Learning, Innovation & Tech

Bombs & Breakthroughs

Harlem Village Academies: "Morning Joe" Talk What's Working: Isn't That Refreshing?

CJ Westerberg, September 27, 2010 7:54 AM


Previously published by The Daily Riff 2010

Getting "Accountability" Right   
Personalized learning for students,
autonomy for teachers,
great leadership & school culture "required"   

 "Morning Joe" Video Below
w/ John Legend & Deborah Kenny

By C.J. Westerberg

Dr. Deborah Kenny and entertainer John Legend teamed up yesterday to share with Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski some of the strategies and tactics that are bringing disadvantaged youth in Harlem to accomplish stellar results in math, science and reading,
even after entering the school with proficiency levels often a few grades behind.

The electricity in the conversation was more than apparent - 10 min. clip below - and is a must watch.  The talk also included a heavy dose of Race to The Top and national issues, with Scarborough being very pro-active in this line of questioning.

The schools are Harlem Village Academies and are "Schools Designed for Teachers", according to Dr. Kenny, co-founder and CEO, who was greatly influenced by GE's Jack Welch and his philosophy of leadership, management and motivation.

If these schools are designed for teachers, then why are they proving to be great for students?

John Legend summed it up:  It's about the kids.  When teachers are passionate about teaching, ultimately the kids benefit.  He talked about how charter schools can be "examples of excellence" and "examples of greatness" and how other schools can "replicate" that behavior.

Dr. Kenny spoke equally passionately about "how we do it"  and "this is the way to use the data"  showing how teachers can immediately respond and adjust to students' progress individually that cannot be done in non-charter public schools in their current form.  She spoke of the importance of how when teachers are empowered with more autonomy and freedom to teach, which are core values of HVA, that a school actually attracts great teachers since they want to work in an environment that values these traits, which are essentially synonymous with respect for the profession.

According to HVA, their schools are designed for teachers, not "school design" imposed on teachers.  The major tenets, according to their strategy statement include:  empowering teachers, a collaborative learning community, Kaizen - continual improvement, accountability, rapid response assessment, entrepreneurial culture, professional environment, with a great team.

HVA produced results based upon a core culture with a value system where all constituents are valued and are ultimately responsible because the organization begins and ends with people:  the students and teachers. The results followed a philosophy put in place to attract great teachers.  It was not the usual "bring up the test scores" mandate with absolutely no idea how to get there every day, which we hear so often from edu-crats.  Words like innovation sound great in speeches but unless there is meaningful change from the status quo and competition allowed in education, it will always be the pondering, pontificating and a pedantic closed world at the expense of our students.

Harlem Village Academies is a school that "walks the talk".

The edu-conversation is heating up!


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It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
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