Elementary School Principal's Blog

On the journey: Insights from our visit to San Diego, Part I

Posted on October 25, 2009

by Dr. Edna Hussey on October 25, 2009

Note: This is Part I of a two-part letter about MPI's initiative to implement the new school vision.

Last Wednesday, the team who visited the High Tech High schools in San Diego, noted for their challenging academic curriculum with project-based learning, shared highlights of their observations with the faculty. Mark Hines, our Educational Technology Director, Raleigh Werberger, high school teacher, history department, and Brian Grantham, middle school technology coordinator/teacher, and I collaborated on separate presentations to the faculty of the high school, middle school, and preschool/elementary.  In this week's letter, I'd like to focus on a few aspects of the presentation. You may also want to visit High Tech High's website, www.hightechhigh.org. to learn more about this model school.  I think it's important to understand from the beginning that Mid-Pacific Institute as an institution has many outstanding qualities which distinguish it from other independent schools in Hawaii -- a recognized School of the Arts, state-of-the-art technology facilities, a Reggio-inspired preschool program, an elementary inquiry-based program, a peer mediation program from elementary through high school, a full International Baccalaureate degree program, to name a few. So why are we looking at other schools? What are we looking for?

To answer the first question, I need to step back a moment to review the premise for the visit to San Diego. During our most recent accreditation in spring 2009, a visiting team of seven educators from Hawaii and California deemed Mid-Pacific Institute a program of excellence, citing many strengths in many different areas of the school. We were given a full term of accreditation of six years with a mid-term visit. This is a major accomplishment, thanks to the efforts of an entire school community. During the yearlong process of school self-reflection (this is the most important aspect of the accreditation process), our school community also identified major areas of improvement needed. It's not surprising that a critical area of growth that we recognized was the program (curriculum, instruction, and assessment of student learning), since the educational program is the most important component of any school, the raison d'être. Every school across the nation, from the best and most successful to struggling schools, constantly strives to provide the best educational program for their students. A major recommendation was "that the preschool, elementary, middle, and high school faculties and administration collaborate to articulate and align curriculum, instructional practices, and assessments across all grade levels." We began almost immediately to take steps toward articulation. We have had two full days of all faculties gathering together to discuss at a conceptual level the reasons for improvement. But this is just the beginning toward change. In addition to the accreditation findings, the Board of Trustees developed a vision statement that brings together the most important characteristics of the Mid-Pacific Institute program -- collaboration, creativity, critical thought, global awareness, and moral and ethical values -- for the purpose of preparing students to make a difference in the world. This is a vision that not only acknowledges a changing world with 21st century expectations but moreover identifies the skills and attitudes that must build the essential framework of MPI's program. I would venture to say that the Board's vision is also the same as every parent's vision for their child, as well as every teacher's vision for all students. Using support provided by a multi-million dollar grant overseen by the Hawaii Community Foundation (HCF) and the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools (HAIS), Mid-Pacific Institute, as well as seventeen other Hawaii independent schools, are working on their own five-year plans to effect educational improvement. Part of the funding was to bring representatives from these grant-recipient schools to San Diego to see for ourselves what a "school of the future" looks like -- the program, its administration, curriculum, instructional practices, student-teacher interactions, and what project-based learning looks like. HCF and HAIS determined that High Tech High was the best example of a school-of-the-future that has succeeded in creating a school culture that combines a challenging academic curriculum with project-based learning, performance-based assessments, digital portfolios, and internships for all students. During my three days of school visits, I was impressed by what I had observed -- students actively engaged in learning, a pervasive sense of purposefulness, teachers' respectful and friendly interactions with students, every student I had spoken to or overhead in conversation as articulate and bright. There was an atmosphere of learning as the business of the school. In next week's letter, I'll expand on the observations that Mark, Brian, Raleigh, and I made and the implications of our visit on MPI's five-year journey to teach and learn through collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, global awareness, and moral and ethical values. Note: Spooktivity is this Friday, October 30. All parents are invited to attend. The preschoolers begin their celebration with a parade through the elementary school at 8:30am. Kindergarten through fifth grade festivities begin at 12:45pm with the costume parade. Parents, please park by the gym behind the quad area. Please DO NOT double park or park in the firelane or at the turnaround. I still have a few days to pull my costume together! For our children, Edna L. Hussey Principal