Episode 1: Microschool, Major Changes
Reimagining education by getting to the heart of the matter.
Jonathan Santos Silva takes us to the North-Phillips School of Innovation in Tarboro, N.C.—a school reimagined from the ground up by leaders and students. In listening to the students and their community, leaders get to the heart of what matters. Learn more about the challenges and successes of their approach.
JONATHAN: “Many of the conversations that I have with folks about education start on the idea that schools are somehow failing children. That like if schools were working better, more kids would be successful. But if we look at the history of education in the United States, that’s probably not accurate. What’s more accurate is that schools are doing exactly what they were designed to do. They were designed to sort: a learning class and a laboring class.
The problem today is that more frequently, we’re able to predict which kids get which track based on where they’re growing up and their skin color.
But what if that wasn’t the case?
What if schools actually did work for kids and for every kid. Regardless of zip code, regardless of their last name, regardless of where they’re from.
What if you could design your own school instead of fitting into the mold already created for you? That’s what we’re exploring in today's episode of ‘Changing Course’. We’re taking you to a school in North Carolina that was re-imagined from the ground up.
We’ll take a close look at the challenges and successes they’ve experienced along the way as they partnered with students to design a school created to meet their needs.”
Shavon: “...our students are heard and they are strongly considered in every single decision that is made in the school.”
Jamilah:“..it would be counterintuitive to the heart and the spirit of our model if we weren't actually listening with the heart of, okay, we need to do what is best for our community and what they're asking for”
Zykendrick: “...in most of my other schools, I never really got the chance, you know, express myself but when I came here, people, like, they actually noticed me. And noticed, you know, my potential and noticed what I- You know, what I could do.”
JONATHAN: From Teach For America’s One Day Studio, you’re listening to Changing Course.
I’m Jonathan Santos Silva, a 2010 Teach For America Corps Member myself on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and since then, I haven’t stopped partnering with educators, students, and communities to reimagine education.
We have so much to learn from schools across America that are moving education in a new direction, and a change in course will happen one school at a time. Today, we’ll take you to one such school in Edgecombe, North Carolina to see how they’re doing it. Alright, let’s go…
JONATHAN: "North Phillips School of Innovation, locally known as NPSI, is located in the town of Tarboro in Edgecombe County. Tarboro, is a small town (only 11 square miles) and is located about an hour outside of Raleigh, North Carolina, the ancestral home of Skaruhreh/Tuscarora Native peoples.
North Phillips School of Innovation or NPSI is an umbrella term for two schools, Phillips Middle School and North Edgecombe High School.
At NPSI, teachers approach their craft using a unique framework built on five design anchors: love first, rooted right here, there is no normal, everyone owns everything, and design is our activism.
Let’s hear from our guests, starting with the lead designers who are actually on the ground making change.”
Sayre: “Hello. My name is Sayre Mann. Um, this is my sixth year here at North Edgecombe High School. My role is lead designer. And when I started six years ago, I was an English teacher. I came from the Teach For America program, and I was an English teacher for four years then started my new role, um, last year.
Jamilah: I am Jamilah, Jamilah Bullock. I'm a wife, I'm a daughter, I'm a sister, um, I am a social justice advocate. I, um, am a lover of nature and music and I'm passionate about everything that I choose to do.
I am a lead designer here at North Phillips School of Innovation specifically at North Edgecombe High School. I am an HBCU graduate. So I'm a graduate of Bethune-Cookman University. Um, I am a Teach For America alum right here in Eastern North Carolina.
Sayre: Here in Edgecombe County, we have a feeder system of schools that we call our north side schools. So it's an elementary school, a middle school, a high school. The middle school is Phillips Middle School, and the high school is North Edgecombe High School.
So historically within our district, our three schools in our feeder pattern were very underperforming. So when I came to North Edgecombe in 2016, our data reporting from the previous year, we had proficiency that was in the single-digits in, I think, all of our subjects. Um, like, just very low, very low ACT scores, pretty low graduation rates as well. Um, and we were really seen by a lot of people, um, within the district and definitely, like, with the powers that be with the state reporting system as being very struggling, being very, uh, just like an underperforming school. So we had that identity.
