I Found My Categorical Placement!

My entire life, I have felt like I don’t quite fit into the categories people create to define each other. In truth, this has brought me a lot of pride, to be indefinable, and a lot of frustration, as people just never quite “get” me. As I was exercising on my bike this morning…that is propped on an indoor stand between my bed and my closet, with my “Happy Light” shining on me and listening to a TedTalk  (just trying to paint a picture of my oddities for you)…I was introduced to myself. I learned from this TedTalk that there is a category of people labeled “originals.”

I am an “original.”

Many of you will respond like my husband, “Yes, you are!”

But really, it’s a thing!  While being categorically labeled as an original doesn’t feel very original, I’m super excited to discover why the things that drive everyone crazy about me are also the things that help me make a visible impact on society.

Below is the TedTalk:

 

If you took the time to listen to the whole TedTalk, you now understand me and how my brain works a little bit better. Fast to start, slow to finish, pauses to think a lot in between, and yes, I use Google Chrome!

Through sabbath rest, reflection, reading, conversations, counseling, and the current status of my career journey, I am learning to trust my own expertise.  In counseling one day, I mentioned in passing how I used to think all the people in high positions in public education knew way more than me but that I have figured out no one truly knows what they’re doing and everyone is just finding their way and doing their best.  In similar passing fashion, my counselor said, “We call that Imposter’s Syndrome.”  We move on.  I thought she was saying that everyone pretends to know what they’re doing, but no one really does.  A few weeks go by, we’re talking again…this time about whether all the pressure I feel is coming from the inside or outside, and I shared an example about an advisor of mine who I respect highly and holds an MAE from Harvard.  I was expressing how hard it is to sift through his advice, taking some pieces and leaving others, without feeling the pressure to follow everything he says because he’s super smart (don’t know if I said smarter than me…may have) and knows his stuff.  She quickly replied, “on paper.”  I suddenly thought, “She thinks I’m really smart and know my stuff.”  Mind blown.  So I decided to Google “imposter’s syndrome” after that session to see what she was really saying in her brief comment a few weeks prior, and I found this:  themuse.com/advice/5-different-types-of-imposters-symdrome-and-5-ways-to-battle-each-one.  Wait a second!  After just the introduction to the article, I realized this therapist (with a PhD) was saying I was underestimating my own expertise, not overestimating others’ expertise.  (For those of you who read the article, I’m probably a combo of “The Superwoman” and “The Expert” in the article.) Again, mind blown!

I guess I’m a smart, competent, successful “original.”  Who knew?!?

We doubt our ideas, not our value as a person.  We fear failure, but we fear failure to try even more.  There are many of us out there, and apparently, we are the people that really change the world, which is the scariest, most exciting outcome I could dream of!

Here’s to trusting my own expertise in the coming months and years and continuing to generate a high volume of ideas worth trying, to find the ones that will truly make a difference in our society.

First Annual State of the School Address

Madame Interim School Leader, Honored Board Members, Faculty, and Staff:

Inspire Academy is a place of belonging, a place where we unite around a shared mission and work to ensure all students are empowered to achieve more than they dream possible. We are now in our sixth year of providing gifted education to everyone and aiming to empower students on the margins to be at the center of the educational endeavor in this country. We started this school to provide an inquiry-based option in contrast to the prevailing educational norms, which often seek to conform all students to a uniform way of learning, to iron out diversity.

We have faced many challenges over the years. Many assumed that another educational option would never open in Muncie, that a grassroots organization with a shoe-string budget and big dreams could never make a genuine impact in the educational climate of our community, that a diverse body of educators and students would not rise to the challenge of exceeding expectations and sowing seeds of hope. However, in every challenge, whether in regard to facilities, enrollment, staffing, finances, or leadership, we have not only risen to the challenge but we have exceeded expectations. The same is true for this transitional season right now. We are so thankful to Bridget Duggleby for her leadership during this season and to all of you for your commitment to this mission. We are not going anywhere. We are re-upping our commitment to this unique and important mission.

