The Fabric of a School…

So I’ve been at Academia Cotopaxi for a little over five months now, and each and every day I’m learning more and more about the rich history and the embedded traditions of this fantastic organization. Coming into a new school as a school leader is not only exciting and brimming with opportunity for change, but challenging as well, because it’s a delicate balance of looking and learning and listening to find out what it is that makes a particular school unique…staying true to the “who we are” piece of your new school is something that needs careful attention, and there’s a danger of going too fast and wanting to change too much before you really understand what is truly a part of the fabric of the organization. With a school like ours, which has been around for over 50 years, there is an identity and a prevailing purpose that affects and inspires not only our school community but our surrounding city as well, and it’s taken me some time to figure this all out. The beautiful thing about moving a school forward with an ambitious strategic plan like ours, is that we’re able to build up on a solid foundation…a rock steady base that will support the initiatives, and allow for some necessary change that is in many ways uncharted territory for us. The trick is to keep one eye firmly focused on what already makes us who we are, and use that as a jumping off point for growth and sustainable change…we’re in a wonderful position honestly, which is why we’ve already started to see some positive and forward movement in the areas that need our attention…let me give you an example of a solid foundation that has been in place here for over three decades…

 

One of our pillars of growth that is clearly identified in our new mission has to do with community…and service…and giving back to the city that has given us so much. We’re excited to make service learning even more a part of who we currently are over the next few years, and luckily I arrived to an already existing tradition of giving back, which is rich and healthy and inspiring. Last month I was witness to one of the most beautiful and profound community service programs that I have ever seen, and when I saw it unfold on that special day in December I was moved to tears. The project is called Zambiza, and it’s currently being led by two outstanding educators named Gabriel Cadenas and Debbie Faidutti…here’s a brief description (talk about affecting meaningful and lasting change…over 30 years of transforming lives, and giving back to a community that needs our support). In 1984 a group of Academia Cotopaxi (AC) teachers visited the Zambiza Dump, where local workers pick through the refuse looking for recyclable items. These workers had no place to leave their children while they worked, and were therefore required to bring them along, so the City of Quito created a small house as a daycare nursery for them.  The Academia Cotopaxi teachers were amazed at the incredibly poor conditions of the daycare…the children had no beds, hygiene was beyond bad, and the quality of the food they were being given was extremely poor. The school staff and administration saw this as a great opportunity to contribute in a very meaningful and direct way to a group of people in extreme need, so they collected money from the teachers, purchased mattresses, and donated funds along with unused furniture from the school. The project was started and is now funded through ongoing monthly donations from the teachers and staff of Academia Cotopaxi.

 

The program essentially has three parts…a scholarship program, which this year alone has allowed over 170 local students to enter elementary and High School in our surrounding community…a holiday gift drive which delivers cloths, toys, educational materials, and so much more to over 200 local families (these donations come directly from the students and families of our school, and are organized and distributed by our 11th grade students as part of their CAS requirement)…and a child development program where local children come to our school to work directly with our students, and to learn strategies that will greatly enhance their access to learning. Like I said, watching the holiday gift drive distribution event this year was incredibly moving, and the smiles and gratitude on the faces of these underprivileged families was emotionally overwhelming. It opened up my eyes to the amazing commitment that we have as a school to the idea of giving back, and it made me super confident that I arrived at a place that was focused on doing the right things. Our foundation is strong here at AC, and because of that I know in my heart that our fairy tale will eventually come true. I guess my message with all of this is that before you look to make changes in your school, particularly if you’re new and eager to move quickly, make sure that you take the time to look critically at the amazing things that are already part of the fabric of who you are. Don’t just keep the traditions and initiatives that are working successfully, but build upon them…expand them into other areas of the school, and use their success to fuel even greater success. After five months  of looking, listening, and learning, I’m still eager to make profound changes in certain areas of our school community and culture, but I have a much better sense of where our foundation lies…and it’s this foundation that will ensure that we’ll soon reach our lofty goals. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

 Quote of the Week…..

Sustainable change, after all, depends not upon compliance with external mandates or blind adherence to regulation, but rather upon the pursuit of the greater good.
― Douglas B. Reeves

 Articles on Culture and Sustainable Initiatives/Change in Schools:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vicki-zakrzewski-phd/a-new-model-of-school-ref_b_5375221.html

http://www.environment.gov.au/sustainability/education/aussi

http://sustainableschoolsproject.org/

http://www.sedl.org/change/school/culture.html

http://www.educationalleaders.govt.nz/Culture/Understanding-school-cultures/School-Culture

Inspiring videos:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2OcKQ_mbiQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SosPuPjf3W4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cZb3bpfMP4&list=PLEb3ThbkPrFYcsA7NXKOk4DhT_MQpNAjw&index=46

 

About Daniel Kerr

Dan Kerr is now Lower School Director at the American School of Paris. He previously served as Intermediate Division Principal at Academia Cotopaxi American International School in Quito, Ecuador, and prior to that was the Middle School Principal at SCIS in Shanghai, China. Dan has also worked at JIS in Jakarta, Indonesia and he began his International career in Abu Dhabi. Dan is thrilled to be joining the ASP family and will be accompanied by his wife, Jocelyn, who will be working as a counselor, and his two children, Max and Gabby. 
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