Shavon: Not only is it not a specialty school,
JONATHAN: “That’s Shavon Brown, principal at NPSI”
Shavon: but, you know, traditionally, prior to the inception of the micro-school and the other learning experiences that have had me here, traditionally North had been the school that was really struggling and this is why this is the area where some of this innovation was, like, initially started. Uh, so, yeah. It was not like these are students who are coming from these very special places.
Shavon: I've worked at both of the other traditional high schools and I've always heard of all of these, like, really cool, innovative different things that are happening at North. And so my first thought when I got the call was like, how do I follow the heels of a Donnell Cannon?
JONATHAN: “That’s Donnell Cannon, as in the former principal at North Edgecombe High School”
Sayre: When I came in, it was kind of like the very beginning of the redesign process. And throughout that whole process, the kind of theme I guess was how can we figure out what kind of school our students want and need and deserve, and what kind of school our community and parents want for their children, and then how can we bring that design into life?
So I think that kind of approach to the design process is what makes our story unique and special.
So as our principals were leading this work, they interviewed students and parents, process that we call Empathy Interviews, and they interviewed, I think it's like over 200 people kind of in this process, brought together that data, and came up with insights about what the students wanted and what the community wanted for the kids in our community.
So, um, some of the main insights were that the community wanted a school that sort of, like, broke down the walls between, you know, s- school, the school building and the rest of the community, a school that really felt like it was a living and breathing part of life in the surroundings that would really prepare kids for life outside of the school building and that would serve the community and be informed by the community as sort of like a, a cyclical, um, process.
And then another insight is that students and parents wanted kids to be having experiences in school that were, like, very, focused on their development as whole people-
Jonathan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Sayre:... and not just on their building of, you know, a discrete set of academic skills, but really about informing the kind of adults who they become and helping them pursue just kind of like their highest purpose and calling, whatever that may be for them.
So with those insights, um, our team got together and proposed a school redesign. And that school redesign is what ended up becoming the micro school.
JONATHAN: The micro school. Through a design process involving interviews with students, parents and community members, lead designers launched a pilot in the 2018 to 2019 school year. The team imagined what an actual school day could look like, their ultimate goal being meeting the needs identified through community surveys.
Remember, NPSI is made up of two schools, Phillips Middle School and North Edgecombe High School. While the schools predated the NPSI redesign, insights from the microschool pilot would lead to a reimagining of them both.”
Jamilah: I was the coordinator, so I was the one that was looking through data alongside, um, Hillary and Sayre.
Jonathan: So you just said, "We're not gonna tweak this. We're just gonna kick the walls down and start it all from scratch," right?
Sayre: Exactly. Yeah. Kick the walls down, start from scratch, but do it with a, like, pilot group, so, like, a group of 30 kids.
Sayre: And also that by empowering that group of 30 kids to, like, be that much a part of the process, then we would leverage their leadership in a way where we could use all of their experiences and insights to determine what this would look like on a larger scale.
JONATHAN: The microschool ultimately proved what was possible, and what began as a pilot, would become an essential part of the full school redesign.
Jonathan: What are your interactions like with your learners? How, if at all, are they different? Maybe you can tell us a story that specifically helps to illustrate how it might be different than you would operate as a traditional teacher somewhere else.
Jamilah: Such a good question. Um, so for like background, I started as a teacher, so I taught high school social studies for three years. And I think that I have this unique perspective because I've not only been a teacher, but I've been like in this coordinator role and I've also been a school administrator. So I've had, like, this very different kind of balance between my roles and in a lot of ways they overlap when it comes to relationships with students. And in a lot of ways they differ, but I think in this particular role, what differs from, like, a traditional teacher experience is that I spend a lot of time with adults, versus, like, classroom experience... I spend time with kids, I love kids. Love spending time with them. They keep me very young, (laughs) and it's very good to have, like, that real on the ground reference when it comes to, like, what's happening in our school building.
Um, but I spend a lot of time also talking to the adults that have an impact on the curriculum and the things that they are experiencing on a day to day basis. Um, which is very helpful because it helps me to think about designing with all of those lenses. And one thing that I might think is really successful as a, as a lead... as a designer or as a teacher, kids might not see it that same way.