Inspire Academy has never been stronger than we are right now. I have watched Inspire Academy grow over the past year from feeling dependent on one person to mobilizing independently and steadily, able to weather the storms of life. As a team, we have increased our student retention rate from 62% to 80%. Our ability to keep students with us longer is foundational to our students’ academic success, as our approach is aiming at long-term improvement, not quick fixes, and I congratulate all of you who have worked hard to improve this retention rate through improved family communications and higher quality educational practices.

Our students continue to create complex, authentic products for authentic audiences. Within the past year, we have seen students create stationary, informational pamphlets, seed packets, public service announcements, and representations of real-world data, to name a few. Our students continue to engage in meaningful work, work they will encounter in the professional world, work that fans the flame of their natural inclination toward curiosity, discovery, and adventure.

We have implemented several systems to facilitate continuous improvement of the educational programming at our school. We have added Kickboard, a program that holds us as adults accountable to give more positive feedback than negative feedback to students. The evidence and research are clear – instances of affirmative feedback must outnumber instances of corrective feedback if we are going to be able to hear the corrective feedback and be able to translate it into positive improvement. This is true of adults and children alike! With data from Kickboard, we are learning how to use more positive feedback for improvement.

We have implemented the EL Curriculum and Literacy Block, both foundational to our students becoming effective readers, writers, and researchers who can contribute to a better world through expeditions, projects, and products. We are meeting learners where they are in their literacy journey and prioritizing time and space for students to receive the literacy support they need, with learners of various ages. We have implemented Bridges in Mathematics, a more user-friendly curriculum for elementary. We have identified Power Standards, standards that, if focused on regularly and prioritized, have the power to move student outcomes both on standardized tests and high quality work.

And most recently, but certainly not most insignificantly, we have added the Apex Virtual Learning platform in middle school, a platform that will facilitate students becoming leaders of their own learning through core curriculum with the support of teachers as guides in the learning and exploration process. The system provides immediate feedback in the form of grades and progress monitoring for teachers, students, and parents…a much needed piece for students to grow and make visible academic gains. We have also very recently added event coordinating as a separate duty, with additional compensation, to ensure that family and social activities continue to grow as a priority to build a sense of community and belonging as students get older and are looking for more school events.

The work we have chosen is not easy work, and there are challenges that lie ahead. We are committed to solving problems that our nation has never solved – namely that we have a public education system that values all young citizens having access to a free education while often not disrupting patterns of marginalization and the prioritization of some students over others. These are not easy problems to solve, but I know that we are up for the challenge. My goals for Inspire Academy for the coming years are simple but not easy:

  1. We will fill our school to capacity and beyond.
  2. We will increase test scores until we are above average.
  3. We will ensure that every student has a user-friendly portfolio that is filled with complex, authentic work.

How we accomplish these goals is anything but simple:

  1. We will fill our school to capacity and beyond. Elements of our school that increase enrollment must be prioritized. Enrollment is our bread and butter, as well as the way we reach more students with our mission. Financially speaking, at about $7,000 per student, we cannot afford another year of low enrollment. Missionally speaking, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are well beyond 50 more students in Muncie who would do better at Inspire than elsewhere. Prioritizing enrollment will include:
  • Consistent communication of events and achievements
  • Improving and expanding our sports and arts programming
  • Adding predictable cycles of fieldwork and summer adventure trips that make kids yearn to participate
  • More social family events
  • Decisions based on the felt needs of families and students
  • Flexible class sizes

We must become an organization built with systems and structures that do not change based on who is in the organization in a given year. As a people-centered organization, we have taken a lot of hits as people come and go. Life is hard, mobility is regular part of the technological age, and people are fickle. (Sometimes we need to just jump in a bus-turned-RV and drive away for our own sanity!) In the following months, we will create and adjust positions and structures to meet the needs of students rather than the needs of adults. Then, we will find adults who want to plug into those positions and structures, and we are hoping that all of the adults in this room choose to do just that!

  1. We will increase test scores until we are above average. Leadership structures must improve. The addition of an Executive Director position was a good start to increase efficacy and sustainability, but additional shifts need to be made.

What will this look like?

