Kaleidoscope – April 2016

Kaleidoscope – April 2016

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.

New ideas
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.

Kaleidoscope – April 2016

Kaleidoscope – March 2016

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:

Hi Renee,

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 inquiryevidencelearning & the mindtruth & certaintyconflict resolutionpersuasion, 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!

Rainbow-ize everything!
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.


We need the collective wisdom of our community members to crack this nut!

We hope to see you there.

Kaleidoscope – April 2016

Kaleidoscope – January 2016

Kaleidoscope tileJanuary 2016

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

As I reflect back on 2015 I am struck by how much was accomplished at our little school.  I am so happy we said “goodbye” to 2015 with love.  Wasn’t the winter program about love…lovely?  ALL the songs were written by the students along with Sue Ford (music teacher), and classroom teachers.  Plus, Billy Goodrum, parent and internationally acclaimed composer, made a special appearance with two songs Omega students wrote with him.  A text came to Sandra McCassim (Director of Operations) during the performance that read, “These songs are all so catchy! They MUST be recorded!” We will see if we can do an audio recording for you.
The theme of every song was love, and I have enjoyed carrying those songs in my head and in my heart throughout break, and into 2016.  In fact, love is my intention for 2016 – inspired by your children.

There is much to look forward to. After completing almost everything on our strategic plan that was written in 2013, the board has been laboring since the parent summit last fall to write an updated strategic plan.  What is next for Rainbow?  What are we called to do?

Lately, it seems we have been called to do a lot.  Below are some examples:
On January 13, two PhD’s who are writing a book on compassionate schools are visiting for the day.  They will be observing classes and interviewing students and staff.

The Ashoka Foundation has asked me to help write a book on changemaking education.  I will be spending the whole third week of January with seven other writers from other Ashoka Changemaking schools, and at the end of the week we will have the first draft of a book!

In late February, I and our new Director of Equity, Kyja Wilburn, will also be spending a week with Ashoka at a national summit to strategize how we can influence the national educational system to be more compassionate and to better prepare students for the future.  Soon after that, in March, West Willmore will be presenting at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, on behalf of Ashoka.

Another researcher, Alan Bush, is proposing to do a dissertation on resiliency based on research at Rainbow. One of his co-workers, Amelia Terrapin, is providing free services to Rainbow as she pilots a program she has created on reflective thinking and group learning through movement. (Amelia has a great TedX talk, which you can see here.) Yet, another researcher, Judy Yero, author of “Teaching in Mind” visited in October, and after visiting 50 schools that she handpicked nationwide, Rainbow was one that she hi-lighted to an investor that she is working for.

Plus, West and I have put together an all-star team to design a high school.  (See November’s Kaleidoscope for an explanation of the XQ high school $10 million grant competition.)  Our concept for “rEVOLution High” was submitted and accepted by XQ, so now we move onto the next phase, which is due February 1.  I encourage you to read the concept, by clicking here.  You can watch the rEVOLution High concept video here, by using the password “rainbow.”

In March, a researcher from Columbia Teachers College and another from LSU are going to be interviewing parents, students, staff, and working with the board on “Blue Ocean Strategizing.”  They have worked with very large corporations and non-profit organizations, and are interested in applying Blue Ocean strategizing to a school for research purposes.  We are honored they have chosen to work with us as their pilot!  This is also a great opportunity to get help in strategizing how best to capture the opportunities we have right now, and how to make the largest impact with the fewest resources (and/or how to expand our resources.)  This is very important as our little school is being noticed all over the country.  How can we make the biggest difference for our own students and community, while helping to make holistic, Seven Domains education widely accessible?

First we need 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 – only a narrow sliver can afford to attend.  Of course, that is obvious, and it is more complex than that.  We have to charge tuition because the education we provide does not fit into the BOX of public school education.  Until we can change that, 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.  Not only would it not match our values to be exclusionary, but additionally, we can’t prove that Seven Domains education should be available to public school students, if we haven’t proven that it is effective with a wide 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 and we have.

How do we make ends meet?  Currently, we do it by paying our staff very low salaries.  I am sorry to report that 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. This is surprising, and quite disturbing to most parents when they discover this fact — especially since we have such amazing teachers and they work so hard! As you know, it is quite a struggle to pay tuition, so it just doesn’t seem possible that tuition isn’t enough to pay salaries that don’t even compare with some of the lowest paid teachers in the country.  However, some straight forward math reveals that when we have fewer students in a classroom than public schools and we staff two teachers in a room instead of one, and tuition is set only a little higher than what public schools receive per pupil, that by the time all our revenue is spread out over all the staff (and staff is 80% of our expenses, annually), that salaries end up being low.

