NLCP Diary Archive
So what got you out of bed this morning?
It is a tough morning, the first day back from a wonderful holiday vacation that seemed to lusciously linger on and on.
It is tough to leave our loved ones after having spent so much quality time with them these last two weeks. (As the son of a faculty member remarked this morning, “Mom, it’s been great to be with you… see you again in May!”)
It is tough to leave afternoon naps, TV binge watching, catching up with friends, reading for pleasure and waking up in the morning knowing that the day is yours!
So this is what got me up.
My job is a chance for me to do good that matters.
This work, although it depletes my energy and devours my time, also deepens my humanity.
It is a chance to disrupt our world’s increasing tolerance for violence in thought, word and deed.
It is a chance to help our kids experience their potential and take the risks necessary to be full grown.
It is a chance for me to love and be loved back by these surprising, garrulous, and abundant adolescents.
It is a chance to counter the terrible causality of generational poverty, kid by kid, family by family.
It is a chance to work with you as we strive to give our kids the great school they deserve and the school we long to be.
It is tough work and we have no illusions about what it will demand of us. But if you, like me, were blessed by the abundance of our friends and family these past 2 weeks, it is time to pay that abundance forward.
Happy New Year!
Did you ever notice how often our prayers and fairy tales end with nearly the same words?
“…, happily ever after,
…, forever and ever,
…, is now, and ever shall be.”
This is no coincidence. Both prayers and fairy tales are a wager on hope. In a downside-up universe where the innocent suffer and justice is delayed and the violent bear things away, prayer and fairy tale endings begin with hope.
Let’s be clear about hope. When most people say “I hope…,” what they really mean is “I wish….,”
I HOPE it isn’t cancer.
I HOPE I get the job.
I HOPE this is really love.
Each of these hopes are actually wishes for a specific ending. The problem with this understanding is that if we don’t get our wish, then hope is a fool’s errand contingent on a very specific ending. Real hope has nothing to do with the fragile outcomes of repeated wishes.
Real hope is the belief that no matter what happens, the process itself will be replete with meaning. Having hope means that, even if it is cancer, then all of the coping, caring, depending, loving and letting go to come, will be abundantly rich. We will see and experience profound truths we otherwise would never have seen. Hope is the belief that, no matter what happens, all will be well.
Hope is the belief that Love will have the final say.
Teachers bet on hope. We believe that all of our efforts will make a difference, even if we will never, ever see those results. Even if all current evidence points in exactly the opposite direction, we have at it, day in and day out, because you never know. Love takes time and it will have the final say.
And, truth be told, being hopeful changes us. Hope activates providence. Hope deepens our humanity. Hope defies the strictures of time and space.
I give thanks because you and all of our kids, past, present and yet to come, have taught me this invaluable truth – that prayers and fairy tales end the same way.
“…, happily ever after,
…, forever and ever,
…, is now and ever shall be.”
November 10, 2016
Chicago, IL—The Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS) is thrilled to announce outstanding individuals who are making a difference in public education and the charter public school movement with the 2016 Illinois Charter Excellence Awards. These honorees include high school seniors and eighth grade students who embody the missions of their charter schools, as well as exceptional teachers, school leaders, and advocates who work tirelessly every day to improve education in schools and communities across Illinois.
A special luncheon award ceremony will be held at the 2016 Illinois Charter Schools Conference on November 10, 2016 to celebrate the honorees amongst their families, friends, colleagues, and peers. This year, Invest for Kids has generously donated $30,000 to recognize the hard work, commitment, and achievements of the Illinois Charter School Principal of the Year, Illinois Charter Elementary School Teacher of the Year, and Illinois Charter High School Teacher of the Year. High school seniors will be awarded $1,000 scholarships for college, while eighth graders will be presented with $500 scholarships for high school. The Illinois Charter School Parent Advocate will be awarded $500 to help continue their efforts to improve education for all children.
“These students exemplify hard work, perseverance, and a willingness to learn; they stop at nothing to be the best that they can be and work to inspire others around them,” said Andrew Broy, President of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. “This would not be possible without committed teachers, school leaders, and advocates, like those awarded today, who have worked tirelessly to create the schools we need now and move student achievement forward. We thank you for exceeding expectations and going above and beyond for our students. You are appreciated, and you are making a difference.”
