember the “authenticity” of their education. They talk about those graduation reviews and how “high stakes” they were. They talk about advisory and getting to know their teachers and peers. They talk about camping together for three days at the beginning of the year and how that set the tone for mutual respect and understanding each other. They still talk about how they worked hard and learned what it meant to have high expectations with lots of support. Many of them talk about how sad they are to see so much of education and learning being replaced with testing. Danny, a lawyer in Florida, called the other day. “You know instead of so much testing in high school, I still think when I learned the most was when you took us on that hike in the forest at night and we had to find our way back to camp. That was crazy scary and we had to work together. We had to trust one another. That was hard. And we did it.

Specialists as Generalists: Boston Arts Academy

When I started Boston Arts Academy (BAA) in 1998, I wanted us to embrace the Common Principles as a starting point for most professional conversations and decisions. Our school was founded on the belief that through the arts we could zealously focus on issues of equity. BAA hoped that through the arts, particularly in light of Boston’s negative history of racism and the violence that ensued after the court order desegregation of the schools, everyone—faculty and staff, students and families—would cross boundaries of race, class, gender, social orientation and language. Our mission calls for students to be “engaged members of a democratic society.” We modeled that after the tenth CES common principle. We hoped our graduates would embrace the power and exhilaration of making their society more humane by participating in a community that took their ideas seriously and that believed in their collective agency for positive change. So we continually asked one another—in our curriculum, our pedagogy, and throughout our school culture—whether our practices reflected the democratic values we preached. How did our daily work embody beliefs about preparing students to be members of a democratic society and take their place as artists, scholars, and citizens? We argued about the word “citizen.” What was its meaning and how did the term fit our many undocumented students? Did the arts play a vital role in deepening our understanding of student as worker, teacher as coach? We knew that in the arts both apprenticeship and student-centered learning were key components and we embraced that tension.

As a specialized arts school we confronted a particular tension with some of the Common Principles. How, for example, could we embrace the idea of teachers as generalists when violin and ballet teachers have highly specialized roles? One of our solutions was to have all teachers serve as advisors. Teachers committed to working with a group of twelve to fifteen students over their four years of high school. At first we combined advisory with reading and writing, but that proved to be overwhelming. We needed a time—advisory—where students and faculty could focus on social-emotional well-being, and a separate time that would be specifically about skills development. Most arts and academic teachers at BAA teach reading and writing. It continues to be one of the school’s most productive challenges. The fact that almost everyone has learned how to teach reading has helped the school become the first full inclusion high school in the Boston Public Schools. All our students, whether with identified special needs or not, would learn together. Having such a broad spectrum of students, we recognized that all of us learn differently and at different rates.

The commitment to full inclusion is in keeping with the school’s commitment to equity and democracy. BAA’s shared values emerged from these beliefs. The shared values represented the way we expected students to interact with one another and the larger community. Students practiced these values: “Diversity with Respect,” “Passion with Balance,” “Vision with Integrity,” and “Community with Social Responsibility.” Taken together, they provide the foundation for the BAA experience and its curriculum. We also developed four Habits of the Graduate: Refine, Invent, Connect and Own (RICO). These habits are accompanied by questions to help students focus their learning. For example, How do I Refine my work? What does it mean to Connect to my audience? How do I demonstrate that I Own this work? What is Inventive about my approach and how does it Connect to those artists that have come before me? RICO provides an over-arching framework to help students develop as artists-scholars and citizens.

We embedded critique into all our classes. It was thrilling to sit in a 10th grade visual arts class and observe how 11th graders question their younger peers about technique and composition. These older, more experienced, students would probe until the younger students could successfully discuss the emerging ideas in their artwork. Juries in music, theatre and dance were also essential. Students practiced RICO repeatedly in arts classes. We continued to develop ways to ensure that our academic classes reflected the same habits. What did it mean to critique in a Humanities or math class? How did students show ownership in Spanish or Science? We had year long conversations about how learning was a continuum, not a timed test, and that if we collectively and carefully laid out clear standards and expectations for all our students, and provided scaffolding and support to meet those standards, our students could and would achieve at very high levels. We were modeling unanxious expectations.