Therefore, the board has decided that we have two major equity issues to tackle on our new strategic plan – racial equity (see November Kaleidoscope for more discussion) 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.  The current average tuition at NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) is $17,800/year.  Clearly, our tuition is way below that, while our quality of instruction matches NAIS schools, and we seem to have enough demand for enrollment to support a high tuition increase.  However, our integrity and values do not match that kind of tuition increase! 
So, 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. As you can see, this is quite a nut to crack!

The strategy for “cracking the nut”
While we may have to consider some of the options above if we want to pay our teachers fair salaries, the ultimate goal is to get really creative and find funding – consistent annual funding — from outside the parent body.  This is almost unheard of for a private school, but Rainbow is unique!

The strategy we hope to create is to wrap the following two goals together :
1) to impact national education and 

2) to make our own campus more equitable.
After all, with all the attention our Seven Domain educational model is receiving, we should be able to receive some revenues through sharing it. Some possibilities: publish books, train teachers, hold conferences, start “franchising” Rainbow schools – and to use some of the funds from this work to fund equitable tuition at Rainbow.  However, all of these ventures require an investment of labor and money.  So we are beginning to look for large grant funding to support spreading our influence on a national level.  The XQ high school grant is one example, but there are more possibilities. Ultimately, I would like to see tuition decrease, while teacher pay increases, and financial aid (accessibility) increases.  Dream big!  That’s what I tell your kids. I believe this is possible and I will be continuing to write about it in upcoming Kaleidoscopes.

Tuition for 2016-17
In the meantime, we are fortunate to be financially stable, and to have the resources we need to maintain our current level of quality.  This month the board will vote on the tuition rates for the 2016-17 school year with an eye to maintaining that quality while increasing teacher pay and equitability.  Be sure to check your parent mailboxes at the beginning of next month, where the new rates and your tuition contracts will be placed.

Also, in the meantime, one thing that really makes a difference with the “nut” is the annual campaign. We want to thank everyone who donated to the annual campaign.  We actually raised slightly more than the $80,000 goal!  About 70% of all families, including a lot of awesome grandparents, donated.  If you intended to pledge, and didn’t get around to it, it is NOT too late!  In fact, any donations that come in before June 30 will be applied to this year’s annual campaign. There are many campus projects that we can accomplish with extra annual campaign funds, such as fencing off the athletic field from the street, making a CD of our winter program, increasing the counselor’s hours, and much more. Did you know that 100% of the teachers and staff donated to the annual campaign? That is just another example of what a generous community we have.  Thank you to everyone for donating to make Rainbow the incredible non-profit organization it is today!

I especially want to shout out to our fundraising volunteers!!  These brave parents donate their time to go out and ask people for money.  That is a job a lot of people aren’t willing to get paid to do!  They do it for free because they love Rainbow, they love you, and they want to see this school and your children succeed.  So please, go out of your way to thank whoever on the fundraising committee solicited you for your annual campaign donation this year.  It was probably one of the following people: Zack Adam, Sarah Corley, Andrea Rosal, Jenn Tracy, Ira Starr, Neill Yelverton, Macy Pugh, and Claudia Konijn.  They are heroes!  Also, we want to thank Sara Stender for managing the campaign so beautifully this year.

If you found this Kaleidoscope informative, be sure to recommend it to a fellow parent or grandparent.  I also hope you clicked on the high school concept link and took the time to read it or to watch the video.  There is a lot happening, and with a shared vision we can make a huge difference in the future of education and in the lives of your children.  We are a strong community.  Blessings for 2016!

Kaleidoscope – April 2016

Kaleidoscope: November 2015

Kaleidoscope tileNovember 2015


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



November is here; it feels like life is being squeezed into shorter days.  Classrooms have established their mascot names. Relationships have formed.  Academic units are rolling along.  What is your child’s school experience so far this year?  Has he or she attached to his/her teachers?  Is she feeling some success in all the domains?  November conferences are just around the corner, and that will be a good time to get a feel from your teacher’s perspective.  Will Ray, director of counseling, is also available (extension #430, will.ray@rainbowlearning.org) if you sense that there may be a need for some extra intervention, or if you need guidance as a parent.