  • When hiring a replacement for our Interim School Leader, we will change the title to Principal and limit the duties of the position to those more typical associated with a principal position, directed and guided closely by our Executive Director.
  • We will dissolve what was previously called “School Leadership Team,” a team that is unclear on its role and, as a result, tries to fit too much into short, limited meetings. We will replace SLT with two different teams, an Executive Advisory Team and a group of Professional Learning Community (PLC) Team Leads. Members of the Executive Advisory Team will be appointed by the Executive Director for one year, renewable terms. This team will serve as a sounding board for big picture decisions and shifts made by the Executive Director of the organization. PLC Team Leads will be appointed jointly by the Executive Director and Principal (Interim School Leader for now) for one year, renewable terms based on academic outcomes as measured by standardized tests and/or student portfolios of work. This team will lead the work of instructional improvement in classrooms.

In order to meet our goal of increasing test scores until we are above average, we must also codify and improve our multi-tiered systems of support. This is a large part of our work plan this year and will continue into next year. Bridget and I have mapped out a 30-week process for deep implementation of academic support and intervention to ensure all students meet growth targets. Through PLCs, led by PLC Team Leads who follow a focused calendar of planning and implementation, we will spend 30 weeks improving our multi-tiered systems of support and making sure we do it well.

  1. We will ensure that every student has a user-friendly portfolio that is filled with complex, authentic work. In order to ensure students are achieving at competitive levels academically, identifying agreed upon standards of academic outcomes is necessary. In an organization that is working toward educational reform and continuing to pushback on standardized tests as the definition of all student achievement, we often fail to define what we will honor as accurate and reliable measurements of student achievement. We need to define clear expectations for complexity, craftsmanship, and authenticity as a supplemental measurement to standardized test data. Replacing a mono-dimensional measurement of student achievement with no measurement of student achievement is not in the best interest of kids. We must define these things, and we must ensure teachers achieve measurable outcomes with students.

Empowering a diverse body of students with an internationally competitive education by fostering students’ natural inclination toward curiosity, discovery, and adventure is a monstrous mission, a mission we believe is tremendously important for the success of our students, the health of our city, and the progress of our world. We have been doing this hard work for several years now, and the growth is evident.

One example of this growth is the story of Kara Baugues. She joined the Inspire Crew as a parent on day one of year one, and then she joined us as a staff member for year two. She saw in our school an opportunity for her children to receive an education they can receive nowhere else in Muncie, one that honors critical thinking and deep discussion, one that honors growth regardless of disability, one that teaches habits along with facts, and one that values all students as equals in deed, not just words. As a parent, Kara now has her oldest earning a 4.0 at one of the most esteemed high schools in Muncie and 3 girls developing into young ladies who can read and write with impact. As a staff member, Kara has gone from managing a room well (she has always had a knack for this piece) to doing it with confidence and fewer self-doubts. She has gone from focusing primarily on behavior to focusing primarily on academic outcomes, and her students’ are benefitting from this shift, surpassing average growth targets on NWEA and moving toward closing achievement gaps.

Another example of the growth and impact of our organization can be seen in the Pickett family. Brittany Pickett joined our organization months before opening this great school as my administrative assistant..formerly a bank teller. Brittany and I were the ONLY administrative positions – imagine running a school not much smaller than it is today with just Brittany and Bridget – no Paul, no Emily, no Emilie, no ED. As you can imagine, she and I both grew very quickly in this sink or swim environment! Over the years, Brittany’s responsibilities and leadership have grown, and her title and position have followed. Her family has also grown in size and in mission. By year 3, Harry Pickett joined the team as a TA while working on a degree in education, becoming a Teacher Fellow by year 5. The mission is contagious. Also in year 5, the little guy who had been at our ankles when we opened was now coming to Inspire in uniform for his big kindergarten debut and has been thriving here ever since.

