Do School Better Season 3

Innovation & Changemaking in an Alternative Public School

By May 8, 2017 No Comments

Episode 46 – Dr. Danielle Bomar

IN THIS EPISODE DORIS SPEAKS WITH DR. DANIELLE BOMAR. SHE IS THE SUPERVISOR AT OPTIONS FOR SUCCESS, A K12 ALTERNATIVE SCHOOL PROGRAM IN THE COLUMBUS CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT FOR STUDENTS WHO HAVE BEEN SUSPENDED OR EXPELLED FROM THEIR HOME SCHOOL. HEAR ABOUT THE ENTREPRENEURSHIP COURSE DANIELLE AND HER TEACHERS PILOTED IN THIS SCHOOL.

Doris: Hey, Danielle.

Danielle: Hello.

Doris: How are you? How are you doing?

Danielle: I am really fantastic. How are you today?

Doris: I am great, and I am especially great because I am talking to you. So, Danielle, tell everybody a little bit about you and your school.

Danielle: Okay. My name is Danielle E. Bomar and I am the administrator for the Options for Success program with Columbus City Schools. Columbus City Schools this year decided to make a new initiative in order to reduce the number of suspensions and expulsions that we have throughout our school district, the ideology is that kids can’t learn unless they are in school. And so we wanted to provide different alternatives for students to be able to still do their school work while be redirected for their bad behaviors.

So my school is a place for students to be able to come to in order to do just that, receive redirection for the unwanted behavior, but also to re-energize students about education and get them excited about education so that when they go back to their regular school house, they’ll be more focused on that versus the unwanted behavior. So, my school, we run K-12. We have students here from as short as 3 days for up to as long as 45 to 50 days. And the reasons why they are directed to my school could be from various reasons, from anger management, to bullying, to just making poor choices in the school house that would have resulted in suspensions and expulsions. So, this year, we are focusing, again, not just on the bad behaviors but being able to redirect those academic changes in students. And, so, we were looking for different ways in order to, like I said before, excite students about education. So that’s where you came in.

Doris: Yeah. So, you bravely decided to do a pilot and, you know, I came in and I trained your faculty and worked with you guys to do a pilot. Talk about what happened.

Danielle: Well, I think we maybe should start a little bit just before that about how I came up to Cleveland to see you and your students at your school.

Doris: Sure.

Danielle: Because that’s nearly where all the magic started. Dr. Kline and Dr. Harris who are educators here with Columbus City Schools, they work in our accountability department. They said that we again wanna focus on not just changing the unwanted behaviors but being able to excite the kids about school. So, we were looking for something in order to do that. And so they invited me up to meet you and we got in our cars and drove up to Cleveland. And initially when I saw the website, I thought, “Oh, no, here’s another one of those PDs where we go and hear about something that can never happen in our school district. Yes, they don’t look like my kids and, you know. I have to admit that when I went, I wasn’t 100% on board on the drive up.

Doris: I am not surprised. I understand. Yup.

Danielle: Just to be honest.

Doris: Yeah, I understand. Hawken School looks a little different from your school.

Danielle: Just a tad.

Doris: Just a little different, right.

Danielle: What I can tell you, though, is that your kids didn’t look different than mine. Kids are kids.

Doris: Yeah. Kids are kids. I use that line all the time. It’s absolutely true.

Danielle: So when I went up to look at this experience, that’s what I was looking at. I was listening more to what the kids were saying probably than what you were telling me. And what I saw those kids, what they were able to do with their object class, it was crystal clear to me that I could do that same thing with my kids. I might not be able to change the facility but everyone knows that education is person to person, it’s relationships. It’s understanding what it is I’m trying to teach you, not necessarily what the room looks like that you are in.

Doris: Yeah, it’s about the kid.

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Danielle: Exactly. And the teacher, which is the biggest changes that has happened here. We get to talk about what has happened here with this program, with our school. That’s really the biggest change that’s happened is with my staff…

Doris: That’s exciting.

