September 2015tile-picture-vio-a

Kaleidoscope: The many colorful things happening at Rainbow, from the Executive Director

Every year has such a different feel to it. This year?  I almost have to pinch myself.  I look around at all the things we have wished for, and see it happening.  Even more than the facilities and the programming, I marvel at the staff we have developed.  To me, they are the most enlightened group of people I know.  But the best thing of all is how vibrant all the children feel.

For those of you who are new parents, Kaleidoscope is different than the other news items you receive at Rainbow. It isn’t “news” so much as what the school looks like from my point of view.  You will learn the reason for things that otherwise don’t makes sense, and gain a deeper perspective on how things are going.  It’s more about the How and the Why, than the What.  Rainbow Reminders (e-published each Wednesday) is your #1 source of WHAT is going on that you need to know about. (By the way, did you know that Kate can actually see who opens Rainbow Reminders and who doesn’t?  For the most part, you are very astute about reading your Reminders.)

What is important enough to air on all four major networks at one time this Friday, September 11th, at 8 pm?
The president?  Nope. Education!  And Rainbow may be featured!  As you know we are incredibly honored to be one of 60 Ashoka Changemaker elementary schools.  Ashoka and a few other key players in the world of the education revolution are featured on the THINK IT UP program being aired this Friday on CBS, NBC, ABC, and FOX!!  While you watch it, be sure to be ready to tweet your favorite stories about Rainbow, because they will be live streaming a lot of social media response from around the country.  Change is in the air – literally.  So please tune in to the airwaves this Friday.

How Are We Doing?
We asked you in the End of Year Survey, and over 40 of you responded.  Overall rankings were very high, with “Rainbow’s philosophy and approach to education” and “Quality of teachers” scoring the highest.  (Click HERE to view the graphs.)

In answering the question “What is/are the most important aspects about Rainbow?…” There were a huge number of comments about the teachers – how loving and respectful they are, the intellectual growth they stimulate, the care they put into teaching, the emotional safety they create, etc, including a number of accolades for specific teachers.  There were almost as many comments about the holistic philosophy of Rainbow’s educational model being the most important thing.  “Community” and “spirituality” were also commented on.
In response to “If you could change anything or wish anything, what would it be? There were repeated comments in the following areas:

People hoping for more diversity
People wishing RCS were free or lower tuition
People overwhelmed with all the communication and email
People wanting a high school
People wishing for vans or buses for field trips
People wondering about security measures on campus

Let’s take a look at each of these:

Diversity:  I was glad to see these comments! Yes, the board feels this is the most important priority over the short term future, and so do I.  Please see our new poster on diversity for more clarity on why diversity and inclusion is important.  We envision Rainbow as a truly integrated and inclusive community for many important reasons.  Also, I encourage anyone to take the Building Bridges class by visiting www.buildingbridges.org.  We have over 10 staff and board members taking it this term, including a couple who are facilitators.  I highly recommend it.  Building Bridges is actively working to make Asheville a more integrated community.

Can Rainbow be free?  Great idea.  Let’s figure out how to make that happen – at least for the people who can’t afford it, so as many children as possible can have access to holistic education – and not just in Asheville, but all over.  Let’s dream big!

Can we have a high school?  For years, this has been the most repeated comment on End of Year surveys. Now that we have completed our P-8 model, maybe designing a high school could be feasible.  Should the board consider exploring it as a possibility in the new long range strategic plan? Sounds like a potential new committee.

The communication is overwhelming. We know that a lot of information is always pouring out of Rainbow, and it can feel super overwhelming. We are a very active community with a lot going on.  If you get lost, just make sure you at least read Rainbow Reminders, your teacher’s emails, and the occasional emails from your class parent.

People wanting a bus or van: I remember in 2007 when I was interviewing for the E.D. position at Rainbow, and I found out there was no school bus.  I couldn’t believe it!  “How do you go on field trips?” I asked.  “The parents drive.”  Wow.  Amazing  parents! The school is almost twice as big now, and we still don’t have a bus.  As amazing as you all are, we obviously need transportation.  Teachers would take your students on  lot more field trips – including quick little trips to nearby nature areas – if they didn’t have to arrange all the logistics of parent drivers for every foray into the wilderness.  Plus, having all those drivers on the road is a little scary, and it’s hard to keep track of everyone.  It would be much safer to have a school bus.  Parent Council’s intention is to change that this year by raising money for a bus or two.  They already posted a Crowdrise fundraiser on RCS’s website that has $4,000 in donations.  If this is something you believe is important, click HERE. A lot of small donations will add up quickly.