The list could go on simply from families represented in our staff – the Oldfields, the Carpenters, the Stouts, the Drapers, the Dugglebys, Julie and her kiddo and Veronica and her kiddo joining us recently – each of these families will testify of belonging, of the foundational difference in thinking that our children have gained from their time here at Inspire, time that we wouldn’t trade for the world! And there are all the examples of kids and families not in this room – from a student who came with an IEP with an accommodation of “not requiring him to speak” and Inspire shattering those low expectations, paving the way for that same student becoming a presenter in front of a large audience of strangers before he left us – to the student who has grown from the 2nd percentile to the 25th percentile in reading over the course of his years here. These students exemplify Inspire’s journey – we’ve come a mighty long way…and we have a long road ahead if we are truly going to shatter glass ceilings for our students!

Join with me today and into the coming years! We must be unified. We must up our commitment to ensuring our students achieve more than we dream possible…or we must change professions. This means hard work. This means confronting improvements head on and not gossiping about challenges. This means long hours. This means non-profit pay scale. This means planning a lifestyle of healthy habits to keep ourselves at our best for the sake of those we serve. And this means doing it all joyfully because we chose this work!

This also means making a tangible difference in the lives of families and children. This also means having a role in dismantling systems within public education that devalue those with less privilege. This also means going home every night knowing you’ve done all in your power to make the world a better place. This work also means great feelings of pride when you see a child share meaningful content in a professional way at Exhibition Night. This work means being involved in student projects that restore the natural world. This means being an advocate and an ally. This means you get to speak into people’s lives and watch them grow and achieve more than they dreamt was possible.

Lives are at stake…the lives of the children we serve, and we cannot let them down. I hope each and every one of you will rally around these next steps in continuing the momentum and upping the quality of this important work. We are Inspire. We have high expectations, and those high expectations with adequate supports in place to meet those expectations are what will propel our students forward to experience deeper and broader success. Thank you for your service, and thank you for being fully present this afternoon. We will now open the floor for questions. Please text your questions to Emily Franks. She will take your texts and organize them into consolidated questions in the interest of covering as much as possible in the time available.

Raise Your Voice!

There’s one more vote tomorrow by our County Council to approve or deny our County Commissioners’ funding request for the proposed incarceration expansion.  While it feels like a losing battle right now, below is what I wrote to our County Council as one last effort to raise my voice.  I encourage you to do the same.  County Council emails are:

lbledsoe3@gmail.com
jpiper@co.delaware.in.us
councilmanscott@comcast.net
mcouncil3@sbcglobal.net
jlasater@co.delaware.in.us
rqdlctydist2@yahoo.com
cmatchett@co.delaware.in.us

Dear County Council Members,

It is my understanding that there will be a vote on the funds for the jail expansion plan at tomorrow’s County Council meeting.  I want to reach out one last time and implore you to walk in your authority to approve or deny funds and not just view this responsibility as a formality.  It is very concerning that our County Commissioners are proposing an expansion of incarceration in a county that is not expanding in population.  The fact that we have an overflowing jail in a county with a shrinking population is an indicator of problems that need a solution, not a holding cell.
  1. We need to think more creatively for solutions to improve jail conditions without expanding incarceration.
  2. Recidivism rates indicate that jails fix nothing – they are more of an expensive “time-out” for adults.
  3. We cannot commit well over 45 million dollars of public funds that are intended for community development to expand incarceration.  This is an unethical allocation of tax dollars.
  4. If there are an abundance of county tax dollars available for expenditure, let’s look at the following use of over 45 million (never mind the millions in interest):
    1. Expanding facilities funding to public charter schools, which receive zero local tax dollars, and thus run on budgets that are hundreds of thousands of dollars less per year than their district counterparts.  1 million dollars would pay off Inspire Academy’s facility and repair its roof.
    2. Improve facilities for our local school district: 10 million (1 million per school)
    3. Build a state-of-the-art addiction treatment center:  10 million
    4. Pay for inmates to be housed elsewhere during jail renovations and improvements: 3 million
    5. Jail renovations: 20 million
    6. Investment into city and county business development:  1 million
Why can we find a way to invest 45 million dollars in a school building after it is closed down and repurposed for incarceration when we can’t find a way to invest more money in schools that are open and educating young citizens?  45 million dollars can go a long way on the right projects. The jail expansion proposal that you are going to vote on tomorrow is not an ethical use of funds, and it will further our national trend of incarcerating at higher rates than any other free, developed, and democratic nation.  Voting yes tomorrow will create a stain on our county’s history books.  Please have the strength to vote no to this unethical proposal.
Sincerely,
Leslie Draper