Danielle: I am a firm believer that teachers…good at leaders are good teachers. So, when I was sitting here, I was learning everything that I could and talking to you about your program and about the kids in order to bring it back to excite my teachers about changing how they practice education here at our school. And came back and that’s when we were starting this question about how you came down and you trained my teachers. You taught my teachers. You taught my teachers a different way in order to look at their lesson delivery that I don’t think that they’d ever taught about it before. You know, we, as educators, we don’t tend to teach one another the same way that we teach kids, which means that we do a lot of seminars and people kind of gloss over and then go to the next session. But that’s not what happened. You really worked with my staff. You got to know them. You got to know me. You got to know what our parameters were, and our relationship to schedule, and relationship to the strength of teachers.

And also what my… You know, I’m on a non-traditional school kind of calendar so I have students, like I said, coming in and out for short periods of time and long periods of time. And you worked with me for a pilot in order to decide which kids were the best kids. Best kids, meaning period of time that they were here, not academically, the period of time in which they were here which would be the best in order to run out a pilot. And then how to also embed it into my school because we looked at my teachers and whom are my strength teachers and who were my teachers that, you know, maybe needed to actually see it before they believed it, who needed to have that extra time in order to go over the materials and have their other peers be able to help them after they’ve gone through the pilot the first time. And so I think that the strategy on how we rolled out the whole program to my teachers was what was instrumental as having the success that we have. So, that’s kind of how we got started.

Doris: Yeah. And, you know, you bring up a really important point. Every school is unique. Doing something like this, and even when it’s really successful, if it doesn’t, if it isn’t something that really comes from the teachers and is embraced by the teachers, then it’s not going to have any lasting impact. And what you just described is a really important part of this. We’re talking we’re talking about systems change. We are talking about changing the way we do school. And that means you have to think about all of this stuff. You have to understand how teachers work, how schools work. And the teachers that you refer to who were the first ones to do the pilot, those pioneers are the ones who are excited about giving it a try. And it doesn’t mean they’re better or different as teachers. It just means their game for trying it and doing something very different with their students, which I think is really exciting. It’s exciting when you work with teachers who are excited like that.

Danielle: And I think, really, it’s the administrators. So with my school district, we’re a large school district, and we get the opportunity to have a lot of initiatives and a lot of grants come by our way. And the administrator, sometimes, when they get these charges, I’ll call them charges because they’re directives in order to roll out these programs, if the administrator doesn’t believe in it, then they’re going to present it that way to the staff and they’re going to present it that way to the kids. So I think the first step when thinking about doing this program, is to get the right administrator that believes in the program, that believes in change, and them having that attitude to take towards their teacher. I’ve been reflecting upon me and you just got that great email from our superintendent, from my superintendent, and I read it very carefully. And what he had said in that email, he had spoke to, “Now we need to go and find other great leaders in our district in order to put your program through.” He didn’t say we need to find great schools or we need to find great kids. He said we need to find great leaders in order to be able to be just as excited and just as dedicated and they can excite teachers.

Doris: That’s exactly right. So then what happened? So you came up to Cleveland. You decided, “Okay, it could work with my kids and my teachers…”

Danielle: Yes. So I brought it back to my team, and honestly the next thing that we did before I even contacted you, I sat down with them and I said, “Let me know what you guys wanna do. Do you wanna do something different, or do you wanna continue to do what you’ve always done and get the same results that you’ve always had?” And, you know, a lot of the things that we did in order to implement the program was, you know, outside of contract. When it came to time, and training, etc., and I said, “You know what, we don’t have to do this, but this is what it’s going to require in order for us to get better.” And every single one of them when I put it to them that way, that, “This is a choice, and we’re either going to go into this or we’re going to make it a success, or we’re not going to start it at all because we’re not going to cut off these beautiful edges off of this program to make it fit in a watered down version to fit into what we’re doing like a lot of other mandates, we’re going to follow the formula and get the success,” they all said yes.

