Email Response from Mountlake Terrace High School Teacher Leader to story in the Register-Guard Newspaper

(shared with NEHS staff by Peter Tromba, Principal)

Date: Mon, 28 Feb 2005 09:21:22 -0800
From: Vincent DeMiero <ProfGC@aol.com>
Subject: Dismay at Small Schools Article
To: awilliams@guardnet.com
Cc: tromba@4j.lane.edu, Ralph Nussbaum <NussbaumR@edmonds.wednet.edu>, Greg Schwab <SchwabG@edmonds.wednet.edu>, Rod Merrell <MerrellR@edmonds.wednet.edu>, shannon@4j.lane.edu, storms@4j.lane.edu, white_t@4j.lane.edu, flick@4j.lane.edu, villanu_al@4j.lane.edu, Diane Lashinsky <LashinskyD@edmonds.wednet.edu>, Liz Marzolf <emarzolf@msn.com>, hubbird_a@4j.lane.edu, bennett@4j.lane.edu

Anne:

I'm very disappointed and dismayed at the tone of the article in which I was quoted. The fact that my name was misspelled didn't help any either. It's DeMiero.

Your Register-Guard article and its headline (and the subsequent versions and headlines that ran on the AP, and a national story from the Seattle Times Washington D.C. bureau) makes it appear that:

  1. what we're doing at MTHS isn't working ["I was not impressed with the conversion school that we saw, and I haven't heard of very many successful ones."];
  2. what we're doing at MTHS has nothing to do with improving teaching and learning ["I think that what's happened with the school we saw today is they didn't take the time to redefine the education. They just divided up the school."]; and
  3. MTHS is now to blame for whatever doubts NEHS is having about their decision to accept a small schools grant. ["North Eugene staff members have second thoughts about remaking the school after seeing the model at work" "Sheer and utter hell." "Don't do it. It's a divider."]

Now, I'm not an overly sensitive person, so please don't think I'm just overreacting here, but I have to say that I'm offended by this. The one quote that you used from me bore little of the context in which I wrote it. The innumerable negative comments about MTHS hurts deeply, I must admit, even more because so little context is provided and because so many wonderful, powerfully positive examples and ideas exist here for the NEHS staff to draw from - if only they would've asked and had the time to hang with us a bit more.

Now, I can only speak for my small school - The Discovery School - but did your article or the NEHS staff visit learn anything about our Students of Concern Committee? Our Student Advisory Council? Our Discover Us Night? Our Discovery Days? Our Cognitive Tutor math program? Our daily lunch tutoring sessions? Our after school tutoring sessions? Our Coffee & Slam sessions? Our Student-Led Conferences? Our switch to a four-period day - even though three of the other schools remain on a traditional 50-minute schedule? Hey, I could go on! (For an objective look at what's going on here - warts and successes - read this article by Lynn Thompson of the Seattle Times (note: requires registration): "Complicated conversion gets big school to think small" ).

To say that we didn't take time to "redefine education" is simply not true and terribly offensive. In fact, this close, painful, deep examination is at the very core of our conversion. Have we occasionally gotten hung up in the challenging logistical dilemmas that occur when you convert a large, suburban comprehensive high school into five small schools? Sure we have. But to deny that what is going on here is without merit borders on slander.

I would encourage you to re-read my e-mail to you (see below) - especially question No. 3 where I clearly pointed out that the answers that NEHS staff got and the mood that they left with most likely stemmed from what it was they sought out - not necessarily what was here at MTHS for them to observe. Like I said: "Generally speaking, and you know this as a reporter, you're going to get answers to the questions you ask - not those you don't."

While I'm upset, I would still welcome the opportunity for you and any staff member at NEHS to visit me and MTHS again - perhaps in fairness for longer than a couple of hours - to better understand the incredible work that has gone on here for more than four years in regards to small schools. I would also encourage you and the NEHS staff to seek out the objective opinions and data that many outside entities have gathered, and in some cases published, about the work we're doing. I think you'll find much of it in stark contrast to the tone of your article and the NEHS staff members' comments.

Thanks for your time, and please don't hesitate to contact me in the future. As I said before, teaching and learning are topics about which I am very passionate!

Ciao.

~ Vince

Vincent F. DeMiero
Instructor/Adviser
Teacher Co-Leader, The Discovery School
Mountlake Terrace High School
Voice: 425-670-7770
Fax: 425-670-7773
DeMieroV@edmonds.wednet.edu (school)
DeMieroV@mac.com (home)

-----Original Message-----

From: Vincent DeMiero [mailto:demierov@mac.com]
Sent: Tuesday, February 22, 2005 5:34 PM
To: Anne Williams
Subject: Re: questions

Anne:

My responses are below...

On Feb 22, 2005, at 12:58 PM, Anne Williams wrote:

Hi Vince,

I thought of a few questions for you. I didn't get a chance to talk with too many staff members while I was at the school, and the most of those I did talk to seemed to be fairly new on board. I believe you were there pre-small schools, but correct me if I'm wrong. So:

[Note: Only question 3 is included here]

Question 3: The team that visited your school came away uneasy about how well things were going. They heard there was an unhealthy sense of competition among the schools, and that many staff and students are unhappy. Some teachers advised them not to go down this path. I heard more positive things from the teachers I spoke with, and am curious what your thoughts are and what your sense is of the faculty "buy-in" at this point.

Answer: That's a very interesting observation. I'd love to know if there was a pattern to the negative responses - were those who said that there's competition and a sense of unhappiness all from the same small school?

I'll bet you a wooden nickel that the majority of those comments came from a few vocal staff who have never been in favor of small schools. However, if they talked to staff members who were frank, honest and objective, your observation sounds pretty accurate to me. After all, even those with whom I spoke didn't get some kind of sugar-coated, Pollyanna sales pitch. Is what we're doing perfect? No way. Is it rife with flaws and challenges? Absolutely. Is it better for kids than what we were doing? Almost certainly. Is it better for teachers? Maybe, maybe not.

But, come on. We're only into this grand experiment about 18 months. So, if the NEHS staff came away with a general sense of negativity, perhaps that's what they sought out. I'm not sure I find fault in that, either. I'd be asking tough questions, too, if I was considering such a major change (and I did ask them, by the way). If you ask, I know that the staff of my school - The Discovery School -will tell you the truth. Of course, if you ask how difficult it is, we'll tell you. If you ask how much more work this is for teachers, we'll tell you. If you ask how many logistical potholes we've had to navigate, we'll tell you.

But, if you ask how many kids have been better served, we'll tell you. If you ask for specific, incredibly personal, moving moments we've shared with one another and our students, we'll tell you. If you ask how many of our students and parents say that they feel far more connected to their education and school, we'll tell you. If you ask us how many of our kids we know really well, we'll tell you. If you ask us about the dramatic shift in academic expectations and accountability among students and staff, we'll tell you. If you ask about incredible (albeit preliminary) academic improvement among many of our "at risk" students, we'll tell you. You get my drift? Generally speaking, and you know this as a reporter, you're going to get answers to the questions you ask not those you don't.