In the cafe of the new SLA@Beeber to kick off the start of school.

In the cafe of the new SLA@Beeber to kick off the start of school.

The day after Christmas … 2012… Chris Lehmann calls me and announces, “We are starting another SLA”  and in moments like this I often go through a number of phases with proclamations like this… what is our timeline… to which Chris answers, “in September”.  Pause.  Pause.  I repond, “of 2013?!?” and he calmly responds, “yes.”  I then ran through a number of logistical questions and then I quickly got to where I often get to with Lehmann, which is… “ok, what’s next?”

Almost everyday for the past 9 months I have had a conversation about, worked on or struggled with the pieces of the puzzle that are starting a new school.  From the grant application and funding piece, to the student placement piece, to the facilities, the staffing, the master schedule, and on down the line.  And today the doors opened on the new school.  WOO!

Located inside the Dimner Beeber School, the newest iteration of SLA… SLA@Beeber is a variation on a theme.  Jokingly, when I try to explain it to people I use the Law and Order example… you know, there was Law and Order and then there was Law and Order: SVU… same format, but different actors and variations on the theme.  Some of the students and staff already refer to SLA as entering Season 8, while SLA@Beeber is in Season 1.  SLA@Beeber will take on its own identity as a school that will be ‘like SLA’ but will not ‘be SLA’ in that it is not meant to be replication, per se. They will be guided by the same grade wide essential questions, the 5 core values, the common rubric and the 3 simple SLA rules, but will adapt and grow in ways that are unique to their own identity as a separate campus.

SLA@Beeber is already starting things out differently.  For one, we restructured the science courses and placed Physics in the 9th grade setting up a situation where there can be thoughtful collaboration between the year long engineering course, the math classes and Physics.  We are hoping that this interplay between the classes will set the students up to have a firm grasp of the skills of math, but also the application in a meaningful way.  Additionally, the new campus will not be headed to The Franklin Institute on Wednesdays.  The SLA@Beeber kids will be in 8 week long mini-courses, organized by the Community Partnership Coordinator, Dave Sokoloff.  These courses will be in more locations and draw upon the community surrounding the school in Wynnfield, which includes some incredible potential partners.  So definitely within the model, but its own version of it.

And it wasn’t until Saturday when I actually allowed myself a minute to think, this thing is about to actually happen and breathe in the enormity of it.  It is not wise to consider how large an undertaking is, while you are in the middle of it.  I like to ponder it on the front end… then work like the dickens… then breathe at the end.  While I knew it was going to be challenging to pull it off, I never doubted that we could.  The team that powers SLA and the support system we draw upon from the community is unreal – it really is the closest thing that I’ve ever been a part of that resembles the work ethic of the farm community I grew up in.  This is a team effort through and through with SLA parents rallying to support the new endeavor, SLA kids coming to move furniture and help clean up the new facility, the community members around SLA@Beeber helping to move in our new furniture, the SLA teachers and staff just digging in to do what needed to be done to get this school off the ground.  The new staff has been incredible as well coming in for 2 weeks of professional development over the summer and moving truckloads of furniture into the school on Friday… a holiday in Philly.

And so we opened our doors today and grew the SLA family by 125.  It was exciting and exhausting and fantastic.  We had minor little snafus here and there, normal first day stuff, but really was a flawless day of building a new community of learners.  In the midst of some very challenging circumstances in Philadelphia, the leadership team of Chris Lehmann and Chris Johnson, delivered us to a smooth open.  That alone was quite a feat.

And, so… I am in Philly for the next month to support this project on a day-to-day basis while also working with my SLA advisees that are GRADUATING THIS YEAR (omg, how the time has flown) and supporting another school here in Philly that is in turnaround status with the district.  I am not bored.

But tonight, I am incredibly grateful to be part of such a supportive and hardworking crew.  This work is not easy, and it helps to know that on any given day there is a phalanx of teachers, students and parents ready and willing to do the heavy lift on projects such as this.  Today I say, Happy Birthday to SLA@Beeber… welcome to the family, we are so glad you are here.