And so, right after that, I called you up and you were a super rock star, and you drove down here and trained the team up. And then, you know, I did what I said I was going to do. They asked for support, you gave them support. They asked for time, I built time into the schedule. They asked for reflection afterwards, being able to have the time in order to do more than the one pilot, so we actually committed to two when we committed to one because we realized the first one would be a rough draft and we weren’t…even if it wasn’t successful, we committed to saying, “You know what, we’re going to study what we did and we’re going to give this at least two roll-outs before we decide whether we’re going to do it yes or no.” And so they committed and we moved forward immediately. And actually, I came up in October and we committed in October. So it was pretty quick.

Doris: Yeah.

Danielle: There was about the teacher. They wanted to change. They wanted something different.

Doris: And what I was blown away by, obviously by you, to begin with, by your administration in Columbus City, and also by your teachers, win, win, win. Everybody was all in and very excited. And then the way all of you embraced with vigor the pilot itself, which is a really tricky thing and requires…it’s a completely different way of teaching and it requires a lot of work to do it first, early on, because it’s new. So maybe can you talk a little about what it took for the teachers to do it, what kinds of things, these methods mean for a teacher?

Danielle: So the funny thing about, and my experience as an educator, is that being a teacher, the first day you start school, you’ve already had at least 15 years on the job training from you sitting and being a student. And so when they have that idea, and that idea that how they were taught, is what’s very different than the program that you presented to them. So then, do you take that plus what they learned in college and what they learned in college, how to be teachers with the straight lines and “I’m the giver of all knowledge,” so I had to break that idea, so I had to pretty much chisel down for even my rookie teachers about 15 to 20 ways of doing something wrong.

Doris: Yeah. No, it’s all of that way. Their training is, as you said earlier, that’s why what I do is I’m teaching them by having them experience this kind of learning themselves.

transformative learning in alternative public school

Danielle: Exactly. And that I did, they are students too. When they leave a classroom, they should learn just as much from their kids as their kids are learning from them. And so it’s a totally different mindset on how to teach. And I have to tell you, even though the pilot is over, it has changed how we assess our learning here at the school. We had just did a PD here on the difference between tests and assessments of learning. And we went through…

Doris: Oh, I love it.

Danielle: Yes, yes. We went through different examples and we had a conversation on what is that. For example, your state driving test, is that a test or is that an assessment of learning? Why or why not? And then we had those conversations. And about , if you were the teacher or giving someone their state driving test, would you be testing them or do you wanna assess their knowledge? You know, what do they look like? You know, we never had those conversations before.

Our school is broken up into pretty much two half academically. We do micro-education and macro. So with our micro, we study a lot of the students’ test scores when they come here from their various schools. And that could be anything from math testing to OGT testing, to whichever format and whichever school district you’re from, you know, you have your test scores. And so we take that. And then we work on gap closing. So we look for incidents or if there is some kind of component or a curriculum standard that they’re missing, during their time here from the 3 to 45 days, we nail in on that and try to close as many gaps as possible during that time. So that’s how it goes.

But our macro focus is the whole why. And that’s why a lot of the students end up in my program is because they don’t understand the why. They just go and they follow the rules because the teacher says so but they’re not excited about what…they don’t understand the connection how this is all going to come together. And so this program really was now a part of our why. So when the students, every time now in my classroom now that the pilot is over, my teachers understand the importance of telling the students why. Why are you learning polynomials? Not just because I’m telling you so, but how in real life or how when we get our next business challenge will you be able to use this information. That’s what the conversations are happening now after our first pilot. When they’re teaching them new things, my teachers are saying, “Well, next time when we get our next problem, you’ll be able to do X, Y, and Z because you’re leaning this now.”

And so now, they understand that, “Oh, my goodness, okay, I now know why,” and that why is what’s been so important. So it’s change how just how our standard order of business, how we do things around here, has changed.

