The Promise of Public Education

The Promise of Public Education

On January 9, 2017, I had the pleasure of attending a major education speech by American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. Ms. Weingarten, a former high school teacher in Brooklyn, New York, championed a vision for public education that celebrates the promise of our public schools, while also denouncing Betsy Devos as the wrong pick to be our next Secretary of Education.

As a public school educator for over seventeen years, and a father of three, I have experienced firsthand the education wars that have frustrated and demoralized the teaching workforce. We have been trapped in an over-standardized, one size fits all education system, while repeatedly failing to nurture the innate brilliance of every child. Top down, narrow policies, have silenced and misguided educators and families at the local level, while members of the “testocracy” continue to profit substantially off our kids. At this important time in our nation’s history, we need true leadership in public education.

Randi Weingarten displayed that leadership in her inspiring speech. Her powerful words were a call to action. A call to focus on the whole child, and to remind this country that the promise of our democracy will only be reached if we ensure a healthy and vibrant public school system. The test and punish policies of the past two decades have not worked for our schools. Achievement gaps remain, achievement overall has flattened, student engagement is declining, and new teacher applications have decreased dramatically. For the schools that are celebrated as panaceas of student achievement, they also carry abysmally high teacher attrition rates; with teachers consistently reporting feeling dejected and dehumanized. Ms. Weingarten’s speech urges us to pivot away from these oppressive policies, and to fully embrace four pillars of public education

In the most diverse country in the world, where ninety percent of our children attend public schools, where child poverty is growing and technology evolves instantaneously, the four pillars are a pathway to health and prosperity for all. First, by placing the well-being of our children at the core of our education policy, we recalibrate our moral compass as a nation, and invite all to support physically, mentally, and emotionally safe schools. By beginning with well-being, we will no longer ignore the importance of early childhood education, and will work to give all families the support they need to live healthy and fulfilling lives. Finally, well-being includes an academic curriculum inclusive of the arts, leadership and citizenship, and a socio-emotional curriculum that includes opportunities for self-reflection and correction, and restorative practices, supported by a well-staffed Guidance Department.

Ms. Weingarten also highlights powerful learning, building teacher capacity, and collaboration to round out her four pillars. The challenges of today, which include criminal justice reform, a growing economic divide, substance abuse, and increased diversity, require a dynamic approach to learning. Students must consistently work together to solve authentic problems, communicate effectively, take initiative and practice creativity. Further, building teacher capacity and continued learning is crucial to ensuring that teachers remain highly skilled and inspired, while guaranteeing that every child has a quality teacher in their classroom. Policies that focus on improving teacher capacity are incredibly impactful, because they affect classroom practice directly; which numerous studies have shown impacts student achievement the most.

Finally, collaboration serves as the essence of lifelong learning and critical for all to truly thrive in a diverse global economy. Through learning and working together, we will fortify our amazing profession and work to solve the world’s most complex problems. Collaboration, done genuinely, creates systems that troubleshoot naturally and harmoniously adjust to new ideas. If all schools are supported as community spaces for learning, where teachers, principals, students, parents, superintendents, retirees, and community based organizations come together to meet the needs of all children, we will all have a chance to benefit from and celebrate the promise of public education. I will answer Ms. Weingarten’s call to action, and encourage all who value public education to do the same.


The Whole Child

There is unlimited talent and potential within our schools. Children come to us full of excitement and infinite ideas. They believe and know that anything is possible. They are fearless, and not tainted by age, time, or the ridicule of failure. They are natural leaders; and when they find a passion, they’ll work vigorously to achieve mastery without provocation.

Whether shooting a basketball, practicing a dance routine, or playing an instrument, when children find an interest they are insistent. They don’t have to become “the best” player, dancer, or musician. For them, the continuous practice of perfection is priceless. Some will make it to the NBA, Juilliard, or Carnegie Hall, but the majority simply enjoy the pleasure of the pursuit, and accomplishing that which was once impossible. 

This behavior is natural. We are born explorers, artist, scientist, and acrobats. Kids will try anything on their own if we give them the space to do so. Of course, safety is important, but how many of our “stops,” “no’s,” and “don’ts” are as necessary as we make them out to be. Children are born brilliant, and if we guarantee that every child is born and raised in a healthy environment, they will ask more questions and generate more ideas by the age of 3 than we will know what to do with. Therefore, we must nurture, support and expose our children to the endless beauty of life, and we must work together as teachers, parents, and community members to leverage each other’s talents, and create boundless opportunities for our children.

It is often hard to avoid the ugliness in this world.  The media is a constant reminder of it. So much so that we begin to convince ourselves that the world is unkind and hopeless. This stagnates us, frightens us, and forces us into cowering from life. I am such a lucky man. I get to work with children every day. Children that despite their circumstances, bring so much joy, hope and love into my life. I can’t help but see and feel the beauty of the world because of them. They make me; whether I want to or not. 

Imagine if we created schools that allowed the natural brilliance of children to blossom. Imagine if we supported families that are living in dire circumstances with truly improving their lives. The mistakes of a teenage parent, high school dropout, substance abuser, or someone struggling with mental health should not be a life sentence. Every “problem” has a solution and there is a light at the end of every tunnel. All people need is help; help from other people. Not programs, protocols, or procedures; actual real people guided by a love for humanity. Throwing more money and technicality at a problem without investing in great people, will continue to lead us to pain and failure.

It is our duty as a country to help all people, because it has been our laws and behaviors that created the mess we are in. Mass incarceration, mass addiction, the “wealth” and “achievement” gaps, and mass shootings are all manifestations of misguided and inhumane policies that have left us in a state of confusion, fear, and extreme violence. The time is now to overcome — together. 