Book Review: “A Small Porch”

I ran into this collection of Sabbath Poems by Wendell Berry through a new Instagram acquaintance that I encountered through my skoolie and tiny house posts.  She regularly posts sabbath poems on the weekends that I enjoy reading.  Wendell Berry brings the wonders of nature into words on pages, and it is a beautiful thing.  Also included in this book is a longer writing about man’s relationship with the land and farmers’ relationships with society.  This book is full of wonderful thoughts and ideas that facilitate personal reflection.  It also references many other historic works on nature that could provide useful for further reading and thought.

Book Review: “On Marriage and Family Life”

I picked up this book by St. John Chrysostom because I love a quote of his about prayer that I found in another book, and I thought a book focused more inwardly after reading autobiographies about revolutionaries would be a good shift for my mind and spirit.  While there were some bits and pieces that provided me with helpful reflections and thoughts, I would not recommend this book to very many people.  This collection of homilies and sermons is wrought with problematic views of gender that are likely telling of the time and/or the reality that a single man is writing about marriage.  I wish I could find a work from St. John Chrysostom focused directly on prayer, but I have been unable to find such a thing.

Mid-Year Reflection

You might wonder why I label this mid-year reflection as we ring in the New Year.  For those of you are new to my blog or who have only popped in for some of my social activism and advocacy updates, during 2018, God told me to resign from my job and take a year of sabbath rest.  At the time, I thought I knew the reasons, but so many other reasons arose to the surface after my obedience that I did not know would occur at the time.  Working at a school, resigning in spring for summer transition is always best for kids and the organization, and that’s what I did.  As a result, my sabbath year of rest began on July 1, 2018 and will end on June 30, 2019.

Obedience to the voice of God is so very important.  I am a person who struggles with faith, but two things I know: firstly, sometimes God speaks to me and that carries me through the times of doubt and struggle, and secondly, when I hear God’s voice, I must obey.  The fact that God spoke to me directly and told me to resign and rest means so much to me.  It lets me know I am loved and that my well-being matters to God.  It reminds me that I am not here to get things done, be productive, and make an impact as my American culture would have me to believe.  It reminds me of the old catechism that I had to learn as a child: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

I am enjoying God these days.  I enjoy that He exists.  I enjoy that His grace and mercy are new every morning.  I enjoy that He is constant when I am not.

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I am enjoying family these days.  Don’t get me wrong, the fam drives me nuts for portions of most days, but I love all the time we have together.  I love that there is time to do chores, watch tv, and play video games.  I love that, when I begin to think I should be “doing something,” God’s voice echos in my mind, “I told you to rest.  This is your Sabbath year,” and I settle back into whatever activity or lack there of I am enjoying.

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A sabbath year works like a reset, much like fasting from something does.  It reminds me of balance.  It brings me perspective.  When I completed my first sabbath year (this is a fairly new practice for  me), I committed to a more strict weekly sabbath routine.  I kept it up for a few years, and little by little, things began to creep in.  During this sabbath year, I’ve not needed a strict commitment to resting a specific day per week because I am doing well at resting regularly.  However, it hit me this Sunday that I did nothing and didn’t even have to work at it.  This is a big deal for me!

Rest is usually work for me, but it is becoming natural, and that is a huge mental shift that I never achieved during my first sabbath year.

Much of the first half of this year was a journey of parting from the work that I loved and that served great purpose.  There was a lot of pain, even bitterness and anger, as a result of some of my experiences in public education.  I thought I was done with education in Muncie for good when I walked out of my office in June, but I have come to realize a few important things during this journey:  one, that I am passionate about public education and that will not go away wherever I am, two, that we are going to be in Muncie for the foreseeable future, and three, as long as I live in Muncie, Inspire will be on my mind and in my heart.