Doris: It’s interesting that you’re saying so, I got as you were talking, I remember one of the earliest days of the pilot. I was there for the morning and I was with one of the students. It may have been the second day. And he needed…he had some questions and it was very clear that he had never done any research before, I mean, any. And  back to your why. First, he was…he knew that he had a goal, which is that he wanted to solve the problem that this business had given him. He’d never been given a real problem to work on by a real person outside the school. He wanted to and he had none of these skills to do it. And I remember that very first time when I asked him things while sitting next to him as he looked at his Google search box and tentatively thought about, “How would I even find this out.” And then three and a half weeks later, watching him present with statistics and charts to back up his proposals and talking about all of the things that he knew because he’d done the research. Pretty powerful stuff.

Danielle: Did he look just like a Hawken’s kid, did he?

Doris: Yes, he did. Absolutely, why wouldn’t he? Kids are kids, right?

Danielle: Exactly, exactly. And what you’re speaking to is exactly what I need to happen. The thing that I was concerned about and I shared this with you after we had committed, you know, I was trying to do an assessment and trying to cover all the possible fires that might come up. I was concerned that my students, since they’re only here for that short period of time, 3 to 45 days, I thought that that was going to be a challenge because they are required to work in these groups that you’re talking about. And so I was concerned two-fold. One, will there be enough time for them to do that type of bonding in order to have this group formation, in order to work together and feel that they’re a member of a team?

And then secondly, my students, like I said before, are here because of anger issues and trust issues, etc., and are they going to be able to bond with another student that has those same type of issues from a small setting, and have that whole team responsibility feeling towards people that, you know, or are in the same kind of situation they are with emotional issues. And I was shocked. I remember that first video, I thought that…if you look back on the first video, the first meeting where we have, I’m explaining to the students about, “This is what we’re going to do and this is going to be great and you’re going to love it. And they’re just kind of like looking at me like, nah. And one of the kids are like, “Am I going to get a grade for this?” You know?

Doris: Yeah, completely. They couldn’t have been less interested or engaged.

Danielle: Oh, my goodness. And then last day, they didn’t wanna leave. They’re like, “We’ve never done anything like this. This is so great,” you know. It’s like, I wish I could have shown them that at that first day. Like, “You won’t believe how excited you’ll be about this,” you know. But then I had to think too, you know, maybe their attitude was just similar to mine when I was driving up to Cleveland. Like, “Here we go again. Here’s another lady that’s going to tell me it’s fun,” you know? It’s fun for real.

Doris: Let me ask you this. So here are these students who’ve been through this experience where they had…they were taught in a completely different way, and had to do a bunch of research, had to do quantitative analysis, did a lot of communications, etc. Do you believe that having gone through that kind of education, that that will impact their performance on the tests that you were talking about earlier?

Danielle: Absolutely. Interestingly enough, each one of the students that come through the program, we have these counseling sessions with them and we ask them why, you know. And a lot of students, you’d be surprised that aren’t doing that well academically are not because of choices, because they don’t care about the teacher, they don’t like the teacher so therefore they’re going to punish the teacher by not doing the work. You know, “It was a test. I didn’t feel like taking the test that day so I just didn’t show up,” or, “I showed up late,” you know, or, “I just went and filled the Cs down the Scantron because I just wanted to get out of there,” you know.

And so, once they find something that they like and they understand the why behind it, the performance is right following it. You know, them being able to like, for example, that student you were talking about, the young lad that was asking the questions, he said that he’s never been asked to do anything academically before, to be a leader. And, you know, he plays sports at his school. I mean, he was good at sports, but before, when we he was at his homeschool, he was never seen as an academic leader. He wasn’t someone that would have been chosen to be a part of the special program. Even the smallest things like the field trips, you know, we went and we took four field trips for this activity for the pilot and chose the traditional get-in-trouble-at-schools aren’t the ones that get to go on field trips.

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Doris: Well, and the important thing about those field trips is that this curriculum and these methods have students working with real people outside the classroom, whether they physically leave the classroom or they’re, you know, emailing and Skyping from the classroom, they’re getting out and connecting in the real world and it gives them a type of substantive confidence, I think.