The Hoedown was a huge success in every way.  The core team of Stephanie Cody, Jenny Hatcher, and Lisa Sullivan totally rocked the planning.  The band rocked the stage.  And parent council and all the volunteers made it all happen. The Hoedown netted $4,967! Did you go through the haunted house?  Did you do the scary tour or the not-so-scary? Aren’t those Omega students clever?  They put all that together in only one day.

El Dia de los Muertos was beautiful.  Thank you to Oscar and Laura (parents of Tona in Kindergarten) for making this year’s celebration especially sweet and gorgeous, and for sharing your tradition.  I have never seen such a beautiful Day of the Dead altar.

Speaking of beautiful, I just finished writing a new Heart of the Matter on BEAUTY, and the place that beauty has in a holistic education.  It will be in your box, and you can read it here.  It is a revised version of a shorter essay I wrote last year.  How much beauty is in your life?

XQ Super School: The Next High School? 
You have all heard of IQ.  Most likely you have heard of EQ (emotional intelligence), and you may have heard of SQ (spiritual intelligence).  Now there is XQ!  The XQ Super School competition is a nation-wide grant contest, calling for “audacious” high school designs that completely scrap the current, obsolete model of education and start over.  Steve Job’s widow, Lauren Jobs, is donating $50 million dollars, with the intention of awarding five winning High Schools $10 million each.  Obviously, this is a bit of a long shot, but when I received an email with a link to the XQ website, I felt called to give it a try.  West Willmore sent me that fated email, and she is coordinating the application with me. The XQ rules require that the school be a public school, and we are not sure how the XQ people plan to merge “audacious” school designs with “government controlled.”  If that is actually realistic, it would be great, because it will ensure that the high school will serve a diverse population, especially those who most need it.  Free is awesome! We are putting together a great team of people who have expertise in many areas.  The concept we are working on has a mission and holistic approach similar to Rainbow: To develop change leaders who are prepared to build a world that is socially just, spiritually fulfilling, and environmentally sustainable.  Maybe “spiritually fulfilling” is more “audacious” than the XQ Super School grant is looking for?  We will see.  I will update you more on this process in upcoming Kaleidoscopes.

Got justice? 
The current Rainbow Mission Statement reads: To develop accomplished, confident, and creative learners who are prepared to be leaders in a compassionate and environmentally sustainable world.  The board has been working very hard on finishing the revised strategic plan, and within that work, the idea of adding “socially just” to the last part of the mission statement has come up.  What is your reaction to that?  Do you want to be preparing your child to help create a world that is socially just?  Some of the representative faculty members who discussed this issue wanted to make sure Rainbow can really walk that talk if we adopt socially just into our mission.  What would we have to do to be more socially just as an organization? As a private school?

Racial Equity is currently the biggest issue of discussion amongst the faculty right now. We have about a dozen faculty members taking the Building Bridges course right now. Plus, we are doing some in house trainings on structural racism, and last night we discussed how each of us develop in terms of racial identity as we mature and become more dedicated to justice.

What can you do as a parent?  I strongly advise taking the Building Bridges course.  It is life changing.  It’s a nine-week course, starting on January 25, on Mondays; from 7 – 9pm. It’s only $35!  Besides providing a wealth of information, this course brings people of multiple races together to have open, honest conversations about race.  Asheville has become known, sadly, as a very segregated city, but Building Bridges is working to change that.  You will be so glad you made the commitment to be a part of the change, by signing up here for the next Building Bridges course.

How else can you help? 
Speaking of social justice, the annual campaign is one of the most important tools we have toward becoming a more socially just organization.  Besides simply paying the bills, it helps us keep tuition down and provides financial aid, so we can have a more diverse and equitable school.  We are fortunate to have much more socio-economic diversity at Rainbow than most private schools, so we recognize the amount each family can donate is very different for everyone here.

My goal for this year and years to come: To spend more of my time on making Rainbow the best school it can be, and less time on fundraising.  You can help by turning in your annual campaign pledge early! Similar to public radio station campaigns, the sooner we meet the $80,000 goal, the sooner we can end the campaign– greatly saving on staff time, resources, and on how many times you have to hear about it.  Don’t delay!  Pledge today!  (Also, like radio stations, you only need to pledge now, and pay later.) We definitely want to meet that goal before the Winter Program, so that we don’t have to interrupt that precious programming to talk about the annual campaign.