Jamilah: Then we are going back to the, to the drawing board on those experiences, because we wanna get it right and we wanna make sure that it's what our kids want, need and deserve. Starting in October, we piloted on one of our new initiatives and we work really hard on figuring it out, getting it rolling. There were some logistical challenges that's expected whenever you're piloting something.
Jonathan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jamilah: And we... there... we got to a point where we were like, "Okay, this is gonna work. Like, this is gonna be great." As adults, right? Like this is gonna be great, you know, it's gonna-
Jonathan: Famous last words, right? (laughing)
Jamilah: Right. Because kids were like, "Um, yea no, like this is not at all helpful." Um, and it wasn't what they needed and that... I feel like that's okay as a designer to hear that sometimes it's hard, 'cause like, “dang really?” um, but it's important to hear so that we can say, "Okay, what is it that you need? You need more time to work through..." 'cause they were giving pitches to some of our community partners, so, okay, "Y'all need more time to do that. We can figure out how to design that and get that in our schedule." so I... that's just an example of like how my role kind of bounces in between all of these worlds and…
Jonathan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jamilah: They’re very necessary in order to create something sustainable and something that's relevant. Um, and it's, it's exciting, it, it is exhausting, I will not lie.
Jonathan: Well I bet. (laughing)
Jamilah: But it is exciting and I'm passionate about what I'm doing. So it makes it worth it for me when I see it comes to fruition and it's successful.
Teachers, we have egos, (laughs) but... and we wanna do things, right. I think there's a lot of perfectionism that happens.
Um, but I think it would be counterintuitive to the heart and the spirit of our model if we weren't actually listening with the heart of, ‘okay, we need to do what is best for our community and what they're asking for’ versus, what I think is best because I've got these degrees and these titles and all of the whatevers. And so... and that's been a learning curve for me. I'm glad we were intentional about how we've designed our school, because I think it makes a true difference in how things are built.
Jonathan: Is there a moment or a day, a project, that you're, like, that really stands out, that you're really proud of, that really exemplifies the unique spirit of NPSI?
Sayre: So we did a project, and I think we just called it the Community Project. Kids had to identify any sort of opportunity for design that they saw in their community, or we also did in their, in their day, like, in their life, um, an opportunity for a design that improved their community or their life in some sort of way.
Jonathan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Sayre: So we had 30 completely different ideas. Like, it was a huge range. There was actually, the student who is going to come talk this afternoon, or, like, like, right after this, um, she did, like, a finding a way to improve her and her peers' sleep schedules, because she was, like, really tired during the day.
Sayre: There's a lot of different ideas. There was a couple different kids who had a version of, like, building a community center or, like, a food bank or something similar like that in our community. But anyway, um, we had all of the kids be prepared to give, like, a little spiel on their idea. Uh, we set them all up in the library. Everybody had a table, and they had, like, a poster that went with it, and they had their spiel. And we invited kind of just anyone who we could think of in the community, community leaders, we invited other students in the older grade levels at the school. And we just did kind of like a, like a science fair, but it was-
Jonathan: That's what I was thinking.
Jonathan: Yeah, like a design or ideas fair, right? Yeah.
Sayre: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And, uh, yeah. It sticks out in my mind a lot, because it was, it felt so successful. The kids were so proud.
Shavon: Uh, absolutely. Um, it wasn't specifically a project, but we have, um, a company here who provides, like, some grant funding for some of the different projects and things that we do. And we organized a group of about four or five students to come and be a part of the student panel. We did not do, like, any prep work, uh, really for these students. We're like, "these people are going to come in and they're gonna ask you about your experiences here." And I just sat in the back and watched, and to hear these students be so self aware and speak so eloquently about how they have benefited from being students at North and they spoke about how they were able to follow their passions.
Like, when the people asked, like, "What was your favorite project?" And they were like, "This year or you mean the one I did last year?" And like, they were able to recall, like the projects and things they'd done in class. Like, you know, sometimes you ask kids, like, "What did you do today in school?" And they're like, "Nothin'." But (laughs) there's not a "nothin'." Like, they were able to, to call back, call back to those memories.
