No Magic Formula…A School’s Success Depends on the People Who Are There

May 31, 2010 at 9:01 pm Leave a comment

posted by Theodore Timpson ’05, founder/president of Young Spirit Foundation

“If they don’t get it here, they’re not going to get it.”

These were the words of Jerry Krumbein, principal of the Bracher Elementary School, which I visited recently in Santa Clara, California. He oversees a population of students among the poorest in his district. Out of 400 students, he told me, only about a dozen had parents with college degrees. Yet these students had achieved an eye-catching 850+ score on the state academic performance indicator, a score worthy of some of the wealthiest districts.

What I sensed in this man was not the adrenalin-driven, high achievement focus we often hear about in struggling urban areas. He was friendly, quiet, and deeply respectful of the quality of his teachers. ”The kids are why we are here. My job is to find them happy, motivated, exceptional teachers, and then to create an environment where they love their jobs.”

To be sure, this school has its diagnostic assessments and targeted skill building. But I saw something more than that. Every morning Jerry addresses the entire school in assembly. He recognizes students who were “caught being a good citizen.” He sings for every birthday. He has students visit his office for doing outstanding work. He teaches a series of “15 Life Lessons” in which everyone in the community learns a code of behavior—say thank you, never cut in line, congratulate your classmates, and so on. It was strict, but as I walked through classrooms, I saw students calm, secure, engaged, and happy.

He confessed that when people come trying to find the “magic formula” for the school’s success, they can be disappointed. He mentioned the “lucky confluence of people” that had gathered there. “I don’t think you can just replicate it,” he said, “which is bad news for our profession.”

Or is it? I think the uniqueness of a local community with its own customs, its own values, and its own recipe for success is too precious a resource to give up.

Theodore Timpson once invented a game called “Charge Across the Field” where large numbers of children converge on an open space yelling, “Charge!” It was easy to explain and highly successful in getting people to have fun. A teacher, tutor, and children’s theater director since 1996, Theodore recently launched Young Spirit Foundation (Palo Alto, CA) in support of holistic, wisdom-centered practice in education.

Entry filed under: community, leadership, urban schools.

Learning from mistakes? Leaders do it, too. “We Want More Art!” ~Ayanna, age 8, et al

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Some of Our Past Bloggers

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Keith Berman '03, founder/president of Options for College and Bank Street’s LinkedIn moderator
David Bowles ’08 (SFC ’93), museum educator at the Rubin Museum of Art
Elena Canaras ‘07, Special Education teacher, Hawaii
Virginia Casper, Bank Street faculty member
Jim Clay ‘88, director of a Washington DC Quaker preschool
Mary DeCamp Cotterall ‘87, Reading Specialist, Michigan
Judy Coven ’77, retired public school teacher and former Antioch University faculty member
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Mary Louise (Molly) Day ‘76, Lab School teacher, Chicago
Liezel de La Isla ‘99, Prague International School teacher
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Meghan Dunn ’08, 3rd grade teacher, Brooklyn
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Pam Jones ‘05, Bank Street advisor and instructor
Lee Klinger Lesser ‘87, trainer for the Parent Services Project
Preminda Langer ‘97, teacher trainer
Claire Milam ’97, life coach, Austin, Texas
Rabin Nickens ‘03, Speaker, Trainer and Educational Consultant
Beth Norford ‘89, consultant and former School for Children teacher
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Marion Palm ‘95, Leadership in the Arts alum, writing tutor, poet and singer
Jessica Poser, assistant professor of art education at UIC, Chicago
Jesse Pugh '76, BSCAA President
Meg Rauen ‘06, former Chicago elementary school teacher, NY
Linda Reing, Bank Street Director of Alumni Relations
Rosalind Rothman '62, retired NYC teacher and guidance counselor
Kyla Ryman '92/'97, educational coach and consultant
Ariel Sacks ‘06, middle school teacher, Brooklyn, NY
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Barbara Silver ‘80, literacy consultant and former NYC first grade teacher
Andrea Penny Spencer, former Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Bank Street
Debbie Stone ‘84, former teacher/co-director of High Valley School
Rachel Theilheimer ‘74, chair of teacher education at BMCC/CUNY
Theodore Timpson ’05, founder/president of Young Spirit Foundation
Eleanor Traubman '95, is Editor in Chief of Creative Times, a blog which promotes NYC's performing, visual and literary arts
Allison Warren '08, new mom, recent grad, and early childhood teacher
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