The following individuals were recognized as the 2016 CHARTER EXCELLENCE AWARD HONOREES:
- Illinois Charter School Champion of the Year: The Honorable André M. Thapedi
- Illinois Charter School Principal of the Year: Melissa Sweazy, UCSN – Esmeralda Santiago
- Illinois Elementary Charter School Teacher of the Year: Jessica A. Jaimes, Erie Elementary Charter School
- Illinois Charter High School Teacher of the Year: Kevin D. Bradley, YouthBuild Mclean County
- Illinois Charter School Parent Advocate: Sonya Moore, University of Chicago Charter School – Donoghue Campus
- Outstanding Illinois Charter School Senior
- Terrance Lee Lindsey, North Lawndale College Prep – Collins Campus
- Anthony Joel Rucker, Chicago International Charter School – Longwood Campus
- Cristal Valencia, Intrinsic Schools
- Stefanie Villalpando, EPIC Academy
- Outstanding Illinois Charter School Eighth Grader
- Carlos Isaac Montalvo, UCSN – Brighton Park Elementary School
- Martha Lopez, Academy for Global Citizenship
“Invest For Kids applauds INCS’ commitment to improving education in our state through the support of public charter schools,” said Barbara Wolf, Director of Charitable Giving at Invest For Kids. “We recognize that student success is directly related to the talents of school principals and faculty and that charter schools provide the environment where excellence in leadership and teaching can thrive. It is with great pleasure that IFK is able to demonstrate our high regard for enterprising academic leaders with well-deserved financial awards.”
This morning I received a request to write a letter of recommendation. One of our NLCP alumnae is applying for a Ph.D program in Special Education. Omg… And she won’t even be the first NLCP alumnae to earn a doctorate. We already have one who has earned her J.D. 1,000 NLCP graduates have gone on to college. 250 have earned their degrees while the other 750 are making slow and steady progress. A bunch of our grads are working on their Masters’ degrees. When I think of the difference they will make in the world all I can say is Omg!
In the daily struggle to give our kids the best school we can, it is easy to forget that we are making a difference. Lots of times we get worn out and wonder if all of our efforts are conspiring to help our kids to and through college. It is the special vocation of those who work with young people from under-resourced communities to have hope in the unseen.
During the rain delay in that fabulous 7th game of the World Series, Jason Heyward gathered his frazzled Cubs team mates and said this:
“I just sensed (the team) needed to hear it from somebody, from somewhere. I don’t know if it was gonna’ come or not, but I just feel like we needed to be reminded how good we are. I needed to love on them a little bit and tell them: ‘Hey, I love everybody in here. You should all look in the mirror and understand you can get it done. I don’t care who it is.”
So on this grey day in early November with all of the hard work that awaits, hoping in the unseen, take a look in the mirror and repeat after Heyward, “We can get it done.”
October 13, 2016
Last week, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) released their school quality ratings. NLCP Christiana received the prestigious “Level 1” – the highest rating in school history! CPS describes “Level 1” schools as “high performance” and “a good school choice with many positive qualities”.
“We are proud of our students for their hard work and our teachers for their dedication. Together, they made this distinction possible,” NLCP Christiana Principal, Senita Murphy commented.
One outstanding metric that made this rating possible was our college enrollment rate. 80% of NLCP Christiana’s Class of 2015 are currently enrolled in college.
Elwood: “It’s 106 miles to Chicago. We’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes. It’s dark and we’re wearing sun glasses.”
Jake: “Hit it!”
This classic exchange occurs between Jake and Elwood Blues under a viaduct in the middle of the night. The Blues Brothers have been charged by Sister Mary Stigmata (aka The Penguin) with raising enough money to save the orphanage in which they were raised. The money is due at the Cook County Assessor’s office by 9am or all is lost.
Jake and Elwood are being chased by the Illinois State Troopers, the National Guard, the Chicago Police department, Jake’s ex-girlfriend and a group of neo-Nazis. Needless to say, the odds are stacked against them.
What makes this scene so funny (and touching) is that by any objective standard, they have no chance of completing their mission. The distance is too far. They don’t have enough gas. They are low on ciggies and their vision is somewhat compromised.
But what they do not lack, what they have in abundance and what makes all the difference is that they have a mission they believe in and that they have each other.
Only 14% of freshmen starting in CPS will earn a 4 year degree in college 10 years from now.
There have been 2,632 shooting victims in Chicago so far this year.
The unemployment rate in North Lawndale is 25%. For males between the ages of 18 – 26, the unemployment rate is 45%.
Budget cuts means that there are fewer of us doing more for kids who have never needed us more.
Does this sound like it is the middle of the night and we are wearing sunglasses?
Not here. Not at NLCP. There is no singing the blues around here. We have an inspirational mission that changes lives. We believe we can prepare our students to go to and through college. We have done so for 19 years and we will do so for the 800 students who will show up today. Their families are counting on us. The neighborhood is counting on us because access to a quality education is the best anti-poverty program around. Things will only change for the better if our empowered young people make it so.
The road is long. We don’t have all the resources we need. But we have a life-saving mission and we get to do it with each other. At the end of the day, this is the only thing that matters.
So, welcome to the 2016-17 Academic Year.
Put on those sunglasses and let’s HIT IT!!!
Dear Phoenix Family:
There are so many twists and turns in a school year. Centrifugal forces throw us off kilter. But every so often an epiphany dawns and all of the trivial distractions of the school day are contextualized by something true and abiding.