Let us come together to reverse the impact of man’s inhumanity to man. Let us build a culture of love, sharing, and creativity. Let us create humane and exhilarating spaces where children can be passionate explorers, collaborators, creators, and performers. Let us continue to learn from each other and take aggressive action against injustice. We don’t need a “leader” or “boss” or mayor, governor, or president to give us permission. We must listen to our hearts and follow our instincts to do what’s right for our children and communities; while continuing to learn along the way. The better we are, the better our children will be. The better they are, the brighter the future will be for all. 

The time is now to educate the whole child.

End School Privatization 

I have many friends and colleagues that I admire and respect who work for charter schools. I have no doubt that they love children and would give their lives to transforming our highest need communities. 

My friends and colleagues have no problem working in charter schools partly because far too often, because of the convoluted bureaucracy, public schools get in their own way. As a result, many children have suffered. This is not the public-school norm; as the propaganda machine of privatization would lead us to believe. Through their control of media and political influence, a new “common sense” has been created. Public schools are failing, while charter schools are thriving. The reality is, on average, public and charter schools perform about the same on achievement tests.

From the moment I began to pursue my school building leadership license, I knew I wanted to lead a public school. I don’t know why, but charter schools felt very corporate and elitist to me at the time. After my residency at an Achievement First charter school, my presumptions were just the tip of the iceberg. Not only were charter schools corporate and elitist, but they were also abusive. 

At my Achievement First residency, breakfast and lunch were silent for children. Hallway transitions were also silent. In classrooms, students had to use specific hand signals to ask questions and use the restroom. In my professional opinion as a certified teacher, school counselor, and building principal, these policies are child abuse. Achievement First is not the only charter school that implements these so called zero tolerance policies. The same practices are applied at schools like Democracy Prep, and Success Academy charter schools.

Some conservatives might read this and think it is okay to treat children this way because kids are “out of control” and need order. From my perspective, I wonder why children in white communities are not treated this way, while a black child’s pedagogy has to revolve around some form of oppression; especially considering most of the charter organization’s leadership is white.

Another important point is the fact that charter school environments seem to be abusive to teachers as well, as teacher attrition at charter schools is tremendously high.

Since my time at Achievement First, I’ve learned an awful lot about the political and financial incentives associated with the charter school movement. I’ve learned that this movement is not about charter schools and student learning, it is about the privatization of America and a pedagogy of oppression for the masses. Charter schools in general are non-union entities, and not only are they exceedingly unregulated by the state and thus prime for corruption, their teachers do not have the ability to collectively bargain — which is the bedrock of any healthy democracy. 

Teacher unions are arguably the strongest remaining union in the country. If they are defeated, America will be fully privatized and our democracy will officially be an oligarchy. There are many who would argue that democracy is already dead in America as we have elected a corporation, Donald Trump, into the presidency. Judging by president-elect Trump’s initial moves, he is following the conservative playbook, and his choice for education secretary is no different. Trump, like his conservative base, wants to privatize and control all of the institutions, people, and resources of our country and the world. 

Just look at our economic divide and all that has contributed to it. Wall Street took control of the housing market through mortgage backed securities, and collapsed the economy; while a percentage of the 1% gained enormous additional power and wealth in the process. Citizens United’s unlimited investment in elections, tips the scales of our democracy in favor of the wealthiest. Lobbying by the wealthy over the last forty years has created policy, like reversing Glass-Stegall, that has made the banks our masters and us the economically enslaved. Bank CEO’s along with oil tycoons, are the richest and most powerful individuals in the world.

Now they are coming for our schools; the last domino to fall in the global privatization equation. Once they take over public schools and destroy the teacher unions, we will be a racist oligarchy led by the wealthy elite. This is Donald Trump’s mission and plan.

I wonder how the blue collar hard right (alt-right) Trump supporters perceive their place in the privatization equation. Will all the new jobs go to them, and allow them to sustain their place in a class system above certain “undesirable” groups? Do they care about the core of our democracy; freedom, being taken away, or are they more concerned with their ability to oppress Blacks, Latinos,Jews, Asians, and Arabs?

Back to charter schools for a moment, for the charters that perform well, not only is their curriculum linear and narrow, they have also implemented a system to ensure that only the savvy parent with the right social capital could handle the rigors of the charter school application and enrollment criteria. I would also like to see some of the data of the students before they transfer to the charter schools. Were they at or near “proficient” on state tests? The point here is, charters do not work for all kids and parents.

The weapon of choice for public Ed privatizers is standardized tests. High stakes standardized tests, forces schools to implement a test prep curriculum. Test prep learning involves the rudimentary learning of isolated information, with little to no opportunity for understanding concepts, connections, big ideas and complex systems. This method of schooling creates a populace that’s cognitively compromised, and vulnerable to oppression. Creativity, evaluation, authentic problem solving, collaboration, agility, initiative, and leadership, all skills necessary to thrive in a healthy democracy, are absent from the standardized testocracy as the brilliant Jesse Hagopian (you have to watch his Ted Talk) refers to it. Ironically, the schools where the privatizers send their children, do not administer annual high stakes standardized tests and implement innovative curricula and pedagogy.

The same standardized testing weapon was also very popular during the eugenics movement. That movement was designed to “prove” that certain races and groups of people were inferior and thus it was okay to oppress, neglect, disenfranchise, and reject them. The strategy goes as follows: mistreat and oppress a group, underfund their institutions, put guns and drugs into their communities, then give them a test to show how much they don’t know. Create anguish and a low sense of self-worth over time and the people will beg for you to come and save them — enter charter schools, de-unionization and the privatization of America. 

They want to control us. They want to disempower us. They want a dictatorship. And now they have a conservative republican president, a republic senate, and a republic house, with a conservative republican Supreme Court judge on the way. The conservative oligarchy has risen, will the rest of us put aside our differences, unite, and fight like hell to save ourselves and our country?