Security: I think it is particularly important to talk about security at the beginning of the school year.  Our campus is five acres, and it was not designed as a school, per se.  Instead, Rainbow purchased land and buildings little by little, resulting in a creative hodgepodge! As one person commenting on security in the End of Year survey said, “I know this is a by-product of the layout of the buildings, and I wouldn’t want the school to feel like a fortress…”  This parent made another good point, that even if it were possible to build a barricade around the whole property and only allow people in who are “buzzed in” by the main office, that is not the community-style of education we believe in.  We believe that families should feel comfortable being on campus throughout the day.  As a result, we have to be very alert about safety, and you should know about the systems we have in place.

A couple years ago, we installed a digital intercom system that can be accessed from any staff member’s cell phone.  So, for example, if a potential threat were seen in the parking lot or street, a staff member can call a lock-down from any place on or off campus, and it will be announced instantaneously all over campus.  We practice our lock-down drills both with and without the children, and with and without the local police.
Fortunately, we have never had any trouble, and that is partly because of our strong community.  You are part of that community — if you ever see peculiar behavior, please report it right away. If you see someone who doesn’t act like they have a child or grandchild on campus, please go up and ask if you can help them.  (This is a great way to be both welcoming and safe.)  Sergeant Creson, an expert who consulted with us and helped us map our campus safety plan, emphasized that violent episodes in schools are a result of people who are associated with the school – not strangers who randomly attack.  So our most important security is in maintaining a healthy, strong community of sane individuals.  Also, we have a wonderful relationship with the local police, who keep a good eye on us.  Many of you might have noticed officers Eric Halford and Juan Gonzales, our West Asheville day beat officers, who were here the first couple days of school. You are always welcome to call them directly.  Juan’s number is 828-242-6850.

Also, we are so happy to finally have the main office up at the front of the property by Haywood Road, where we can insist that visitors check in at the office, and we can more easily see who is entering off of Haywood Road.  (If you haven’t checked the new office out yet, feel free to come in and say hi.)

After school is really focusing on safety this year, which is the main reason for all the after school changes.  As Rainbow grew, we realized that the convenience of simply bringing all children to after school at the end of the day was too confusing and not as safe as having children specifically signed up for after school.  Thank you for your patience, as they work on getting the system flowing.

High in Mind
A shot of dopamine goes off in our brains every time we learn something.  I confess, I am totally addicted! I have the best job in the whole world for a learn-aholic.  Not only am I constantly challenged and learning all the time, but I have the pleasure of sharing the thing that makes me high with others,  all day long, every day.  Complete joy!  But I am still always looking for more.  So, as many of you know, I was accepted into an Ed.D. program at Columbia Teachers College. I will be going to New York one weekend a month during the school year for the program, starting this weekend.  I also spent several weeks on Columbia’s campus in June for summer term, and I loved it!

I applied for a K-12 EdD program, but ended up being accepted into an adult learning and leadership program called AEGIS (Adult Education Guided Intensive Study), and it has turned out to be perfect.  I am passionate about the importance of spreading Rainbow-style holistic education, and I see pursuing my Doctor of Education Degree as an important step in preparing Rainbow to be a key player in the Education Revolution.  Through this program, I am learning about how to train adults – such as parents, teachers, and school leaders.  The program was founded by Jack Mezirow, the “father “of Transformative Learning.  So far, we have learned a lot about adult development, and how to help people rise to new levels of learning all through their lives.  It’s very holistic.  A few people have asked if they can read some of my papers, so I have attached one which you can access by clicking here.  This short paper is a fairly personal reflection, but it provides quite a bit of insight about my strategy of leadership at Rainbow, so I don’t at all mind sharing it.

A Vote of Confidence.
I sometimes make fun of how “unscientific”  the WNC Best of Awards are, but they are very important!  As a small school, it is amazing that we get so many votes compared to larger schools that have so many more voters. That shows how enthusiastic and devoted you all are—so, THANK YOU so much for taking the initiative to vote for your Rainbow school. These awards help other people in the community pay attention to the important work we are doing at Rainbow.  The awards also help us raise grant funds.  Lately, we have submitted several grants, searching for funding for our proposed Community Environmental Learning Center (CELC), and winning those awards gave our application credibility. (More on the CELC later.)

Did you notice that we won first place for Best Science and Tech education program?  Science, engineering, systems, (and technology in the older grades) are taught in experiential ways at Rainbow, with complex understandings arising from field world, lab work, experiments, and games.  While standardized test scores only tell a small part of the story, it is not surprising that our students blow the roof off of the SAT 10 Science test each year.  Be sure to have lots of great dinner time science conversations with your children this year to enhance their opportunity to dialog on scientific concepts.

Potlucks are our favorite thing…
….and the best one of the year is next Friday, September 18.  Sue Ford’s marimba band will be playing, and the backyard is going to be full of love, life, and excellent food.  If you bring a dessert, we will ask you to place it at the new courtyard, where will have will a little celebration of the new space after dinner.  Thanks for making it happen!

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