Sayre: I remember a lot of kids being excited to continue their project. And I think, like, a lot of kids started to view their project as, uh, a real project in a way that they hadn't before. So I remember one kid was saying, like... so there was this, um, this person, this guest who came to our presentation to -somebody who Jamilah and I know, like, from Freedom School in the community, but he was particularly interested in this one student's idea about having an after school, like, some sort of program for kids, because that's similar to what he already works with. And the student was saying, like, "He kept asking me all these questions about how I was actually gonna do it, and I realized, “I could actually do it!" (laughs) I heard a lot of versions kind of along those lines.
Shavon: I really feel like our students are heard and they are strongly considered in every single decision that is made in the school. Like, I think our kids are a legitimate part of the decisions that are made.
I think one thing that really, like, solidified for me, like, how different things were at North, it really caught my eye is, uh, we had the opportunity…they brought a group of students together the, the district did. It was right around when they were electing for, I think it was like state superintendent or things like that, and they brought in students from each of the schools to come in and just, like, ask these candidates questions to give students this experience of, like, being a part of, like, their, like, civic responsibility. And I noticed such a difference in the way the students at North presented themselves, like, with a pro... how they prepared they were for the questions, the depth in which they were able and the comfort in which they engaged with these adults they didn't know.
And I just kinda watched the students at the school that I was at and the other school, and I was like, "What is the difference?" Like, it couldn't just be that these kids wrote down questions on index cards. So-some of our kids wrote down questions, but I could see such a confidence in these kids in, like, knowing that their voices were being heard. And so I recognized, like, that didn't just come from, like, preparing for this day. That came from an ongoing environment where, like, these kids are constantly heard. And I just thought to myself, like, man, there's definitely something different going on at North side to see the way that these students were able to interact in this environment.
Jonathan: Mm. And just to be clear, this is not a specialty school where we're creamin' the best kids from all over...
Shavon: Absolutely not.
Jonathan: And bringing them here, right? These are the neighborhood kids.
Shavon: Neighborhood kids.
Jonathan: Yeah just it seems like it really speaks to the, idea that, uh kids can accomplish so much more than we...
Jonathan:...even believe they can. It really comes down to what we expect of them.
Shavon: Absolutely. if you give the kids the bar, like, they're gonna meet it, they're gonna exceed it. They will do if they have the opportunity to do.
<music bed starts back up>
JONATHAN: “Next, we’ll hear all about those experiences from the students themselves, but first, let’s take a quick break.”
MIDROLL AD BREAK
JONATHAN: "North Phillips School of Innovation has grown from just thirty students in the microschool in 2018 to two hundred and fifteen students, or world changers as the school calls them, at NPSI today.
And their students are carefully attended to as NPSI also boasts a 1:7 teacher to student ratio.
We spoke with two world changers from North Edgecombe high school, one of which originally attended the microschool."
Shakaya: My name is Shakaya. And I'm a junior at North Edgecombe.
Jonathan: Awesome. So first off, how long ... Because I know that there's like the, there's the elementary, the middle school, the high school. How long have you been a part of this school?
Shakaya: So actually, I've been at North Edgecombe for four years. Because my last year of middle school, I was actually here for Micro School, so I didn't actually go to the actual middle school. So it's been four years.
Jonathan: Oh, wow. And you were, so you were there in the Micro School, so you've been there from like, day one.
Jonathan: Can you share for us like, maybe a story that illustrates how different it was to attend that Micro School you know, as a eighth grader than maybe your last school?
Shakaya: Well, um, I feel like a very big difference is, I don't see a lot of schools going on field trips like the first two days of school. So (laughs) that's one main difference. They did like a lot of things to help us come together as a group to help us feel more comfortable with each other. You know, you have that one friend group, but with the micro school, they wanted to make sure that everybody felt comfortable with each other so we did a lot of activities to all come together. You know, it was just like a whole big family, and it was like real cool to experience that.
Jonathan: Mm. We, we heard a little earlier about, it was kinda like, I f-, I don't know exactly what it was called, but it was kinda like a science fair. But instead of it being about science, it was about all these different projects and ideas that students came up with. And I guess everyone had posters and they were in the l-, I think it was in the library. And the community came out. Were you part of that?