Ms. Deborah Danner

Ms. Deborah Danner was 66 yrs old. A documented history of mental illness that the police were aware of. Multiple officers in the apartment. She had a bat. They shot her twice and murdered her. They could’ve tased her. They could’ve tackled her. They could’ve talked her down. If you’re that afraid, you should never become a police officer. This is a horrific disgrace and a true representation of the hate and fear that lives in the spirit of our country.

We need IMMEDIATE police reform! Right now!

Eyez on the Prize

Trump is a disgusting person. He represents all that is “nasty” and ugly about America past and present. I can’t wait for him to go away. He is not a decent human being.

Unfortunately as long as we follow any form of media,they will be around to report the despicable things he says even after he loses. Smh. I look forward to working locally and nationally to build an America beyond what Donald Trump represents.

I look forward to riding the momentum of our first black president, to our first women president, and toward an America that meets the ideals of the language in our constitution. I look forward to building a new America, and I know it starts with me in my community.

When Hillary wins, I hope that she’s able to close the economic divide, and help schools and healthcare to thrive. I also know that my city councilman, state senator and assemblyman, US congressional representatives and senators, are all vitally important to the quality of living in my community. Most importantly, I know that organized people, those of us who currently don’t vote or aren’t registered to vote because life happens, must more forward collaboratively to make transformative change in our communities. If we are not taking these actions, what is life really about?

Hillary’s Strength and Grace

I have always believed that women have special powers. Maybe it’s because of my awesome mom Pauline Bowman or my amazing sisters Deanna Bowman Dawn Bowman and Denise Bowman-Washington. That belief has been reaffirmed by my wife Melissa Oppenheimer Bowman and many women that I have worked with throughout my life.

Those special powers were on display last night for the world to see. Hillary Clinton withstood the misogyny, immaturity, incompetence, and downright disgusting behavior and presence of this “man” with unflinching grace, strength, and brilliance. He attacked her husband and his infidelity, her choices as a public defendant in her early life, pointed his finger at her while “mansplaining,” and disregarded answering questions directly just to continuously attack her. He even threatened to throw her in jail if elected, another new low in our country’s history as stated by Michael Elliot.

Despite his desperate attempts to unravel her, she dismantled him last night.

She answered every question directly, clearly, and spoke with an authenticity that I personally have not seen from her. She displayed a vision for bringing people together while he wants to tear us apart. She represents possibility, while he represents fear. He is the American past, she, the global future.
Hillary Clinton was a great example last night for women, children, and everyone else watching. Her special powers were on display last night and she exemplified what being presidential looks like.

RIP Alton Sterling…

WHERE’S THE GUN!!?? If there were a gun we would’ve been informed by now. EVEN IF THERE WERE A GUN, TWO MEN HAD HIM PINNED TO THE FREAKING GROUND!!!!

There’s a culture of racism and vicious hate for black and brown people in police departments all over this country. Unjustifiably I may add. WE AINT NEVER DO SHIT TO U BUT BE BLACK! This hate for black and brown people is part of America’s DNA. WE CONTINUE TO ATTACK THE POOR AND VULNERABLE IN OUR SOCIETY. HE WAS SELLING CD’s. ERIC GARNER WAS SELLING CIGARETTES. ON AND ON IN THIS SOCIETY…





Durant No Different Than Lebron (The Millennial Basketball Mind)

I grew up watching Michael Jordan as a basketball player. Through his example I learned about leadership, tenacity, work ethic, and greatness. I am stained by his example, and the example of many others from that era. It clouds my judgement as I watch this generation of ballers go through their career.

When Lebron made the decision to go to Miami I couldn’t understand it. Why join arguably at the time the second best player in the league in Dwayne Wade, and arguably another top ten player in Chris Bosh to chase your championship? Lebron was the best player in the league and by going to Miami it seemed he was taking the easiest route to a championship. And he knew it too,that’s why at their big three pep rally introduction when discussing how many championships they might win his response was “not five, not six, not 7,” indicating that his new super team would win at least eight championships. This also speaks to Lebron’s naïveté at that time is his career.

Luckily the basketball Gods were listening and although they went to four straight finals, they only won two of them. Balance in the basketball force was maintained.

So now we have Kevin Durant. Playing his entire career in Oklahoma City, with one championship appearance under his belt, an amazing top five talent in Russell Westbrook, and what looks from the outside like a great team, deciding to leave that situation and join an already made super team in the Golden State Warriors. A team one year removed from a championship, and a team that just broke the single season wins record with 73 wins. A team also that Durant just lost to in heartbreaking fashion in the western conference finals. Durant’s OKC team was up three games to one and was dominating every facet of the series, before losing three straight games. Game six was the killer as OKC was up ten with six minutes to go and couldn’t close the deal. Looking back now I guess we should’ve seen that as the end of an era. Two top five talents in the league, with a great supporting cast around them, could not pull themselves together to close the Warriors out. Honestly, I put that loss on Durant because he’s the best player, with the most talent and his team’s leader. He should’ve sealed the deal.

I guess if you can’t beat them join them. I guess Durant and Lebron’s decisions echo what’s happening in private industry throughout America. Now that the world is flat, millennials will have multiple jobs during their careers as they try to make as much money as possible while being fulfilled in their work. I can’t knock Durant for making whatever decision is best for him, especially as I’m hearing he and Stephen Curry share a spiritual connection. For me nothing comes before that. But again, as someone raised on Michael Jordan. I can’t help but think Durant might be taking the easy route to a championship. Which for me speaks to weak basketball character. Hey, to each his own, and who knows, he may wind up back in OKC someday.

One last thing, Westbrook with all his dancing and minstrel-ling before games must have really been a pain in the ass to deal with on a consistent basis despite his talent. Durant probably had enough. I look forward to seeing Westbrook growing from this and reaching his potential both in terms of basketball and maturity.