After several trips this summer and fall, I finally felt ready to stay home for awhile.  However, I never really found my peace as Director of Development at Inspire and being at home was hard.  It didn’t feel like the right fit for me or for the organization, so when I was notified that I was being requested to serve in a new leadership role, Executive Director, I was excited but knew I needed to keep my sabbath commitment.  I agreed to begin the new role part-time in November, and I have been loving it.  I feel like I am able to contribute my gifts and abilities to an organization that I love and still maintain my commitment that I will not work more than part-time during this season.

In many ways, I am living the dream right now.  I have a part-time job that is challenging, meaningful, and enjoyable in an organization that feels like home.  I am pouring my experience with youth and education into my own kids’ growth, education, and development and getting to enjoy the middle school years with them, one of my favorite developmental phases to work with kids.  I have been able to support my husband through a very challenging season, both personally and professionally.  I have found some success with natural treatments for my fibromyalgia that are working, and I am hopeful to avoid adverse medication side effects over the coming years.

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Is life still hard?  Absolutely.  Do I still love to travel to warmer and/or more beautiful places and wish to transplant my friends and family there permanently with me?  Absolutely.  Do I still lose my temper and yell at my kids sometimes?  Absolutely.  Are there days I don’t feel like anything is right in the world?  Absolutely.  Are there days that I doubt and fear that this life is all there is?  Absolutely.  And in those moments, God says (and I picture Him shaking His head at me and sighing), “I told you to rest.  Has this journey not clearly been orchestrated as you’ve watched the events of 2018 unfold?  I am here, and I care enough about you to speak guidance for your steps.”

 

Book Review: “Cesar Chavez Autobiography of La Causa”

Can we speak truth to power when power butters our bread?   This is the burning question that I left with at the end of this book.  Reading about revolutionaries always pushes me to take inventory of how I am investing my time and energy.

As someone who grew up on the east coast of the United States, and then living my adult years in Indiana, I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of west coast issues.  I only know what I learn from reading and listening to those who live much further west and south than Indiana.  Unfortunately, the portrayal of American history in our textbooks has always been the perspective of the conquerors, never the conquered.  Reading Chavez brought me along in my understanding of Latino issues the way reading Dr. John Perkins in my twenties brought to life African-American issues.  Both helped me to realize the contemporary nature of what felt like stale history growing up as a white kid.

The format of the book is a compilation of excerpts from conversations with Chavez and those close to him throughout his life.  It makes for an enjoyable, real-life reading of his experiences and work.  It also highlights that he either didn’t have the time or writing skills to write the book himself…or both.  For me, this is a reminder and an affirmation that, while formal education is helpful and important, the fact that our society is writing off future difference-makers based on test scores is an inaccurate way to predict the contributions people will make in society.

I recommend this book to anyone who is willing to hear and learn from the perspective of our Latino brothers and sisters.

Favorite Quotes:

“Our family farm was started three years before Arizona became a state.  Yet, sometimes I get crank letters these days telling me to “go back” to Mexico!'” – Chavez  (Levy, p. 8)

“But the teacher thought nothing of changing our names the moment we were in class.  She wouldn’t pronounce his real name – which is Cesario – she cut it to Cesar right away.” – Chavez’s sister, Rita Chavez Medina (Levy, p. 21)

“While most people drawn toward liberalism or radicalism leave the church, I went the other way.  I drew closer to the church the more I learned and understood.” – Chavez (Levy, p. 27)

“…you must have people who are of a certain temperament, who just cannot live with themselves and see injustice in front of them.  They must go after it whenever they see it, no matter ho much time it takes and no matter how many sleepless nights of worry.” – Chavez’s fellow organizer, Fred Ross (Levy, p. 97)

“We never heard anything from whites unless it was the police, or some sociologist … They’d ask us all kinds of silly questions like how did we eat our beans and tortillas.  We felt it wasn’t any of their business how we lived.”  – Chavez (Levy, p. 97)

“The agents started asking me a lot of questions about Communism.  I said, ‘You know damn well I’m not a Communist!’ … Then the Republicans started to red-bait me, which made the papers again.  That red-baiting was the first time for me, but this was the peak of the Senator Joseph McCarthy era when many people were being accused falsely.  When the charges against me hit the press, there were repercussions.” – Chavez (Levy, p. 106)