Last Wednesday’s Senior Project “Advisor Day” was such a moment. Its truth was everywhere.
I heard one senior say, “My mentor is a genius and he made me feel like a genius too!” You can’t get much more Socratic than that.
One mentor brought an extra water bottle for his senior. At the same time, his senior brought an extra Home Run Inn Pizza for his mentor. Bi-lateral, impromptu respect.
One student bragged that her mentor taught her a new thought technique. Every time the student made a claim, the mentor would ask, “So What? Why does this matter?” The penny dropped and our senior understood in a flash why one idea must lead to another. Good advice when one is lost in a blizzard of note cards.
Mr. Kelly and I asked 24 seniors in our Public Speaking class how their mentors were. 23 raved. They said that their mentors were smart, knowledgeable, nice and easy to talk to. Their mentors helped them define their terms, pointed them to additional resources and helped them focus on, and in some cases, change their topics. The 1 non-raver said that her mentor was “alright” but was MUCH, MUCH better than her Public Speaking teachers.
170 mentors, 170 students, more than 100 teachers, counselors and staff. It was like a great family meal, and the food was discourse.
Like a great family meal, everyone lingered. Our hearts connected when our minds met. 2 hours flew by like 20 minutes. Great learning plays tricks on space and time.
Also like a great meal, its beauty was the result of preparation. It was only because of hours and hours of tireless work by each and every one of you that these seniors metamorphosized from unruly freshmen into young men and women ready and available to engage with their Senior Project Advisors and let the strange magic happen.
Standardized testing, the pathologizing of youth, diminished expectations and civic hopelessness. These centrifugal forces can move us away from our center and make us settle for less. But we know better. NLCP knows its center. Thanks to all of you for such a magnificent epiphany Wednesday past and for grounding us in the truth.
Red Vines are the poor man’s Twizzlers. Red Vines come in a transparent tub, 250 of them in all, weighing in at 4 pounds. They usually cost about $9, but if you watch the prices, you can nab a tub or three for $7 each, except that people in the check-out line will look at you funny if you purchase more than one tub at a time.
I am a Red Vine expert. I have a tub of Red Vines on my desk right now. I have 10 empty tubs under my desk. That adds up to 11 tubs of Red Vines consumed by NLCP students since early September. In gross terms, (pun intended), this is 44 pounds, 2,750 individual Red Vines and 73,920 calories in all.
Why the obsession with Red Vines? My theory is that Red Vines are a point of contact. They give students and adults a chance to be human with each other. Students must come into my office and ask for a Red Vine. They must say “Please” which they do with varying degrees of wonderful adolescent attitude. They can only take one vine at a time. If they bum rush and take more than one, blaming it on the fact that the vines get stuck together, they get put in the Red Vine penalty box and are banned from Red Vine consumption for 24 hours. Sometimes students come in and “steal” a handful, at which point they must sit through my boring lecture on, “Why do you steal that which is freely given?”
They frequently make jokes, “Thanks Mr. Horan, I’ll tell my dentist you said hello!” Almost all of them say “Thank you.” The best thing about Red Vines is the conversations they start. You would be amazed how much students just want to talk. Red Vines give us an excuse to connect. I have come to believe that Red Vines are like arteries, pumping the life’s blood of relationship, turning an anonymous crowd into the beloved community.
NLCP is a Red Vine sort of place. One of our 5 core beliefs is that, “Healthy and meaningful relationships between students and adults are the foundation for student growth.” Imagine that. Assemble a core of full grown, attentive, skillful, committed adults, mix in 900 students, create a community where there are a million points of rich human contact and you will have one special school.
Last week I had lunch with a principal from another charter school. I was about to tear into my meal with all of the frenzied speed and lack of manners that is my habit when she stopped me.
She said that before it her kindergarten students eat, they take 3 deep breaths and then say, “Thank, you, thank, you, thank you.” She asked that we do the same.
It was nice. It slowed me down from my usual breakneck speed. It centered me in the here and now. And The “thank you’s” were wonderful. They were open-ended. I could have been thanking the farmers who grew the food, the chef who prepared it or my friend for sharing it.
So this is how I am starting the year. I am breathing out and breathing in, trying to slow down from the rush of lesson plans, meetings, Xeroxing and seating charts. I am trying to center me in the great work we are called to do. We are all working on a mystery. It helps to come at teaching from our deep heart’s core.
And I am saying thank you – thank you to my loved ones who keep me whole, thank you to my colleagues who lift me up, thank you to all of the students who have smartened me up, and for those who will do so again this year. We are a lucky bunch, to such important work. I am so glad we get to do this together.
Happy first day of school.
Breathe in, breathe out
Breath in, breathe out,
Breathe in, breathe out,
Thank you, thank you thank you,