Shakaya: Yes I was.
Jonathan: Do you remember your project, and can you tell us a little about how you decided on your project, what that experience was like?
Shakaya: I do remember. I think my project, it was on sleeping. It was like helping people like ... You know how you work like a eight hour shift?
Jonathan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Shakaya: And then you get home and you so tired? I think I was trying to find a way to make people like, actually get enough sleep and be healthy. And I think I came up with that way because after school, I took like so many naps. And then maybe if I had homework, I would have to do that. And then I have a little sister, so you know, Get her like dinner and stuff.
Jonathan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Shakaya: And then do stuff for me. So I feel like I needed to help others and myself to figure out more ways of how to be more productive and stuff like that. So that's how I came up with my idea.
Jonathan: Mm. Now is that, I mean thinking about it like, had you ever had the opportunity to come up with a project like that in your education before you got to the Micro School?
Shakaya: Not really. I feel like all the projects I have done in Micro School at North Edgecombe it’s been more about what we want it to be. And like, other schools it's always been like a English project where you gotta read a paper or a essay, things like that. And more with Micro School, it's more like, we do the projects and we actually have fun with it.
Jonathan: How does that make you feel?
Shakaya: It makes me feel excited because like, I get to actually do a topic that I actually like. Like, I'm not bored with it, I'm having fun, I'm being excited, I'm still getting the work done. I'm working with a group. It's just like, it makes you happy like, that you get to do things that you want to do with it.
Jonathan: Mm so you do this project, and then they tell you, you got to present your project to the community. Were you nervous? Like, what was that experience like? And what'd you learn from the process of sharing your work out with adults in your community?
Shakaya: I was really nervous 'cause I never had like a opportunity to do that. I was like, presenting in front of a whole bunch of big strangers. I was so nervous.
Shakaya: But after a while like, they made you feel comfortable too. There was no judging you, or like, when they gave feedback it was like, "Oh no, you did this wrong." Or, "I don't agree with that." It’s like, it was always good feedback. And after a while, it was like, I wanted more people to come up to me and ask me about it so I can explain it. So, after a while I wasn't nervous anymore.
Jonathan: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So you know, I'm, I'm sitting here listening to you and I'm like, "Well, you got to pick whatever you want, but are you really learning the things that are important?" You know, if you're not doing that five page reading, and the essay, and you're not doing everything the traditional kinda way that you said is boring, how do you still develop the skills that you're gonna need for college, or the jobs and the careers you wanna have after? How is that worked in there?
Shakaya: Well, I feel like it's still in there because it's not all about fun. Like of course it's fun to do that, but you're still researching and doing things to get to that level. I'll say for the sleeping project, I did like a lot of research and research really had me like ... It's a lot of stuff that I mean, I can't remember now like off the top of my head, but when I was doing that, I was like, "Wow, I never knew this." Or, "Oh, this really happens?" Or you know, things like that. So it really does impact and help you learn while still having fun.
Jonathan: So it sounds like in a way, instead of asking you to read something boring, they let you choose a topic and then you ended up doing a lot of reading and research and writing anyway but it was like something you cared about.
Shakaya: Yeah, something you cared about.
Jonathan: That's really cool. So I mean, when you think of it like that, in a way, even though you're doing stuff that you are passionate about and you care about, it almost sounds like you end up doing harder work. Like, you're doing like college-level like research and writing. You ever thought of it like that?
Shakaya: Yeah, but I thought it's ... I felt good. Because it's preparing you for what you, you know, you have to do when you get there. When you go to college and like, "Oh, I already know what to do, so it's like not hard anymore."
Jonathan: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Nah, that's cool.
<music bed starts back up>
Jonathan: If there was one thing that you really wanted the folks listening to understand about your school and what it means for you as a student to be able to have a voice and a say in how you learn, what's that thing you would want them to walk away knowing?