Danielle: Yes. And I would say, you know, the business partner field trips that we did when went to see our business partner for his business, powerful. But also, they’ll be going out. We did two field trips where they interviewed people in their community and people that were around, and them being able to walk up to an adult and present themselves and ask questions, that built a whole another level of confidence.

Doris: Yeah, and they had to, before they went out, they had to think about, “Why are we going to do interviews? What kind of research do we need that this will help?” And they had to plan it. And they had to wrap their heads around what it means to interview well, and do some research even before they went out. Okay, so this, you’re doing this, you’re piloting this crazy, radically weird sort of method and program and you’re in a public school. Is this something that public schools can do or is it so weird that you think it’s only someone as brave as you and it’s a one-off? What do you think? Is this something as people who are listening and they’re in public schools and thinking, “Yeah, but we can’t do that here. We’re too worried about the test and we have too many standards.” What do you think this says for public schools?

Danielle: Well, I know because I’ve been an administrator, I was a high school principal and a middle school principal for many years, and what I know is that running this pilot under the conditions that I ran this pilot was probably the worst case scenario.

Doris: Yeah. It was basically the biggest challenge I’ve ever taken on, and I’ve done other public schools.

Danielle: Yeah. Because think about the variables. Most public schools, students aren’t there for just 45 days. Kids are transient in public schools, but they’re there for longer periods than that.

Doris: Yeah, absolutely.

Danielle: So we knew that we were dealing with kids without the best attendance. Also, I don’t know if I spoke to the fact that we didn’t take kids out of the pilot based off of grades or ability level. So we grouped into these pilots students on various grade levels. So that like there was kids there that probably were on the eighth grade level. And then we had a couple of really bright kids that were in the senior level, you know, but they were all together in one group. And anybody that’s a public school teacher knows that that’s very challenging in order to have that many different grade levels and ability levels in one group.

And then also, most times in a classroom, to get a student that’s expelled from a classroom, that’s an outlier. And so it’s not something, you know, that’s happening every day, you know, unlike what you may see on TV. You don’t usually get three or four kids that are doing expellable incidents in your room in one day. But our entire group was built off of students that they did something within, you know, not a long time ago, just like maybe the week prior or two weeks prior all of those incidents.

Doris: Yeah, all of those kids, your entire school is those kids, right?

Danielle: Exactly. And so, you’re dealing with bad attendance, you’re dealing with, like, kids that are on various academic levels, and you’re dealing with discipline issues.

Doris: Yeah, and kids too are completely and totally disenfranchised about school and learning. These are not kids who like school.

Danielle: No, they don’t like school and they just had been uprooted from all their friend base, that’s the other thing. You know, they don’t know… When they started this pilot, they were only in this building for maybe a day or two prior. And so they’re in a completely new environment. So they don’t have their friends around. They don’t have their families close. You know, they were bus in to this environment from, you know, their home school. And the administrator, you know, I’m not their home school principal, so they’re dealing with somebody that has authority over them that they just met.

So all of those challenges, you know, those aren’t typical of a regular public school. You may be dealing with some of…one or two of those things on various levels, but for this pilot that was wildly successful, we had all of those variables happening simultaneously. And the staff too, they hadn’t felt success in a long time. We didn’t really talk about that but my staff, they just got me. I was a new administrator to this building at that time. I had only been with them for like a month or two and they had had a tough time with the previous administration. So we have…that’s another variable that happens a lot in public schools, you know. So it was not like, even though, you know, I really appreciate you saying that I’m fabulous, but they didn’t know I was that at the time. They just met me.

Doris: Yeah, yeah. So there you have these teachers who are learning a completely different way of teaching and doing it.

Danielle: Right. From a completely new person.

Doris: Yeah, from a completely… White woman, by the way, from, you know, a fancy school in Cleveland, right?

Danielle: Right. So if someone were to tell you and if someone is listening to this right now but just thinking, “You know, I’m in a public school and I can’t do that,” I’m telling you, I did that under all of those variables compounding together and we were successful. So I just think it’s a matter of going into it, again, from the very beginning, going into it with the idea that you want to change, you want to do something different, and rolling it out in the way that fits your school. Like how we did it, we didn’t do it like you did it in Cleveland. We did it to fit our school. You know, so, you know, we changed our schedule, we did it for the pilot in a shorter period of time than your students did it there. We did it again all the way down to ninth graders. And yours was in the twelfth grade class, correct?