Cornerstone Academy for Social Action (CASA) has reached the final stage of XQ: The Super School Project

More information contact:
Jamaal A. Bowman 646-248-1931

Cornerstone Academy for Social Action (CASA) has reached the final stage of XQ: The Super School Project

Bronx, NY – On May 23rd, finalist Cornerstone Academy for Social Action (CASA) High School of the Bronx submitted their final application to XQ: The Super School Project, a national challenge to rethink, reimagine, and redesign the high school experience. After thousands of ideas were submitted in early September, Cornerstone remains one of the few teams still standing. In mid-July the final five concepts will be selected to have their designs realized. If CASA High School’s design is selected as one of the winning proposals, they will receive a whopping $10 million dollars over the next five years to build their Super School.

“The time has come to reimagine, rethink, and redesign our schools to cultivate the innate brilliance of every child. The XQ: Super School Project launch in September 2015 provided an amazing opportunity for us to do just that. We have learned so much throughout the process and one thing is perfectly clear, we have the technology, human capital, and resources, to create exhilarating learning environments that meet the needs of every child. Most importantly, students want this badly,” said Jamaal Bowman, School Principal, Parent and XQ Team Member

“The Cornerstone Academy’s participation in the “super school” project is truly an exciting opportunity for our Bronx Community. As a longstanding supporter of a holistic approach to education, I believe they have what it takes to bring a fresh and transformative energy to our public education system and pursue new avenues to bring out the best and brightest in all our students,” said Carl Heastie, Speaker, New York State Assembly

New York’s students deserve schools that support not only their intellectual and academic needs, but also their social and emotional development. The Cornerstone Academy for Social Action High School promises to provide that kind of well-rounded education to its students. I am thrilled at the prospect of a new and exciting educational opportunity for children in the Bronx,” said Betty A. Rosa, Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents

“As PTA president of Casa Middle School and a proud mother of four children in public schools, I am honored to be a part of the XQ: Super School Project. Our concept can be a pathway toward synthesizing timeless concepts of the mind, with contemporary ideas, to create new models of education. I have never been a part of such a great team, and we are excited about continuing to build whole child learning environments. This will be an amazing opportunity that will allow us to tap into the cultural genius of our community,” said Charlena Walker, PTA President, CASA Middle School, XQ Team Member

“I am elated that CASA High School has made it to the final round of the XQ: Super School Project. We know that our concept will truly bring out the best in our youth. With teachers trained in 21st century whole child pedagogy, and an environment that nurtures the mind and soul, our concept is unique and will prepare our children to rise above any adversity for the rest of their lives,” said Maria Johnson, Parent, XQ Team Member

Student leaders from CASA Middle School were heavily involved in developing the concepts of CASA High School. Student voice and ideas matter most and the entire process truly entailed collaboration between students, educators, and the extended community.

“I am thrilled to participate in the XQ: Super School Project because I enjoy being an active member of my community. I also feel that segregation in public schools is a detriment to the learning of all children and the development of our democracy. That is why our concept presents a high school experience that brings together students of different cultural and economic backgrounds. I am excited to be a part of designing a school that teaches holistic and real life skills instead of teaching only literature and mathematics,” said Yokaira Conception, 8th Grade Student, XQ Team Member

“The XQ challenge has been exciting for me because it has given me the opportunity to have input into designing a school that will help students grow into adults with a passion to change the world. This journey has been amazing and the conversations with my peers, community, and other XQ Team Members have been really eye-opening,” said Dana Neil, 8th grade Student, XQ Team Member.

The XQ: Super School Project has been an inspiring experience. To be a part of creating something that’s bigger than I am, and will benefit others, is truly something I will carry with me for the rest of my life, said Leanne Nunez 8th Grade Student, XQ Team Member

The CASA High School planning team has worked over the last 8 months to reach out to students, educators, elected officials, corporations, and citizens from all over the globe to gain a better understanding of community needs, and to learn innovative approaches to maximizing student potential and ignite a joy for learning.. Throughout this process, the team has learned that there is a yearning for new ideas and new approaches to college, career, and life readiness. During interviews, many community members reflected on their school experiences as being “unfulfilling” and not conducive to nurturing their full potential. High school students who were interviewed shared frustrations around “inauthentic content and learning experiences” that were too abstract without practical applications. Many young adults talked about being “uninspired to enroll in college” because of their experiences in mundane compliance-based high school learning environments. All stakeholders shared great hands on learning ideas and advocated a collaborative problem based curriculum to help enhance contemporary learning environments.

One amazing partnership that developed over the past 8 months was a public private school partnership between Cornerstone Academy and Avenues: The World School.

“It has been a personal and professional honor for our d4i team to partner with CASA High School for the XQ: Super School Project. We are excited to continue the collaboration around 21st century community schooling that includes real-world problem solving and public private partnerships that engage the community in authentic impact work. CASA High School would be a shining, grass-roots example of both how community school can work, and more importantly, how public and private schools can collaborate to accelerate learning in the 21nd century,” said Ivan Cestero, d4i coach, Social Innovation Teacher, Avenues: The World School, XQ Team Member

“I helped found d4i with a vision of implementing more design driven social impact work into K-12 education. CASA, more than any school I know, has embodied these principles. Their work with D4i during the Design Challenge has been spectacular. The idea of CASA being awarded this crucial funding is extremely exciting to our team. Such funding would allow education to morph into a place for students to grow into entrepreneurs and innovators with real work skills,” said Conner Wise, 11th Grade Student, Avenues: The World School

Additional high-ranking officials in public office share the excitement around bringing a Super School to the Bronx!