Shakaya: I would want them to know that at my school, we are physically, and mentally, emotionally cared about. Lot of teachers make sure like, you know, you okay even if it comes up to um Google forms. Like one of my teachers, she do a Google form, and it's like a check in. When we walk in, we have a "Do Now". And then on the board, she like make us write, how are we feeling today. And if we’re feeling bad, she'll pull us to the side and we can talk about it. And I feel like that really helps. Because some people might not have that at home, like you can go home and talk to your parents. So, the teachers does that at school. And we are all connected as a family. It's no like, hate here, or bullying. Everybody's together, and everybody's having fun. It's like we connected. Like, we're a small community. And even if we was a big community, we would still be close and connected like that.
JONATHAN: “Zykendrick, a sophomore at North Edgecombe, agrees.”
Zykendrick: It's a vibe, like, here. You know, like, wh- when you're at school it's all about learning, education, doing what you want to do in the future ...But, like here, everybody is... they're... they're together. We're like a- an actual family. You know?
My name is Zykendrick Hyman and I'm a sophomore at North Edgecombe High School.
Jonathan: How long have you been attending school there?
Zykendrick: Um, I have been attending school at North Edgecombe for two years.
Jonathan: You're in 10th grade, so this is, including kindergarten, like, 11th year in school. You got some experience. What stands out to you about going to school here, versus somewhere else?
Zykendrick: What stands out here is, I- i-in most of my other schools, I never really got the chance to you know, express myself or, like, have interviews like this. But when I came here, people, like, they actually noticed me. And noticed, you know, my potential and noticed what I could do and that's really what stood out to me.
Jonathan: Mm-hmm (affirmative). In a nutshell, Zykendrick, what makes this school so special? Like, what do I really need to understand to really get a picture of your school, and really get an um, an idea of just how different it is, and what students love about it?
Zykendrick: When I was in middle school, I had always said I would, you know, go in the world and be a- you know, an influencer and like, talk to people and, give people confidence, basically. But, when I like started to shift into high school and stuff, and North Edgecombe, I start like- things like, you know, being a reporter and being like an activist for like any conflicts that we go through. It opened my mind up 'Cause when I was saying I was going to be an influencer, I was going to be an influencer just to, like, to encourage people. But, I really didn't know what am I going to encourage them about? So, like, you know, when I got to North Edgecombe, I started to really see a bunch of things that I could really encourage people to move from- to move on from and stuff. So, yeah, it just opened my mind up to more opportunities and more ideas, you know that I could possibly have.
Jonathan: So, sounds like, in some ways, you know the part about being an influencer, that has remained constant, but you have really grown in understanding about just exactly the many different ways you want to use that influence for good, the why and the purpose behind it. Is that- Did- Am I getting that right?
Jonathan: Wow. That's- That's incredible, and that's only in two years. Imagine what you're going to be doing in S- as a Senior, huh?
Zykendrick: Yeah. And like, me, me personally, I'm like- I have... everybody has been through, you know, a bunch of things in life, and me, I'm- like I have a mindset of, like you know, all life is precious, everybody can do whatever they want to do, as long as they put their mind to it.
Jonathan: Hmm (affirmative).
Zykendrick: Like when I'm- when I'm older, I can talk to students and they'll- one day- they'll take what I said and they'll go out and it will just make our world change in like, in a- in a very good and compassionate way, you know.
Jonathan: Hmm (affirmative). Thank you. No, that's beautiful.
Zykendrick: I'd like to make, like, one more statement about, you know...
Jonathan: Sure. Sure.
Zykendrick: When I say change, it's like, a lot of people are scared of change, but when, like... when I came here, there are people h- here to support you.
Jonathan: Hmm (affirmative).
Zykendrick: And actually, talk to you, and give you the advice you need to like, you know, handle the change.
Zykendrick: And, not forced to do anything. The teachers, and- not only the teachers, but students too, we're all here for each other, and we all- we all stick together.
Jonathan: Hmm (affirmative).
Zykendrick: That's all. That's all I wanted to say.
Jonathan: No, that's perfect. 'Cause, it's not a one way street, it's not just teachers taking care of y'all, it's y'all taking care of teachers, as well.
JONATHAN: Let’s hear from Shavon Brown, principal at NPSI, for some closing thoughts.”