Doris: Yeah.

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Danielle: So we did it to make it fit how we wanted it to fit.

Doris: Right. And that’s really important because this isn’t about, “Oh, this is this class. Can we do the class elsewhere?” It’s about a complete set of academic systems, methods for doing academic completely differently. So it can be an entrepreneurship class, or it can be an entire high school with interdisciplinary courses of all types.

Danielle: Absolutely.

Doris: You’ve told me that you’re spreading this across the rest of your school and…talk about that, and the district wants to spread this, talk a little bit about that.

Danielle: So the really cool thing about this program is that kids come to this program from all over the district, right? And so at any given time, I could have a representation of 30 school houses here in my program if I have 30 kids because they’re all from different school houses. So when the kids left the program, even the ones that weren’t directly participating in it, when they went back and talked to their other kids and their teachers about the program, the word spread like wildfire. It was so funny. I had a parent calling, saying they wanted their kids to come and participate in the entrepreneur program, and I was like, “Your kid hasn’t been suspended or expelled from school.”

Doris: That’s funny. That’s funny. “Can I get expelled so that I can learn something?” That’s funny.

Danielle: Right, right. So the principals… So those parents, you know, they went back and they’ve been talking to the principals and the principals have been talking to me about, you know, “I want this for my school.”

Doris: That’s great.

Danielle: And definitely, what I was tell you about those variables, you know, our top performing schools, they don’t have those variables.

Doris: Yeah. It’s going to be a little easier for them.

Danielle: Oh, yeah.

Doris: That’s right.

Danielle: They can control their environment and their student population and their teaching population a lot more than I can. And then there’s also that trust. You know, even though I’m part of this program, like I said, in this district, I’ve been with this district for over 18 years, and so people know me and they trust me and they know that if I said something, you know, that it works and give it a try and I’ll help you, then they’re willing to listen because I’ve sat in their shoes and I know what it feels like having just another program, like I said, come through your doors that I have to do that I don’t necessarily agree with.

So I think that that’s really key. And I would say that for anybody that’s thinking about doing this program, you should really start with the building administrator who is going to be deciding those features, who is going to be rolling this out. I mean, if that person is open to change and having…I mean, you had those conversations about my teachers, when we were talking about who’ll be best, you know, to be the best person in order to try the pilot, you know, we really spent a lot of time listening to them talk about it. And I listened at the water cooler what they were saying about it and how they felt about it, and being strategic about whom you pick in order to do it.

Because it doesn’t matter if, you know, do you have the best program ever, if that building administrator doesn’t wanna do it, you know, it’s not going to get done. And it is a change. It’s a change. And sometimes I know, like, top performing public schools, you know, they have a formula and they’ve been doing things that way for a long period of time and they can get set in their way, so that might not be the best place in order to try something new because the administrator might not be on board on change. So I think that that’s where it starts, finding an administrator that really wants to do it, them talking to their staff and looking at their program to see how can we tailor this and make it fit into our program.

Doris: Yup. And you’re that person, that’s for sure. And now…

Danielle: I said that I told you I wanted to do it, I was going to do it.

Doris: Well, yeah. And you did it, and you’re doing it. And now the rest of your…you’re bringing the rest of your teachers and your program in, which is really exciting.

Danielle: Yeah, it’s really awesome. Like I said, it’s awesome watching the teachers how they’ve changed and how they talk about just their regular class and instruction, it has changed how we view education here.

Doris: That’s awesome and that’s a great note to stop. We could go on forever. Danielle, keep on doing what you’re doing, and I can’t wait to see what your teachers and you do next.

Danielle: Thank you. I appreciate all the…

Doris: You got it, Danielle, anytime. Bye.

Danielle: Bye-bye.

Doris Korda

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