Remodeling School: Start with Deeper Learning and Care and Concern

posted on October 19, 2018 by Tony Monfiletto, Director

Students sitting in front of chalk board

“We can’t start from scratch when we work with traditional schools, but we can start re-modeling them one initiative at a time.”




 Our partners at Mission: Graduate have spent the past year developing the Profile of a Graduate as part of their goal for 60,000 new college degrees and certificates in central New Mexico by 2020 – and Albuquerque Public Schools recently endorsed their efforts. The profile was created through a process that The Center is very familiar with, having used it ourselves as a tool to design and launch the Leadership High Schools. I’m flattered that our design work was an inspiration for them.

What Have They Learned?

Despite using the same process, Mission:Graduate had a very different circumstance to contend with because they are trying to influence schools that have been around for decades, while we started our schools from scratch. Mission: Graduate did an exhaustive analysis of feedback from the forums with hundreds of our fellow citizens in Albuquerque.  They teased out a list of skills, knowledge, and attitudes that our community values for our future graduates. These are the outputs of a successful education. It is stellar work which took months to complete and I was glad to see that the APS board of Education has endorsed their findings.  However, I was even more impressed with the list of ”foundational experiences” or inputs they identified that are necessary for students to succeed. The list provides a roadmap for the redesign of our schools to better prepare students for success beyond high school:

Inputs Identified by Mission: Graduate that are focused on relevancy:

“Opportunities to apply learning in real-world situations”
“Opportunities to learn from difficulty and failure”
“Opportunities for civic engagement”

Inputs Identified by Mission: Graduate that are Focused on Care and Concern:

“Relationships with caring adults”
“Opportunities to build on strengths”

What Have We Learned?

In May and November of 2016, the New Mexico Center for School Leadership hosted hundreds of community members on Innovation and Positive Youth Development Tours that focused on schools that are designed to engage and support students.  We documented what we saw in the Positive Youth Development and Innovation Tour reports (coauthored by Mission: Graduate).

A Few of the Inputs Highlighted by NMCSL that are focused on Relevancy and Deeper Learning:

Amy Biehl, South Valley Academy, Health, ACE, MACCS, and NextGen High Schools require students complete Senior Projects in order to graduate.  These projects are rooted in “Deeper Learning” and are the culmination of a series of carefully planned experiences that help students learn how to think deeply about complex issues beginning in the freshman year.

A Few of the Inputs Highlighted by NMCSL that are Focused on Care and Concern:

Daily Advisory/Advocacy programs at South Valley Academy and Hayes Middle Schools give students a high touch relationship building experience with adults and peers.  These schools also hold “morning meetings” with students so that teachers, social workers and other school staff can deal directly with any issues that may undermine a student’s readiness to learn.

It’s Time to Start Remodeling:

I like the remodeling metaphor promoted by the Frameworks Institute when thinking about school reform.  We can’t start from scratch when we work with traditional schools, but we can start re-modeling them one initiative at a time:

  1. Start with the Graduation Requirement and beta test a Senior Project that can be scaled across the district. Then, start working backward with Deeper Learning experiences that demonstrate the skills, knowledge and attitudes outlined in the Graduate Profile.
  2. Create a prototype advisory program that can attend to the social and emotional needs of students and then scale it across the district. Then train all staff in Positive Youth Development which would be an essential step in transforming the culture of the entire school.

One of the most compelling reasons for charter and magnet schools is to create laboratories for new ideas and some of them have made the most of their opportunity to innovate.  Many of the schools we toured have been honing their practice for more than a decade and they are ambitious to share what they have learned. I hope that we can find a way to work together to make the changes they have embraced through their work with Mission: Graduate.


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