An Original
! The winter program is going to be made up of ALL original music written by Sue Ford and students.  The faculty had their first practice for our faculty performance, and it made my heart sing.  I can’t wait to share it with you.

What Happens “Over the Rainbow?”
 The Middle School Open House included a panel of alumni students that was wonderful and heartwarming.  We put a call out on Facebook asking for Rainbow alumni to participate, and had two very full panels of high school students who were eager to talk about their high school experience and how Rainbow prepared them.  I have immense respect for these students, whom I consider to be some of the most wonderful people on Earth.  Soon, there will be a videotape of the panel posted on our website.  Look for a link on Rainbow Reminders.

It’s Easy Being Green!
 Zhenya Fomin, dad of Misha in preschool, installs green roofs for a living.  He has generously offered to install a green roof at Rainbow.  It is time to start “rainbow-izing” the new campus, so we chose the walkway roof that goes between 6th grade and the east-side door to the auditorium.  Zhenya plans on doing the install very soon!

More Green: We are honored to receive TWO grants from the Arboretum: Inspire and Explore.  One grant is supporting the teachers and students in citizen science projects, where every class is conducting science research and collecting data for large data banks for scientific researchers around the world.  Ask your teacher what your child’s class is doing for citizen science.  The other grant is providing funds and help to install a nature trail and a pollinator garden on the new campus.  That installation is now scheduled to be in late winter.

Change is in the Air! With Hoedown and El Dia de los Muertos behind us, we have properly celebrated the height of autumn, which brings changes in the weather and the soul. In our American culture, which is so often centered on the individual, I look forward each year to Thanksgiving, when we celebrate our gratitude for others.  In centering in Omega, the students reflect on a quote every day.  I just found one from Dietrick Bonhoeffer: “In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” I joined Omega for centering yesterday, which was being led by a student.  Everyone was asked to share one thing that they are unhappy about with a partner, so that our partner could then provide us with at least six things we could smile about.  My partner shared that she is very sad about this being her last year at Rainbow.  I gave this bright student many reasons to smile.  For one, she gets to go out into the world and share the beauty and love she has received here at Rainbow with others, and she is truly prepared to do that.  That is something to be grateful for.  All of us here are very rich.

Kaleidoscope – April 2016

Kaleidoscope: September 2015

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!

Kaleidoscope February 2015

Kaleidoscope February 2015

2010 May DayHave you been wondering when construction will begin?

Besides everything else going on, there is a large construction project looming on our horizon.

In the background, a team of people have been working hard at getting our construction project off the ground. Jeff Dalton, parent of Sara Grace in 5th grade, and lead architect at Row House Architects, has been preparing the final plans for bidding.

Contractor, Chris Fox, parent of Lily (4th) and Nate (1st), has been generously and courageously acting as construction manager. He has used his practical expertise to think through the plans with us, making sure they meet our needs and budget, and he filed for the permit back in December.

I don’t know what we would have done without these guys, so if you see them say thanks!

Just last week, the city finally turned the permit around, and as soon as they have the names of the general contractor and the subs, we will have a permit. Four contractors are bidding, and their bids are due Thursday. Everyone – keep your fingers crossed, pray, wish, etc.– that the bids will come back within our very specific budget.

The winning contractor will have to start immediately into order to meet our deadline. (Remember, we need to have our new classrooms ready in time for the 2015-16 school year in order to have enough classrooms for everyone next year.)

So what will the next few months be like with a construction project underway?

It will begin with a bang — demolition.

Sometime between March 4 and March 12 an environmental contractor will spend three days removing any materials that contained asbestos or other potentially hazardous materials so that they are removed with the utmost environmental and air quality standards in place – not one particle of friable material is to become air born.

I have never watched this, but in my imagination I see lots of dust-buster style devices sucking every particle of dust up while white-robed technicians remove windows and take dry wall down. ECS has a reputation for being the best and they guarantee the safety of the children and anyone who will be using the building.

It is going to be shocking to have all the downstairs windows out and boarded up! After the environmentally sensitive work is done, the contractor will begin sledge-hammer work, tearing down five structural walls and disposing of materials into huge trash bins. Excavation of the courtyard area will commence, and fill dirt will start piling up.

