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.
Getting the Next Generation to Fall in Love with the Planet
Check out this interview with Dan Siegel on the psychology and sociology of our environment. At Rainbow I often stress that helping students cultivate a deep and personal relationship with the natural world is our only hope of saving it, as they will only protect what they love. Dan Siegel shares that same sentiment adding the notion of “mwe.” When we learn to see ourselves as integrally connected to all things and to one another, we will end the destruction of our time and begin taking care of one another and the planet that sustains us. It all begins with love.
Kaleidoscope: The many colorful things happening at Rainbow, from the Executive Director
Hello beautiful Rainbow Community. I am so happy spring is here! It was a mild winter in terms of weather, but emotionally speaking, I found it hard to keep the ol’ disposition sunny during the dark days of winter. How about you? Was it a little harder to be patient with your family or community? At school, the kids seem fine with the darker days. In fact, in our fast-paced, extroverted world, the slower, inward days of winter are a time for the children to focus on academics. At your child’s conference, you will find they have accomplished a lot over the winter months.
No matter what one’s age, the gloriousness of spring lifts the spirits, and it is good to see everyone outside more often. Every grade, K-8 is busy with their citizen science outdoor projects.
What is citizen science? It’s the collection and analysis of data that is contributed to national scientific projects. So essentially, our students are participating in collaborative projects with professional scientists throughout the year to help identify trends or changes locally, regionally and nationally! Here are the projects our students are participating in:
- Kindergarten and 2nd grade – Nature’s Notebook – recording observations of local plants and animals.
- First grade – Project Squirrel – tracking our squirrel population.
- Third, fourth and fifth grade – Project eBird – tracking bird populations on our campus and other local areas.
- Omega – Project Budburst – tracking plant phenophases throughout the year.
Speaking of science, did you see the cool one minute video that Michael and Ange made from the Design Fair and Science Fair? If not, CLICK HERE, and be sure to share it on social media!
Keeping Tuition Affordable: Help Crack the Nut! It sounds like there is going to be good attendance at this Community Circle meeting coming up on Tuesday, March 22nd, 4 – 6pm in the 4th Grade Classroom. Child care is free during the meeting. Please be a part of this important discussion. (More information is at the bottom of this Kaleidoscope.)
YOU make all the difference in the world
One of the strategies for “cracking the nut” is to raise grant funds, but this requires proof that our program works. That requires lots of data, and YOUR data counts, literally! PLEASE CLICK HERE NOW, and complete the research survey that PhD candidate, Alan Bush, has created. Alan is tabulating all the answers and providing us with a report. What an awesome opportunity – don’t miss it!
YOUR CHILDREN make all the difference in the world
Our Rainbow kids never cease to amaze me. I recently received this message from the highly esteemed Dr. Theo Dawson:
I’ve been checking out your students’ Reflective Judgment scores today and I think they may well be the most impressive results we’ve ever seen. It’s making my heart sing!
Dr. Dawson, and her team at Lectica, has spent almost three decades creating tests that can assess student’s complexity of thinking and ability to reason ethically. This work is based out of research from the Mind, Brain, and Education program at Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the work of Kurt Fischer. Rainbow’s fourth through eighth graders took the Reflective Judgment test, which reveals how they think about inquiry, evidence, learning & the mind, truth & certainty, conflict resolution, persuasion, and deliberation.
As you can imagine, I was pretty thrilled to get a personal email from the head of the Lectica saying our students’ scores may be the best they have ever seen!! Soon, we will be receiving the formal score reports and sharing them with your children and with the world. It is so exciting to finally have real scientific evidence proving what we already knew – Rainbow’s holistic program creates kids who are highly ethical, empathetic, and cognitively developed to a level of sophistication that is beyond their years. (Of course, Rainbow students score very well on traditional standardized tests too, but those tests only show a small sliver of rote skill attainment, without showing complexity of thinking or soft skill development.)
Rainbow students’ high level of social/emotional skills will serve them very well when applying to colleges. The most prestigious universities are now changing their application processes to make the SAT optional, and to stress empathy as the most important quality– and this trend is going to become much stronger by the time your kids are applying for college. I recommend clicking the link for the following Washington Post article: To get into college, Harvard report advocates for kindness instead of overachieving.
Everyone a Changemaker!
Rainbow’s new Director of Equity, Kyja Wilburn, and I attended an Ashoka Changemaker Summit in February. CLICK HERE to view Kyja’s presentation on our experience at the summit, information about the Changemaker network, and some of her thoughts about building equity in schools. If you haven’t met Kyja yet, this is a great introduction. Incidentally, Kyja and first grade assistant, Clarissa, also coached Odyssey of the Mind this year, and our team is going to state!