We did this work during the 2000s, as the pressure for results on external high stakes tests mounted to a frenzied pitch that nearly obliterated our efforts. It became increasingly risky to teach Humanities because the Massachusetts Department of Education threatened to develop a History test for graduation along with the existing English test. To the outside world, another test might not have seemed like such a big deal, but for us, at BAA, immersed in developing curriculum that reflected that passions of our students (and teachers) and that constituted a rigorous arts and academic education, standardized tests derailed us from our mission. Our senior Humanities course, “Art and Aesthetics,” was a radical departure from what was quickly becoming normative across the public schools. We held our ground and testified to the state Board of Education about how schools needed to have the freedom to make decisions about curriculum and assessment and how good education did not mean trying to fit through the narrowest eye of a needle. Our students’ successes have been the affirmation we need for outside validation. CES principles and Ted’s ideas helped frame our arguments.

We made sure to have a Leadership Team that represented all teachers’ voices, and was the true decision making body for curricular decisions. For a long time, that team even included student and family representation. As structures changed, we always made sure to find authentic ways for students and families to participate. We took very seriously the notion of democracy and equity at all levels of the organization. When a Fenway teacher at neighboring Fenway High was deported, BAA students protested alongside their peers. Later, we commissioned a play, “A More Perfect Union,” by Kirsten Greenidge, to explore the inequities of this case and to dramatize the universalities in his story. Like many urban schools, BAA has undocumented students, and this play, therefore, connected to students on many levels. Recently, Diane Guerrero wrote about her personal experience as a BAA student when her parents were deported in her memoir In the Country We Love. Diane is now an award-winning actress known for her role in “Orange is the New Black.” She speaks eloquently about the confidence and skills she developed at BAA. She remembers the power of her senior project and the ways in which her music and academic courses challenged her to stretch beyond what she imagined possible. She has become an advocate for immigration reform. Diane embodies being an artist-scholar and citizen.

Graduation by demonstration of mastery is a key feature of a BAA education. All students develop and write a Senior Grant proposal that combines artistic and academic excellence in the service of a researched community issue, challenge or area for change. This proposal, which emerges from a student’s passion, is presented to community members who judge the students’ writing, the project’s feasibility, and the student’s presentation skills. Our CES association strengthened the ideas for our Senior Grant. Many schools do some kind of senior project and the opportunity to visit other schools as well as participate in workshops during Fall Forums gave us ideas about pitfalls to avoid and areas to include. Senior Grant continues to be one of the most public exhibitions that students undertake. The critiques we receive from outsiders continue to help hone and improve our instruction. Senior Dance Choreography, the Humanities 20-page paper, and science and math exhibitions provide other opportunities for the public to critique both students and faculty. BAA, as an Essential school, is guided by the principle of continual improvement and growth.

Larger Effects of CES Principles and Practices

Every time I worked with a new school or organization, I turned to CES for inspiration. CES principles are neither a recipe nor a curriculum. The principles are a way of thinking or framing discussions. Asking what it means to say “teacher as coach; student as worker” or “unanxious expectations” helps us keep students at the center of discussions about how to improve schools. When Larry and I founded CCE, we hoped that the organization would provide support for the fledging Pilot School Network, which later grew to be the Autonomous and Innovation School network. The early members of that network were all CES schools. Commitments to democracy and equity drew us together. We were committed to a new approach to teaching and learning. We were committed to asking hard questions about what it took for young people to flourish in urban schools. Many CES ideas had sprung up in private independent schools and in some wealthier suburban settings. Our network, which was closely based on the small schools work in New York City, focused on CES ideas in urban schools. As the “No Excuses” school movement gained political traction, however, CES schools found that thoughtfulness and experimentation had gone out of style.

