Happy end of year, everyone! You did it!
If you are a parent, you did it all. Through sickness, crankiness, bad weather, and whatever particular trials your family endured, you got your precious ones to school…and most of you got them here on time, with lunch in hand. You made huge financial sacrifices to pay tuition. And on top of all that, you donated and volunteered in order to sustain Rainbow as a healthy community.
If you are a grandparent reading this, you are probably highly involved. According to our information, you have probably paid some tuition, and have most likely donated to keep this school thriving. You understand the value of an extended family – not just the value of providing your grandchild with an intergenerational family, but also the value of surrounding your grandchild with a vibrant community.
If you are a faculty member, a teacher, you are completing another rotation in the grand theme of life – transformation. In your own way you have birthed, nurtured, and raised a new crop of loved ones, only to watch them move away from you. Once again, you remember that when you truly love someone, you set them free.
If you are a student, you are probably not reading this. But whether you are 4 or 14, you will have had the opportunity to reflect upon your growth this year. Who were you nine months ago? Who are you today? So much about you has changed, yet you – the thing about you that makes you indescribably unique, your soul – remains eternal.
And so it is, that each of us with our own perspectives and our own inner lives came together for a year and became as one – one community growing, morphing – each of us unique pieces of something greater than ourselves, something that would have been different were any one of us not a part of it.
Coming and Going
This is also the time of year that we bid adieu to students who are graduating or not returning next year as well as to faculty members who are moving on. Our wish is to send each of you onward full of beautiful memories and feeling prepared for your next adventure. Faculty members who are moving on are Ange Moore who is moving to California, but will be back to help with our More Than Mindfulness Conference on October 6 and 7; Bryan Gillette (preschool), Micah Gardner (preschool), Dave Leflar (5th grade), Gloria Ray-Sheberle (5th grade), Danny Peters (3rd grade), and Itiyopiya Ewart (1st grade) who is having a baby!
Most of you have probably heard that Doreen Dvorscak, one of our revered kindergarten teachers, is retiring from Rainbow this year. Doreen has been here for 12 years. She has taught every current Rainbow student who has been here since kindergarten. For twelve years she has brought the magic of childhood to young Rainbow children with her theatrical passion, clever wit, compassionate spirit, and clear insight. A butterfly garden is being planted in her honor near Max’s Gazebo so that Doreen’s magic can stay with us long after her time here has come to a close. As Doreen always says, “Once a Mariposa, always a Mariposa”! Doreen leaves behind a powerful legacy, one we will cherish and hold dear as we move forward into a new era for the Kindergarten Mariposas.
Looking beyond the 16-17 School year
There is nothing more important than having the right people working with your children.
Someone once asked me what I look for when hiring faculty, and I replied, “I look for inspired educators who are both highly developed in all seven domains as well as master teachers.” Sandra and I truly invest so much of our emotional energy into the hiring process, which can be very intense. So we are very happy to announce that we have completed the hiring process for the 17-18 school year! We hired six new assistant teachers, almost all of whom have lead teaching experience. Because they share and embrace our holistic educational philosophy, they are each extremely excited to be working at Rainbow. Besides our fresh crew of new assistant teachers, we have also hired a new lead after school teacher in preschool – Lauren Levine.
We had one lead elementary teacher to hire this year, and we were flabbergasted when someone who we consider to be a famous teacher applied to teach at Rainbow. Rainbow Community School is incredibly fortunate to welcome Paula Denton as our fifth grade lead teacher. Paula taught grades 3rd – 6th for eleven years in Massachusetts at The Greenfield Center School. As a “demonstration school” that trains teachers in best practices, the Greenfield Center School only hires and retains the finest teachers. Paula holds a PhD in education from Amherst and was on the faculty at Antioch for six years. Paula has trained thousands of educators across the country. She is author of two award-winning books on education, “The First Six Weeks of School” and “The Power of Our Words.” You will find “The First Six Week of School” on many Rainbow teachers’ bookshelves with covers falling off and dozens of dog-eared pages, as it is considered by many holistic educators to be the most important book about teaching ever written. Paula created “The Responsive Classroom” teacher training programs, which have been required for all Rainbow teachers in the past. She is a foremost expert in positive discipline and holistic, integrated teaching. Paula is a “superstar” educator, but most importantly, she is compassionate, loves children, and is very passionate about being a classroom teacher. We are extremely honored that Paula has decided to work at Rainbow Community School.
What goes on during the summer?
By this time of year, the administration has one foot in completing this year, and one foot in the 2017-18 school year. This summer the administration and the board will be doing our own versions of soul-searching. The board immerses itself into a multi-day retreat. They look back on our progress and take a deep dive into divining Rainbow’s future. They recraft the strategic plan and prepare the vision.