“The Bronx is on the precipice of innovation through this opportunity that will develop an education environment for students to create, challenge and experience high school differently. Since its inception, the Cornerstone Academy, under the leadership of the Founder and Principal Jamaal Bowman, has been at the forefront of innovation and change and is a much sought after school for students all over the borough. The participation in the XQ: The Super School Project will create a life changing experience for the students and families, and I wish them good luck in this endeavor,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

“Project XQ presents an exciting opportunity for the CASA team to reimagine high school through a process that includes community collaboration and student voice while also engaging educators, elected officials and corporations as we think together about how to ensure our students are prepared for the 21st century. Ensuring that innovation and design are critical elements that the school will use to engage students in a learning process geared toward social action will ensure students leave committed to being world changers. I am excited about reimagining learning and bringing innovation to the Bronx through Principal Bowman and the CASA XQ team,” said Meisha Ross Porter, Superintendent, Community School District 11

“As a supporter of innovation in our public schools, I firmly stand behind the vision of the CASA High School XQ team and believe if given the opportunity, it will be transformative for our Bronx students. We must do more than simply instruct our children in classrooms. We must look to educate the whole child and support their families and the entire community with the same effort,” said Jamaal Bailey, Parent, District Leader for the 83rd Assembly District

“I’m proud to join the Northeast Bronx community in its excitement for the creation of Cornerstone Academy for Social Action (C.A.S.A.) High School with programs that would nurture leadership and career mindedness beyond the classroom as part of the wraparound services of a “Super School,” said New York City Council Member Andy King, whose 12th District includes C.A.S.A. Middle School. “Schools are the major cornerstones of our communities and this plan will ensure that excellence and mastery are promoted in the lives of the young scholars who attend C.A.S.A. High School. I commend Principal Jamaal Bowman and his XQ team for their efforts to want to bring about a ‘New Vision for High School.'”

The CASA High School team was formed through a collective passion for change, and a belief that by nurturing the inherent genius in every child, communities will reap the benefits for generations to come. Too often our school system does not work for all children, and for the children that succeed within this system; many are not being reared to reach their full potential. Iteration, design thinking, boundless expectations, and a bias toward social action continues to guide the CASA High School team toward its mission to graduate students ready, willing, and able to transform their communities. We are excited to continue to pursue this essential endeavor with all who serve the community. Educators have some amazing new ideas regarding how to make this vision a reality.

“It is time for schools to finally focus on learning above simple letter and numeric grades. Let’s go grade-less! It is wonderful to know that New York City is engaging in this discussion by means of our XQ: Super School Project team. All students deserve the opportunity to grow in an environment that values learning and progress over simple quantification. Whole child learning cannot be adequately communicated with only numbers or letters,” said Starr Sackstein, High School Teacher, XQ Team Member

We are excited about the continued opportunity that XQ affords us to develop schools that prepare our students for the thinking world. Being a part of XQ: The Super School Project has allowed us to envision new learning spaces where all students excel at their highest levels,” said Al McCutchen, Parent, Teacher, XQ Team Member

“I became a teacher with the goal of developing the whole child. The XQ: Super School Project has challenged me to tap into my experience using design thinking, Socratic seminars, and adult-child-community collaborations to reimagine high school. Through the XQ process, I see more than just the child becoming whole, I see the entire community being transformed, said Fatema Zohny, Humanities Teacher, XQ Team Member

“I am thrilled by the opportunity to reimagine high school for 21st century students. I am particularly excited to continue to work closely with students and their families in the design process. We educators can only do our best work by knowing our students deeply and working closely with the community,” said Al Sylvia, High School Assistant Principal, XQ Team Member

In a little more than a month, the CASA High School team will know if its dreams have been realized.

To learn more about the XQ: The Super School Project please visit You can also follow XQ @XQAmerica.

A New Vision for High School: Cornerstone Academy for Social Action High School

A bold and compelling idea will be at the center of our school:

At present, most high schools operate in isolation separate from the rest of the community, and are overly driven by quantitative data. We envision C.A.S.A. High School as a 21st century community school hub that meets the mental, social, emotional, physical, natural, and creative needs of students and their families. Driven by qualitative data, we will use portfolio assessments within our curriculum and will not use letter or numeric grades. We will do this by partnering with local medical centers to provide holistic health services on school grounds, while working with corporations and community based organizations to organize and educate parents, and provide internships to students. In addition we are plugged into the “no grades community” and will partner with educators like Starr Sackstein and Mark Barnes.
A simple belief will guide the daily experience of our students believe: At C.A.S.A. High, all students are Geniuses and Master Learners. This core belief will shape everything that we do.

Throughout the globe, students must be reminded that they are brilliant and important, but this is especially true for the students that we serve in the Bronx. C.A.S.A. High will align student learning experiences to the innate curiosity that all are born with.

We’re living at a time when it’s increasingly common to treat black and brown students from low-income communities as criminals in their own schools. Many of these students are marginalized, punished and made to feel like they deserve a lifetime of second-class status. From “zero tolerance,” “no-excuse” discipline policies, to alienating curriculum, to standardized tests that reinforce feelings of inferiority, many schools are driving away the very students that can benefit from education the most.

Education must free the mind; not keep it in bondage.
C.A.S.A. High is a dream built on the foundation of Cornerstone Academy for Social Action Middle School (C.A.S.A. Middle School) in the Bronx. C.A.S.A Middle School is now in its seventh year and has proven itself to be a rare, innovative district school. At C.A.S.A Middle School, students aren’t shamed or unnecessarily punished. They are celebrated, nurtured, and loved. At C.A.S.A. Middle School, students explore social issues by creating hip-hop videos. They learn to code and build their own video games. They study the history of leaders like Bessie Coleman, W.E.B. Du Bois and Sonia Sotomayor. They take leadership classes and are encouraged to pursue and build their own passion projects. They express themselves through dance, spoken word poetry, improvisation, art, and gardening. C.A.S.A. Middle School has rejected the tyranny of standardized testing and has instead focused on building an individualized, caring learning environment that helps its students discover their inner-genius. As a by-product of C.A.S.A.’s approach that values self-actualization over test scores, C.A.S.A. ironically had the #1 combined improvement in test scores of any school in New York City in 2015.