It’s going to be loud, dirty, and inconvenient…but so satisfying when it is done. There will be days that no one will be allowed in the auditorium, such as when the environmental work is being done downstairs. But for the most part, normal activities will continue right through construction.

Why do we need the extra classroom space so soon?

The big game-changer is the expanded Omega.

The current 8th grade is the last of the small classes from the “old” days of Rainbow. When the current five 8th graders graduate in June, they will be followed by a rising 8th grade class which has 20 students currently, and the rising 7th grade, which also has 20 students.

Therefore, Omega will go from having 25 students this year to having up to 40 students. No longer will Omega be a one homeroom-style classroom. It will require at least two classrooms, and a few smaller rooms available for break out groups, electives, and tutoring.

The original plan was to have 6th grade in the lower level of the community center, but after consideration, the teachers and I realized that it makes more sense for 6th grade to move into the large room that Omega is currently in, and for the New Omega to inhabit the lower level of the community center.

It is going to be exciting to have the whole middle school program on the new campus. The music classroom will be completed during construction. Eventually, a new art room will also be in the lower level.

Expanding Omega

Of course, expanding Omega means hiring a larger teaching staff.

We will be adding a full time Science teacher, and since there is a shortage of Science teachers nationwide, I am extremely pleased at the number of fantastic Science teachers who are applying for the additional lead teacher position in Omega.

We are also adding a full time teacher assistant to Omega, and we have some wonderful applicants for that as well. Sandra and I are busy reading resumes for several positions. We have already had a couple of prospective teachers demonstrate and complete their interviews. Rainbow is very fortunate to be a place where extraordinary people want to work.

Columbia University

Here is something new in my life: I applied to a doctorate program at Columbia University.

Not because I don’t have enough to do, but because the program is project-based, and the replication of Rainbow is the project I am proposing. It is a very competitive program, and a long-shot that I will be accepted, but if it works out, we will have the resources, wisdom, and creditability of Columbia’s Teachers College behind our school!

If I am accepted, I will have to be on campus in New York for three weeks in the summer, and for eight different weekends throughout the school year (almost one weekend per month) for the next two years. They have called me in for an on-campus interview, so I will be in New York for part of this week. Again, it’s a highly competitive program, and the chances of being accepted are very small, but I thought it was worth a try.

My short personal statement for my application can be read HERE.

It is somewhat personal, but I wanted to share it with you. At the end of the statement I reference a quote by John Dewey: “I believe education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform.”

Did you know the teachers at Rainbow are working on writing a book?

They are compiling centering techniques and activities into a book that will potentially be called “The Centered Classroom.” Centering is part of the glue that holds our learning community together. Inviting in spirit and sacred space every day, and making that integral to each child’s daily experience is special. Children develop the habit of having a meaningful, daily spiritual practice. Teachers outside of Rainbow have asked how to do centering, so this book is for them.

By the way, centering is open for parents to join.

When I first came to Rainbow it was still a tradition for parents to participate in centering on a regular basis. It is a wonderful way to start your day, so please feel free to stay beyond drop off for centering when you have the chance. It’s not just for kids!

Science Fair was incredible.

Did you get to check it out?! Amazing! Several of the prospective teachers who are applying for the middle school Science position visited Omega during Science fair, including people who had worked at Carolina Day School and Asheville School, and they were exceedingly impressed with the sophistication of our students.

Dance, Drum, Pray on May Day!

Important Date Change: LEAF International is partnering with Rainbow Community School for an awesome global opportunity. In May, we will be hosting an indigenous Costa Rican dancing/drumming group call Proyecto Jirondai from May 4 – May 7, so we are changing our May Day Celebration to May 5, so that they can join us.

I had the honor and good fortune to witness an indigenous spring earth-based celebration when I was in Ecuador, and I know there are some deep similarities in this ritual throughout South America, Central America, and Mexico.

It will be very special having this group with us for May Day. At the end of their residency, the group and several lucky Rainbow students who sign up for the after school special program with Proyecto Jirondai will get to perform with them on stage at LEAF. You will be hearing much more about this groups’ residency. If you want to be a host family, contact Caryn Hanna at 828-768-1826.

Spring is Around the Corner

Spring truly is just around the corner. I hope these cold winter days provided an opportunity to savor the slowness of winter. Winter can be such a trial, but so much growth and learning comes from trials. Soon, your children will be presenting to you at Student Led Conferences. They are young buds, ready to burst forth into blossoming learners and change-makers.