Meanwhile the administration pours over data – financial, academic, and performance data. We reflect on the end of year survey that you, our dedicated parents, provide to help us understand what your experience was like as a family, what we need to do differently, and what we need to treasure. (If you haven’t filled out that survey quite yet, go ahead and complete it HERE.) We re-design systems in an ongoing effort to continuously improve. Operations go into full gear, getting everything prepared for the school year – materials ordered, new staff readied, technology repaired and upgraded, and so much more. With the end of the fiscal year on June 30th, the business office calculates our financial standing and prepares for our financial review and annual report, while Max and Shaun give the facilities a makeover. Teachers spend three days together working on curriculum in June, and then they are in and out all summer long, preparing their classrooms, preparing for the children, getting lesson plans ready, and doing professional development. Our biggest push begins around August 1st, as we prepare for the teachers to return on August 14th. Then the whole staff and faculty meets and trains for about 10 days, preparing for your children. Thank goodness preschool is in session all summer long, because those precious preschoolers bring such joy to those of us on administration. We can get lonely on an empty summer campus. After all, we work here because we love children!
The Poignancy of Endings
At the close of the year, when reviewing all we have gained, all the ways we have changed that we could never have predicted, it becomes startlingly clear that the only thing left to say is… thank you. Thank you for raising children we can’t help but love from the moment they enter the classroom to the moment they step up to the microphone to deliver their 8th grade speech at graduation. Thank you for creating these creatures that inspire us with purpose and passion every day. I can speak for each of us who work here at Rainbow when I say that your children are the ones we owe our transformation to this year, and next year, and the year after that. They move us beyond what we could have ever imagined. So now that we’ve arrived at yet another ending, let’s take the time to celebrate, to express our gratitude, to foster our connections, and to bask in each poignant moment as it comes and as it goes.
by Taryn Finley of The Huffington Post
Last month, Rainbow added “social justice” to our mission statement. Now, more than ever, education needs to be a force for empowerment, rather than indoctrination. This young teacher’s incredible spoken word poem begins with the Horace Mann quote, “Education is the great equalizer of the conditions of man.” He then reminds us that when Horace Mann said that, his people were hung for learning to read. He goes on from there. It’s powerful.
Kaleidoscope, April 2016
The Maypole gets wrapped on Monday at the annual Rainbow May Day Celebration – a quintessential Rainbow event. Fairies, elves, ancient dances, strawberries and cream – anyone who can slip away for the morning from 10:30 to about 11:30 will be filled with the delights of spring and the gift of life. You are all invited!
The LONG Summary of the March 22 Community Circle
The last Kaleidoscope I published was right before the March Community Circle, which was about “Cracking the Nut.” How can we keep tuition affordable, while increasing teacher salaries and improving equity? We started the meeting with an overview of how the budget is developed each year at Rainbow, stressing that since 80% of our expenses are staff salaries and expenses, any raises in staff pay directly increases tuition. We noted that our overall financial standing is very solid as a non-profit organization.
There seemed to be general agreement that the need to pay our teachers at least equal to district public school teachers is paramount, and whether the money for that comes from fees or increased tuition, people are behind that effort in spirit. In fact, people have made the point that paying our teachers fairly is an equity issue.
However, there was also concern that increasing tuition would create a hardship on many current families who might not be able to stay through years of tuition increases, and as one parent expressed at the meeting, they don’t want Rainbow to become a culture of the elite, where only those of the highest income brackets attend. As I put it in one of the slides in my presentation, we want a culture of community, not a culture of commodity – the latter being more like a business, and the former a culture where a community of people are working together to create a successful nonprofit organization and to provide the healthiest and most loving atmosphere possible for our children. If tuition increases too much, would that increase the risk of a more transactional/commodity-based community developing?
How much would tuition increase annually in order to meet the current goal to raise teacher salaries to the level of district teachers within four years, along with other strategic plan goals, such as increasing diversity?
Approximately 7% a year, for four years. To provide some context, the national average for private school annual increase is 5.4%. For the 2016-17 school year, Rainbow tuitions are increasing 6.8% on average.
To simply maintain regular staff raises, we need to increase tuition about 4%/year. The extra 3% increase amounts to about $360 per family/per year on average, or about $30/month.
The most confusing aspect of the meeting was having teacher pay linked with increasing equity and diversity.
The primary reason for this linkage is that if teacher salaries increase dramatically, the higher cost of attending will make RCS even less equitable, further exasperating its inaccessibility to those of lower and moderate incomes.
What is the connection between equity and diversity?
Equity is not the same as equality. Equality means that everyone is treated exactly the same. Equity means that those who have fewer advantages are given a chance to have some of the same opportunities as those with more advantages. In a society where people are born into very inequitable situations, we all struggle with the issue of inequity: It’s inherent in our society, but an organization that believes in mitigating societal issues rather than exasperating them, would logically try to make its own culture as equitable as possible. In a private school, financial aid is an example of a tool that promotes equity. Those who can’t afford to pay 100% of tuition receive a discount. Roughly 25% of our school population already receives a tuition discount, including staff children.
What do we mean by diversity?