At C.A.S.A. Middle School, the mantra of administrators and teachers is: “At C.A.S.A. we stay in beta. We are content but we are never satisfied. We are thankful for what we have but we are always looking to do better. We maintain the beginner’s mind.” Our goal has been to create the most loving environment possible in a Title 1 school – pushing our students to not only achieve academically, but to be the best human beings they can possibly be. Our ever-evolving school model is working and we now feel prepared to take on the challenge of expanding C.A.S.A. to grades 9-12. C.A.S.A. High School can be a beacon of hope for Title 1 schools, showcasing the innovative tools and approaches that can help kids from low-income communities live up to their inner-greatness. We are so excited to design a school that helps students believe in themselves and have the transformative learning experiences that prepare them to do amazing things in the 21st century. Our parents want this most of all. Believe in us. We’ve got this.

Last year, we started distributing t-shirts to students that are labeled, “Master Learner,” “Born Genius” and “Master Teacher.” We’ve attached a few photos for your perusal. Our bold and compelling idea for XQ is already real and alive in the Bronx, New York.

We believe the spirit of C.A.S.A. Middle School is captured – at least in part – on our website: Here you can find photos and videos of C.A.S.A. – and the ingredients we’ll be using to build a Super School that blows the world away.

To ensure that our school truly serves the needs of our community, we plan to get input from young people by:

We plan to hold in-school and after-school ideation sessions through February 2016 for C.A.S.A. Middle School students, teachers, parents and school administrators to dream up the vision for C.A.S.A. High. Our XQ proposal will be a truly collaborative effort that reflects the diverse voices of the very people we plan to serve.
We believe in the design thinking process and will be sure to involve young people in every step of our process.

Currently at C.A.S.A. Middle School, we have a student government in place that will help to facilitate our ideation and design thinking sessions. Our student government was voted in by their peers to provide a more authentic voice to the overall operations of our school.

To get insights into how we can prepare our students for postsecondary education and the future of work, we plan to:

Many of the current practices of C.A.S.A. Middle School are driven by thought leaders such as Tony Wagner (Creating Innovators), Dan Pink (A Whole New Mind), Sir Ken Robinson (Finding The Element), and Neil Degrasse Tyson (Startalk), so we will continue to design curriculum in alignment with their expertise. As a school of innovation, we plan to connect with educators from schools like High Tech High, The City As School, and the NYC iSchool for input. Regarding higher Education, we will look to schools like Olin College, The Stanford d. School, and M.I.T. We will also peruse the XQ website by reading the briefs, and following the websites suggestions for reading recommendations. Film’s like Most Likely to Succeed, Road to Nowhere, and Beyond Measure will greatly inform our practice as well.

We have a number of connections that we plan to leverage to ensure that our proposal reflects the ideas of top educators, employers and colleges. For example, we plan to collaborate with educators at Avenues: The World School and their d4i project collaboration to gain inspiration from what’s happening in top independent, progressive schools, we plan to collaborate with representatives of CUNY to imagine the kind of immersive experiences we can create with local colleges. We also plan to collaborate with companies like [Google] and [Tumblr] – with whom we already have partnerships – to imagine how we could take our partnerships to the next level.
Our school will also build on the inspiring examples, research, and ideas of others:
Howard Gardner’s theory of the multiple intelligences is something I believe our community should thoroughly study. Currently, the diversity of intelligence is absent from school policy and public discourse, and thus we are limiting the scope in which we view teaching and learning in our schools. Our obsession with the standardized testing of math and ELA, polarized in verbal reasoning, has led to a depressed curriculum that has ignored bodily kinesthetic, visual spatial, natural, creative, and cooperative intelligence among others. We all need to expand our view of intelligence, and ultimately, of living in a 21st century world.

Sir Ken Robinson believes that all children possess incredibly gifts and it is our duty as educators to tap into these gifts by creating a nurturing and robust learning environment. C.A.S.A. stands on this principle and by our community studying Sit Ken’s work in the ground breaking book Finding Your Element, in which he shares the narratives of individuals and schools that allow passion to drive their existence, we can move forward and be of like minds as we develop our high school.

To solve the problems of the world today, including poverty, mass incarceration, war, and addiction, we need to produce multiple generations of innovators. That is why; our school community should study Tony Wagner’s groundbreaking books Creating Innovators and The Global Achievement Gap. Wagner paints a picture, for parents, teachers, and school leaders, of how we might reach our full potential by rethinking and redesigning our roles. The traditional models of school are obsolete and we must create schools and communities rooted in 21st century intelligence.
All the elements of our school will come together in powerful learning experiences for students:

1. Community Circle – At C.A.S.A. Middle School, every Friday begins with a 50-minute assembly for students and teachers to come together as a family. At Community Circle students can give shout-outs, make public apologies, express themselves, share inspiring stories, and discuss real issues. The kinds of topics we’ve discussed at Community Circle include violence in our community, the challenges of growing up in single-parent households, and #BlackLivesMatter. You can see some videos from Community Circle here: At C.A.S.A. High School we will continue this tradition, but given the greater maturity of the students, we’ll be able to tackle issues with more depth and honesty. As a student discovers their voice, Community Circle will be there to give that student a platform for sharing their voice with their community. Community Circle at C.A.S.A High will be very student-led, with students choosing topics, leading discussions, sharing meaningful stories, and inviting in guests from the community.