After retiring from BAA, I spent a year working for the Boston Public Schools (BPS) Interim Superintendent directing a study to investigate and document the district’s commitment to and understanding of autonomy. I brought together researchers from the Center for Collaborative Education and Education Resource Strategies as well as BPS principals, teachers, parents, and district officials for this year-long project. The study, with both a local and national scope, culminated in a June 2014 report published by The Boston Foundation called “The Path Forward: School Autonomy and Its Implications for the Future of Boston’s Public Schools.” The report received quite a bit of critical acclaim, and has continued to guide policies and serve as an important piece of research in the field of education reform. Autonomy, particularly at the school level, was always a cardinal principle of CES and Ted’s philosophies.

CES principles form my foundation as I transition to another organization—the Center for Artistry and Scholarship (CAS). I have the opportunity to honor not only Ted Sizer, but also another luminary in education, Vito Perrone. The Perrone Sizer Institute for Creative Leadership works with emerging leaders from schools and community based organizations. Both Vito and Ted wrote about community, creativity, and the importance of passion for and in learning. As we educate emerging leaders, we will take their writings and their ideas with us

I will become CAS’s first Executive Director. As our developing mission statement describes, CAS aims to be the “pre-eminent enabler for creative, arts-immersive, experiential learning experiences that will inspire joyous, deep learning, and community-supported schools for all youth.” CAS will also be the outreach and dissemination arm for Conservatory Lab Charter School (CLCS). This school, founded in 1999 by New England Conservatory, experiments broadly with learning academic concepts through music. It is now serves preK through eighth grade and embraces practices from Expeditionary Learning. It is also the first El Sistema-inspired school in the country.

Powerful Ideas about Teaching and Learning

The Center for Artistry and Scholarship (CAS) will be a place to convene and coalesce around powerful ideas about teaching and learning. I look forward to providing opportunities for educators, artists, and community organizations to grapple with the elegance and simplicity of the ten Common Principles and their meaning in this century. So many of us were defined by these ideas as we attempted to apply them in different settings. The world often wants a blueprint for how to improve education. But CES, as Ted always said, was a series of ideas, not a script. CES didn’t provide scientifically-based, data-driven researched solutions, but provocations and ways to think about improving the experience of school for young people. These ideas came directly from classroom experiences, and teacher action research projects grew from CES schools.

CES ideas may not attract the attention of policy makers right now. But I’m confident, as the pendulum has begun to swing back from our misguided reliance on testing and prescription, that the Common Principles will once again help inspire teachers and students to strive for a democratic and just society


About the author


lindanathanLinda Nathan, EdD is the first Executive Director of the Center for Artistry and Scholarship (CAS). As the Executive Director of CAS, Dr. Nathan is responsible for working with the CAS board to develop the non-profit’s strategy, goals and areas of focus.  She oversees key programs, including the Creative Learning Schools Project and the Perrone-Sizer Institute for Creative Leadership, which has a partnership with University of Massachusetts, Boston. Dr. Nathan works closely with the leadership of Conservatory Lab Charter School to support its development as a national model of CAS.

Dr. Nathan has extensive professional experience in education, as an adjunct lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  Most recently, she served as Faculty Director of the Creative Educational Leadership Institute at the Boston University School of Education. Prior positions include Special Advisor to Superintendent of Boston Public Schools, Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Arts in Education and Founding Headmaster of the Boston Arts Academy, Boston’s first public high school for the visual and performing arts. She was also the Co-Director of Fenway High School, one of the first pilot schools in the Boston Public Schools.  Dr. Nathan founded two nonprofit organizations: El Pueblo Nuevo that focused on arts and youth development; and the Center for Collaborative Education that works on issues of school reform.

She also serves on numerous nonprofit boards both locally and nationally. She has written a widely praised book about teaching and leadership in urban schools, “The Hardest Questions Aren’t on the Test,” published in English and Spanish. She consults nationally and internationally on issues of educational reform, leadership, teaching and arts. She blogs about these issues at www.lindanathan.com. Linda holds a Doctor of Education degree from Harvard University, Masters’ degrees from Emerson College and Antioch University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California.