Jonathan: Is there anything that we didn't get to discuss yet? A question I haven't asked that's, like, really important that people need to know in order to get the full picture and what... just how special things are going on down there.
Shavon: I think the one thing I would say is, I think what makes this really successful is being willing to wait and work and look for the right collection of people to make this happen. Um, I know it's really difficult because in our current world, like, there's such a shortage on educators. It's like we need to put bodies in the building. But I think what has made this successful is that the people here really believe it.
Shavon: And then I think, like, as a leader, I'm always thinkin' about what can I do to continue to, like, create that culture, to create that spirit where that if anyone comes in, like, they also fully believe that, like, you really do believe in those design anchors, you really do believe in that vision for the school, and you believe in the work. And I've never seen a staff, like, be as committed to the way we interact with kids.
Jonathan: That's beautiful. Thank you so much. So much for making the time Miss Brown.
JONATHAN: “And here are a couple thoughts from lead designer, Sayre Mann.”
Sayre: I think it's definitely partly just change is, change is hard. Change is scary. Um, you know, like, "How can we make it work?" totally. In terms of, like, the design, we're not treating our design as finished. So in terms of how we've actually implemented what we think of as our model, it's been pretty different. We have been responding to, like, what we've seen as gaps and needs, like all along. I, I think part of that is a function of we went ahead and started early with something that we knew wasn't really fully fleshed out. And I don't regret that at all. I think that was, like, the right thing to do, because we just wouldn't have found out everything that we found out, but-
Jonathan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Sayre:... as part of that process with the micro school, definitely not everything went well, and we went ahead and discovered what gaps we had. Looking back on the micro school experience, we did kind of go into it with more of an idea and less of a plan, and so our work since then has been making a plan, um, (laughs) and then trying to, you know, figure out how to, like, scale up said plan.
Sayre: I feel like we're steadily gaining support, um, like, amongst our community, amongst central office as our results continue to be consistent and good and kids continue to consistently say good things about what they're experiencing. But I definitely think that it's going to be a process.
Sayre: Uh, I, I don't expect there to be, you know, a major flipping of the switch just in a year or something. I think it's going to take several years of building up trust.
Jonathan: Yeah. No, that's... I mean, all that tra- tracks with design.
Jonathan: It, it's messy and it's, it's, it's counter, honestly, to a lot of the ways that, as educators, we're brought up.
JONATHAN: “And let’s round this out with Jamilah Bullock, lead designer for her final thoughts.”
Jamilah: Something that's very important to me as we're designing things, moving forward, is not to lose the essence of who we are. And the essence of who we are is on the shoulders of so many amazing people who live in this community who went to North Edgecombe who have such a pride in our school. And it makes such a difference having that support. And so I would say, like, to anyone who is, like, wanting to contin- or like start this work or continue this work, um, just know that you don't have to be in competition with factors. Like we are a part of the community and we should be engaging with the community in a, one an authentic way, but two embracing all of the aspects of our, our history, because it, it matters and it's important. And as we're moving forward, not isolating people who can turn around and be supports to the model.
Jamilah: I'm a historian by trade. So (laughing) I believe in just like the collective power of stories-
Jamilah:... and the impact that our history has on, on our, on our school and on our success.
And just in general, for people who are, like, thinking about ways forward is not losing the essence of who you are-
Jamilah:...but continuing to evolve based on the needs of, of your learners.
JONATHAN: Traditional schooling asks teachers to be the authority. It asks them to have all the answers. Designing requires different superpowers; it asks us to share power with those with whom we wish to design: in this case, our students. Design is hard, failure is hard, and it can be scary for adults who are used to calling the shots. But when done well, it can lead to something beautiful.
[Theme music fades in]
JONATHAN: That’s it for this week. Thank you so much for listening to Changing Course, from Teach For America’s One Day Studio. I’m Jonathan Santos Silva. Peace.
JONATHAN: “On the next episode of Changing Course: We’ll visit a school in Rhode Island where students gain real world experience before they even graduate.
Orly From the MET School, RI:
“I'll literally be out in the real world before I even graduate high school and gaining these really valuable skills from how to communicate, how to present an idea, how to research effectively and, and how to do a project.”