2. Genius Hour – Borrowing from the 20% time concept of Google, we give students at C.A.S.A Middle School two 60-minute blocks per week to work on passion projects. To be honest, we’re still learning how to help students and teachers make the best use of this time. At C.A.S.A. High School, Genius Hour can evolve in a few different directions. Will it be a free space for students to work on their own capstone projects? Will it be a time for guided challenges where students work to solve issues in their communities? Will it be a training ground where students are pushed to build their own projects, clubs, events, campaigns, nonprofits, apps and companies? We know what’s important is that students are exploring their passions, developing mastery, taking risks, and learning to recover from failure. Genius Hour will offer the framework for these kinds of experiences to take place.

3. Leadership Training – Inspired by “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teenagers,” we give students at C.A.S.A Middle School two 60-minute blocks per week to learn and practice leadership skills like communication and reflection. (You can watch a video that students created about the 7 Habits here: . At C.A.S.A. High School, this Leadership Training class will be expanded to teach the real-world skills that students need to successfully execute their projects and thrive in the 21st century. C.A.S.A. will ask local experts to design workshops to help students to master skills like Campaign Building, Storytelling, Photoshop and Budgeting. Each local expert will be pushed to not only teach a core skill, but also to share their story and explain clearly how that skill can be applied in real-world challenges and opportunities. Over time, we will build out pathways towards mastery that students can pursue to dive deeper into their areas of interest and earn badges towards their learning portfolio. While in middle school, our students have already been involved in campaigns such as breast cancer awareness, LGBT rights, and #BlackLivesMatter.

4. Cultural Studies – We want students to feel proud of where they come from so we help students learn about their Latino and black heritage. A part of this includes embracing hip hop culture; for example, check out this video that students wrote and produced during the Ebola crisis: At C.A.S.A. High School, students will dive deeper into understanding the heritage of Latino, black and Asian-Americans, reading literature, meeting local leaders, and participating in local and national campaigns to address the issues facing the communities. We plan to make our curriculum and lessons available to the public, allowing students and teachers everywhere to adapt our curriculum and help their schools embrace diversity.

5. Design Challenges for Social Impact – We can’t forget that C.A.S.A. stands for Cornerstone Academy for Social Impact; empowering students to make a positive dent in the universe is core to our vision. We will train our students and teachers in design thinking and introduce a new design thinking challenge every 8 weeks. A member of the community will come into the school and present a social and/or environmental challenge. Students will have 8 weeks to explore the issue and design and test solutions; they will present their results to a panel of people that will be impacted by their solution at the culmination of the 8 weeks. Over the course of the year, students will be exposed to a variety of issues – food security, mass incarceration, domestic violence, etc. – and will be encouraged to focus on becoming experts in the issue(s) they are most passionate about.

6. Internships – Our students will take on internships to get real-world, on-the-job experience at top companies, nonprofits and startups in NYC.

Discover Phase

Students in the 21st Century

College is more of a necessity than ever before. At C.A.S.A. High School students will engage in their community and understand the complexities and challenges in a nuanced way. Critical thinking, creative problem solving, and communicating with diverse audiences are essential and must be embedded throughout a student’s learning experiences in high school. We are preparing students to learn how to learn so that they are cognitively agile as they are most like to have multiple careers after college. Our curriculum helps students to become self -managers who take initiative to search for an embrace learning opportunities.

In our community, the majority of our students, based on measures currently in place, continue to perform below grade level in both reading and math. Further, because of issues related to race and class, our students experience trauma and stress at disproportionately high levels. As a result, academic, social, and emotional interventions need to be embedded within our school schedule and curriculum. Therefore, while ensuring that the executive functions of our students are explicitly strengthened along with identified academic deficiencies, we must continue to challenge them with 21st century pedagogy.

Our school must partner with community based organizations, medical professionals, and thriving corporations, to ensure that learning extends beyond the walls of our school, and is applicable to the challenges of a 21st century global economy. Within school, the curriculum must remain rooted in an interdisciplinary approach. Learning in silos is obsolete. Students must learn to see, understand, and learn to manipulate interconnections between seemingly disparate elements. 21st century skills are transferable across disciplines. This approach will be the hallmark of the C.A.S.A. High School experience.

Youth Experiences and Aspirations

Young people want to engage in learning experiences that are relevant, authentic and challenging. Students want to know that their assignments aren’t just designed for teachers to grade, or for the purposes of passing time. Young people want to have a voice and choice in what is learned and how it is learned.
Authentic learning experiences are real world, concrete, and current. They align directly to the challenges of a 21st century economy, but more importantly, they align to what students face in their families and communities every day. Relationship building is key as the more we know about young people as a school, the mores strategic we can be in co-designing their learning experiences. Issues related to civic responsible, depression and mental health, gang violence, and economic justice are just a few of the topics students consistently identify as being important to them. Real world topics, will be the content that drives the curriculum at C.A.S.A. High School.

Further, challenging play opportunities creates an environment of aesthetic learning experiences for students and brings deeper purpose and meaning to the overall school experience. When assignments are rudimentary, boredom and apathy toward both the school environment and the concept of learning sets in. When students engage in design thinking, for example, they are able to put themselves and their communities at the center of a creative process that challenges them to solve authentic and relevant problems within their community. Design thinking revolutionizes the classroom experience as children work both independently and collaboratively to generate ideas, receive feedback, be meta-cognitive, and creatively problem solve.

The Science of Adolescent Learning

The brain is incredibly malleable, even into the adolescent years, so we must design learning experiences and environments that are invigorating, challenging and diverse. Because many students enter high school multiple grade levels behind in reading and math behind, teachers often believed that academic growth was limited during adolescents. However, if school is designed to both meet the foundational needs of students, while challenging students to solve interdisciplinary problems, synapses ignite and the brain gets stronger throughout their high school experience.
Using brain science to design our learning environment will help our students begin to develop more self-confidence and self-worth. As such, students will begin to seek out additional learning and leadership opportunities. At C.A.S.A. High School each learning experience will align strategically with the learning preferences and interests of students. This will help to solidify cognitive cohesion and strengthen executive functions. Learning will be mobile, fluid, and gives students the opportunity to work in pairs, small groups, independently, on a computer, and in a seminar style format as well.