Diversity comes in many forms, including religious, ethnic, racial, socio-economic, and gender identification, to name a few. We think/hope Rainbow is a fairly open and safe environment for most forms of diversity. However, racial diversity is severely lacking, and socio-economic diversity could be improved.
Why do we want diversity?
At the community circle, I presented a list of six primary reasons – too much to delve into within this newsletter. One reason is that we are a holistic school with a mission to develop leaders who will build a more compassionate world. We teach primarily using experiential learning, which means kids learn through experience. While we can cognitively teach students to be open, accepting, and empathetic of people of all types of races, incomes, etc, if they are not experiencing that diversity, it is very hard to embody that acceptance.
Is there a connection between racial diversity and socio-economic diversity?
In Asheville, yes. While the rest of the country is becoming more racially diverse, Asheville has one of the most severe gentrification circumstances in the country, making it whiter with each passing day. It’s been especially devastating for the African-American population. A mere few years ago, black people made up approximately 18% of our population. That number has sunk to as low as 8% by recent estimates. Of the black people who remain here, 59% are below the poverty line, and about 50% live in housing projects — some of the worst statistics for black people in the country. This is one of the reasons Asheville is extremely segregated along racial and income lines. There are very few middle class or wealthy African Americans in Asheville. Therefore, to build a more racially diverse population at Rainbow, statistically, we would have to offer affirmative action/financial aid funds, meaning increasing our socio-economic diversity as well. However, please don’t assume that all students of color at Rainbow are on financial aid, as that is not the case!
Isn’t there more to building a diverse school community than offering financial aid?
There sure is, which is one reason why we have a Director of Equity, why faculty have been focused on training around equity and racial understanding, and why we are auditing our classrooms and curriculum with an eye to equitability. Campus needs to feel like a safe, comfortable, and open atmosphere for all races. That includes having enough diversity that people don’t feel they are token members of a particular race.
Should our strategy be to increase teacher salaries first, and then focus on diversity?
I have had several people ask this, and it’s a fair question. Of course income is important to our teachers, but so is equity. These are people who got into teaching to change the world! That is why they are such great, passionate teachers. The staff doesn’t see this as an either/or situation. We aren’t going to EITHER raise teacher salaries OR improve equity; we need to do both. As one teacher put it, “I only want to work at a school that holds equity as a number one value.” Teachers know that to properly serve your child, they need to be a part of a community that walks the talk of one of our core pillars, as stated in our method: “We model within our community the kind of world in which we aspire to live.” Our teachers believe that all children should have access to an education like we have here. While we are practical about not being able to accept anyone and everyone on a sliding fee scale, we believe we can do better than we are now.
The good news is that all of the above is possible as long was we proceed at a modest pace.
Some of the revenue-gaining methods presented and discussed at the community circle to both increase teacher salaries and improve equity were:
-Increase the annual campaign
-Implement an extra fee that is on a sliding fee scale.
-Increase revenues outside the parent body by opening the Rainbow Institute to bring in large outside grants and also revenues for services. (To be continued…more on this in the next Kaleidoscope.)
We may do a combination of all of the above in order to mitigate tuition increases. Be assured that we will take this one step at a time. Our board and administration do an excellent job of managing our finances, and we will not take on any extra expenses without having the revenue in place. The plan that is adopted, with include a year-by-year analysis and opportunity to adapt.
As I said above, I have had many people approach me to say how important it is to them to pay our fabulous teachers fairly, and they were very willing to pay more tuition in support of that effort. That’s awesome! The teachers feel so supported! That spirit is what makes our community special. We also hope to find solutions to keep those families who can’t afford higher tuition here.
Some good new ideas came out of the circle. My personal favorite was the idea to give parents the opportunity to make a donation any/every month along with their TADS payment. This would probably greatly increase the amount of funds donated each year. Margaret is trying to figure out if this is possible through the TADS platform.
Another idea that an expert in sustainable systems later gave to the board, is to calculate the value of attending school at Rainbow Community School, and work backwards from that. Of course, the value is much higher than the tuition that is actually being charged. New families coming in may choose to pay the full value, and current families could choose to continue at the current tuition trajectory.
News of planning a high school
Yes, it is in our strategic plan to examine the feasibility of opening a high school within 7 to 10 years, but many of you have been very excited to learn that we were applying to the national XQ competition for the chance to win 10 million dollars for the purpose of starting a high school. I am honored to announce that our high school design is one of 347 that made it into the semi-finals out of the original 1200 teams. While we need to be realistic about our chances of being one of the five teams who wins $10,000,000; the competition has forced us get our high school concept on paper, which will be a huge advantage in the future, when/if the opportunity to open a high school presents itself. Some of you have asked if we do win the XQ competition, how long before the high school would open. XQ has not defined their preferred timeline, but it is rumored to be about three to five years.
How about those Lectica Scores? Hopefully, you got to read the exciting announcement about Rainbow scoring higher than any other school in the nation. Here is a link to the letter.