Katie From The MET School, RI:
“I have worked with nurses, lawyers, neurologists...I got a new job recently in a nursing home. It's a really nice place. Everybody's always surprised when I tell them my age. They're like, "Oh my god, you're only 17?" And I'm like, "Yeah!", and I'm over here doing CNA work.”
JONATHAN: That’s next time on Changing Course.
And if you loved the podcast, be sure to rate, review and subscribe to Changing Course on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.
JONATHAN: Changing Course is produced by Teach For America’s One Day Studio in partnership with Pod People. Special thanks to my main man Michael Kress, Craig Hunter, Laura Zingg, and Georgia Davis from Teach for America, and the production team at Pod People: Rachael King, Matt Sav, Aimee Machado, Danielle Roth, shout out to Chris Jacobs and Shaneez Tyndall, and Erica Huang.
Last but certainly not least, thank you to the students and staff at North Phillips School of Innovation who shared their time and experience to help us make this episode:
Zykendrick and Shakaya, Shavon Brown, Sayre Mann, and Jamilah Bullock.
My name is Jonathan Santos Silva, it’s been real!
SFX: [school bell]
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About the Show
Changing Course is a podcast from Teach For America’s One Day Studio that explores what’s possible when schools empower students in their own educational paths. Every episode, host Jonathan Santos Silva shares stories from students, teachers, and administrators about how they’ve reinvented traditional approaches to traditional education.
Jonathan Santos Silva
Jonathan Santos Silva (South Dakota ‘10) is the Founding Executive Director of The Liber Institute and creator and host of The Bored of Ed, a podcast that amplifies the voices of inspiring BIPOC educators who are changing the face of education. He has provided technical support to South Dakota’s Native American Achievement Schools and has served as a school founder and principal, instructional coach, and education consultant.
Jamilah Bullock, Lead Designer, 11th & 12th Grade Experiences
A native of Orlando, Florida, Jamilah earned a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Liberal Studies from Bethune-Cookman University. After graduating, she joined Teach For America as a corps member in Eastern North Carolina and taught high school social studies in Halifax, North Carolina and Tarboro, North Carolina. Additionally, she served as a Servant Leader Intern (SLI) with the CDF Freedom School in Rocky Mount, NC for two years. Jamilah holds a Master of School Administration degree as part of North Carolina State University’s North Carolina Leadership Academy (NCLA).
Currently, Jamilah serves as the Lead Designer for 11th & 12th Grade Experiences at North Edgecombe High School where she designs and implements key learning experiences for juniors and seniors. Additionally, she provides support to teachers across all content areas in curriculum planning and social emotional learning and engagement. Previously, she served as the Coordinator of the North-Phillips School of Innovation Micro School and as an assistant principal of grades 6-12. She also served as an Impact Leader with Profound Ladies, an organization that equips women educators of color with the mentorship, training, leadership and career development pathways so their students will experience the impact of a thriving woman of color leading their education. In 2020, she was nationally recognized by the Leadership for Educational Equity as a BIPOC Emerging Policy and Advocacy Leader. In her time of relaxation, she enjoys dancing, cooking, crafting, and traveling with her husband, Byron.
Sayre Man, Lead Designer
Sayre is an educator with a passion for designing authentic learning experiences that empower young people. She has been part of the North Edgecombe team since 2016, when she was placed there through Teach for America.
Zy'Kendrick Hyman, Student
Zy'Kendrick Hyman (he/him) is a sophomore at North Edgecombe High School. He is a student leader who has served on many committees, including Resources for Resilience, Student Leadership, and the Student Activities committee. He loves to support his peers by giving advice and motivating them to be their best selves. In his free time, he enjoys reading, singing, and hanging out with his friends. His main motivations are his mom and his best friends because they give him inspiration about his place in the world and accept him for who he is.
Sha'Kiyia Highsmith, Student
Sha'Kiyia Highsmith (she/her) is a junior at North Edgecombe High School. As a student leader, she is a member of the National Honor Society. After high school, she plans to attend Winston Salem State University to study psychology or business. In the future, she hopes to start her career as a therapist, supporting youth and the LGBTQIA+ community. In her free time, she enjoys listening to music and traveling.