We look forward to taking learning outside of the school so that students are learning in nature, professional settings, and students from other communities. Students will also be hands on as they build, design, and create prototypes in alignment with their ideas. Reading diverse texts, vigorous conversation, and writing will continue to be essential as communication skills are still extremely important in the 21st century. Foundational skills development builds fluency and allows for brain energy to be more focused on the deeper dive project based learning. Therefore, student schedules must meet their diverse needs. Finally, as we will implement anecdotal self-assessment with teacher guidance, students will learn to be meta-cognitive, accountable, and self-aware, and serve as a compliment and possible replacement to New York’s current five regent requirement for graduation.

Design Phase

School Mission and Culture

All children are brilliant. Therefore, our mission is to develop scholar activists by design learning environments and experiences that nurture and cultivate the brilliance inherent in every child. Our intended impact is to help students self-actualize and become change agents in their communities, as well as the global economy. Our theory of change involves dealing with the pain and suffering in the world directly and using the design thinking process to self-analyze and work toward solutions for both small and large scale problems.

Social Action and knowledge of self, will anchor the culture of C.A.S.A. High School in a purpose driven learning environment. We aim to eradicate poverty, depression, addiction, mass incarceration, broken families, as well as the economic and opportunity gap. We believe that every inhabitant on earth should have clean water, food, and shelter, and be given the right to freedom, justice, equality and love.

Teaching and Learning

All learning experiences will be aligned to the State Standards and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills rubric.

First, students discover by individually identifying problems they are passionate about solving. This happens via conversation and ideation. Students then work collaboratively to vote on the top three problems from the generated list. From the list of three, one problem is highlighted for the project. After the problem is identified, students will design solutions, either with a partner, group of three, or independently. Designs are created using hands on materials and might include a website, campaign, workshop, display board, or documentary. Students then receive feedback on their designs before going deeper into the development stage.

An additional 21st century skill is the ability to understand and write in code. Our second learning experience involves our technology teacher setting up code competitions on iMacs. Students can work independently or form a team of three as they practice code via Code Academy,, and participating in the nationwide Hour of Code. Friendly competition provides additional motivation for students as they learn sportsmanship in an academic setting. The competition continues as we transition toward our Globaloria game design program where student create action oriented educational games for their peers and younger students to play.

In both settings, teachers serve as facilitators, and computers and laptops are used throughout. Students develop excellent communication skills, the ability to ideate and create, and creative problem solving skills. Students also learn about Java Script HTML, and Flash. Learning takes place both in and out of school as the design activity requires students to interview community members as well. Most importantly, students learn to work on a team, take initiative, and be agile in their learning as design thinking requires both technical and adaptive (non-cognitive) skills.

Student Agency and Engagement

Knowledge of self is the foundation of all transformational learning, so we intend to create an environment that supports self-awareness by using student surveys as a tool to facilitate curriculum engagement.

Natasha Rivers came to our school while she was still living in a shelter. As a victim of poverty, there were many nights where Natasha did not know where her meal was coming from. Through initial interviews, Natasha struggled to envision a future for herself. However, after completing personality surveys, and building relationships with her teachers, Natasha began to learn a lot more about her interests and non-cognitive skills, and thus became very interested in the possibilities of college. During our weekly community circle after hearing a speech from Mr. Bowman about the impact of xenophobia on historically disenfranchised groups, Natasha decided that she wanted to become a lawyer. During her Junior Year as part of her college essay, she wrote about that morning in community circle and how it put her on a path to pursuing college and impact her community. Natasha graduated with a 3.7 G.P.A. and will attend the University of Albany as a freshman.
Lisa Martinez, a diminutive 9th grade student, came to us reading three grade levels behind. Thankfully, our school is designed to provide small group instruction within classrooms, a study hall space with teacher support, and additional academic interventions throughout the day and after school. Because of the availability of these services, and the relationships her teachers built with her, Lisa took advantage of these opportunities and by the end of her sophomore year Lisa was on grade level in reading. Lisa continued this ascension throughout high school and went on to join the National Honor Society, take AP English, join the soccer team, and attend Cornell University.

Networks and Partnerships

As hands on learning, social justice, computer technology, and a whole child approach are the pillars of the C.A.S.A. High School culture; we will look to partner with college, corporate, and nonprofit entities to invigorate our learning environment and enhance student agency.

Partnerships will be incredibly fluid as student surveys and self-assessments will help to determine what partnerships we need to pursue. Agency strengthens as student voice is included in developing partnerships. While serving as principal of C.A.S.A. Middle School, we developed partnerships with social action Hip Hop organizations Negus World and Hip Hop Saves Lives. Through these partnerships, our students tackled topics from Ebola to #blacklivesmatter. When we couldn’t afford a dance teacher, we partnered with Standard Collaboration dance studio to teach dance two days a week.

Further, at CASA, our partnership with the Department of Youth and Community Development allowed us to provide extended day services five days a week for three additional hours which helped to provide visual arts programming, leadership training, sports and homework help.

We will work to ensure that our curriculum and pedagogy are aligned to the content and skills students are going to need in higher education and careers. Students at C.A.S.A. High School will be given the opportunity to take college courses as this can greatly reduce college tuition. Partnerships with innovative companies will be essential as our school aims to produce innovators to solve real world problems. We hope to leverage the expertise of college faculty, as well as corporate and nonprofit employees, to assist with teacher professional development, parent engagement, and real world student learning opportunities.

Partners will meet once a month with school faculty to create a School Leadership Team in which we will work together to develop a comprehensive education plan, set goals, and review processes.