Smart People Strategizing
On Wednesday, March 16, one of my professors from Columbia University Teacher’s College, Lyle Yorks, and his colleague, Harold Penton, are consulting with the Rainbow board on something called Blue Ocean Strategizing, and they will be interviewing various people on campus for research they are conducting. (Another great opportunity for Rainbow!) I hope you get to meet them.
I can’t wait for Domain Day!
Domain Day is Friday, March 18, and the whole school is celebrating. Children will spend almost the whole day “specializing” in one of their favorite domains in multi-age groups. I am one of the leaders for the spiritual domain. Chris Weaver and I will be taking eight young children on a magical hero’s journey for the day. I LOVE my job!
It will take many years before the new section of campus is “Rainbow-ized” like our old campus, but we make creative progress little by little. This weekend, community muralist, Ian Wilkinson is painting a rainbow and a sun on the front of the Rainbow Community Center (auditorium) building. Ian has created more than 40 murals in Asheville. His most famous is the chess player painted on Lexington Ave underneath Highway 240.
As promised above, more information on the upcoming Community Circle:
On Tuesday, March 22nd from 4-6pm, in the Fourth Grade Classroom, RCS will hold a Community Circle meeting. No fee for childcare during the meeting. As a community we have such amazing ideas and we each have incredible contributions to make to our school. We work together to solve so many challenges. At this meeting, we need the collective wisdom of our community members to “help crack the nut!”
Rainbow Community School needs to solve the largest puzzle that we have. The board calls it “the nut we have to crack.” Essentially, the “nut” is that we charge tuition and that makes it hard to serve a wide array of families. The “nut” is trying to figure out how to keep tuition as low as possible, so that Rainbow education isn’t just for those in the highest social-economic demographic. At the same time, we need to have enough revenue coming in to pay our staff, maintain/improve facilities, and to keep a low teacher/student ratio and all the quality programming that we have. Currently, we do it by paying our staff very low salaries. Rainbow lead teachers make, on average, about $7,000 less a year than Buncombe County teachers and North Carolina ranks 46th in teacher pay in the US.
The board has decided that we have two major equity issues to tackle – racial equity and teacher pay equity. There are only two ways to solve the teacher pay equity issue – either save money by staffing more kids per teacher or increase revenues. Doing the former would compromise our quality, so that means focusing on the latter.
So, how can we increase revenues? Tuition is our only consistent source of funding, and it makes up 95% of our revenues. Currently, tuition goes up quite a bit every year, just to keep up with the 3%-6% salary raise teachers receive annually. If we started providing larger staff raises, tuition would have to increase immensely.
How else can we raise more revenue — A LOT of revenue, like $200,000/year more– without making Rainbow totally unaffordable? We could have a much larger annual campaign, but the $80,000 we currently have is not easy. We could raise tuition steeply, but on a sliding fee scale. This has its obvious drawbacks. People have also suggested we have an additional fee each year and families below a certain income wouldn’t have to pay it. Again, this has some major drawbacks. While we may have to consider some of these options, the ultimate goal is to get creative and find funding – consistent annual funding — from outside the parent body.
COME TO THE COMMUNITY CIRCLE MEETING ON MARCH 22nd TO HELP US FIGURE THIS OUT AND MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD!
We need the collective wisdom of our community members to crack this nut!
We hope to see you there.
With the intense budget cuts and challenges in public schools, get ready to hear the term “blended learning” more and more. Blended learning is simply a mix of face-to-face classroom time with the added use of technology. The hype and selling point of blended learning for parents is that it potentially provides more self-pace and self-directed learning as students move through materials on a computer. The selling point for politicians and school administrators is that it cuts costs, which is really the driving force behind this trend. In her article for The Washington Post Valerie Strauss speaks to the myth of blended learning:
“These adaptive learning systems (the new teaching machines) do not build more resilient, creative, entrepreneurial or empathetic citizens through their individualized, standardized, linear and mechanical software algorithms. On the contrary, they diminish the many opportunities for human relationships to flourish, which is a hallmark of high-quality learning environments.”
What is the purpose of education? It isn’t to blast through the content. It is to build a better world with empathetic, critical thinking citizens who are able to shape a society that is fulfilling, ecologically sustainable, and just. So far the blended classroom system is simply one of many tools available to a teacher (and Rainbow teachers certainly takes advantage of some blended learning); but there is zero evidence that blended learning improves even traditional content-oriented learning, much less that it meets loftier goals. Beware of the slippery slope.
Blended Learning: The great new thing or the great new hype?
By Valerie Strauss for The Washington Post