Three of the World’s smartest teens from Georgia

Three of the World’s smartest teens from Georgia

This FB post came across my newsfeed and I had to read it.

teen triple majors at Morehouse

It’s amazing that a teenager can get three majors at Morehouse College and graduate from Medical School by the age of 22. And his picture looks so young! I’m impressed – and from Georgia! We spend a great deal of time talking about how we often aren’t meeting our kids educational needs, it’s good to see our successes. Here is Stephen R. Stafford II’s story from the World’s 50 Smartest Teens from 2013:

You will find Stephen R. Stafford II’s Facebook page fascinating enough. While many teens his age are skimping homework for Facebook time, Stephen is earning credits toward his triple major — pre-med, computer science, and mathematics — at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

Stephen started at Morehouse College at 11 years of age because his mother, who was homeschooling him, could not keep up with his potential. The college student is also a talented classical pianist; he began to play the piano at the age of two.

When asked about his exceptional abilities, the teen replies: “I’m just like any other kid. I just learn very, very quickly.”

Due to a Georgia law which requires a student to be 16 to graduate from high school, Stephen will receive his high school diploma one year before he receives his college degrees. The talented teen intends to go on to Morehouse’s School of Medicine, specializing in obstetrics and infertility.

He should graduate from medical school when he is 22.

Here are two more stories of awesome GA students:

Sitan “Stan” Chen, 17, Georgia, USA

In 2011, Sitan Chen won third prize, a modest $40,000, in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology for research that advanced studies in mathematical graphs and how computers multi-task data.

The 2011 win followed Sitan’s win in 2010 at the same competition. Sitan managed a team which shared the $20,000 prize for solving a math challenge which reportedly stumped mathematicians for 70 years. His double win set a record for Sitan as the first student in the 13-year history of the event to receive back-to-back Siemens Competition national awards.

He is also a talented violinist and pianist; he performed at Carnegie Hall not once, but six times. Sitan said he sees music as “a form of problem solving.” He adds: “It’s a chance to tackle challenges related to technique, structure, and interpretation using creativity and intellectual rigor, and at the same time, it’s a way to communicate what words cannot.”

Sitan is currently a freshman at Harvard studying economics and math. He’s a member of the Harvard Glee Club and an analyst in the Harvard College Consulting Group, providing consulting services for businesses, non-profit organizations, and student groups.

Sitan wants to become a university professor.

Erin King, 19, Georgia, USA

When Erin King, then a senior at Columbus High School, received her early acceptance letter to MIT, the college issued a challenge to the class of 2016: Try to “hack” your admission letters. However, they advised the future freshmen not to break into any of MIT’s secure networks, even though most of the newly accepted students probably knew how or could figure out how to do it.

Erin explained: “At MIT, hacking is basically performing a prank or just doing something really cool and unexpected.”

Erin had been active for years in her high school’s balloon launch research club. She is also a seasoned ham, or amateur, radio person and knew she could relay the balloon’s coordinates from a vehicle below. She had a “hacking” strategy: Send her acceptance letter into space or close as possible to the edge of the earth’s atmosphere.

Her “hack” worked. Erin’s capsule containing the acceptance letter was fully loaded with a camera and tracking devices and touched down safely near her intended landing site, after reaching a maximum altitude of 91,000 feet (~17.2 miles). She had fun celebrating her admission and, Erin stated: “The project ended up getting a lot more publicity than I anticipated.”

Erin is definitely a ham: She has achieved the level of Extra, the highest distinction in ham radio operation and named the 2012 Amateur Radio Newsline‘s Young Ham of the Year.

Oh, yeah, Erin is also a robotics enthusiast, a cat lover, and a certified scuba diver.

Today, Erin is a sophomore at MIT where she studies computer science and electrical engineering. She is happy that she was able to bring Maui, her cat, along with her, since MIT has a few cat-friendly dorms.

The one other thought that comes to my mind is that, maybe I could have had a chance to be one of these great students. Or, if I had even half the encouragement, or half to counseling from my counselor – maybe I could have been farther than I am now. It reminds me that there is so much more to accomplish. And that every child deserves the opportunity to have the encouragement and resources to reach their full potential. It’s why I work in school counseling.

Here’s a great note to end the list of the 50 smartest teens:

If you are under 21, you still have a chance to make this list or one like it, one day. Here are a few suggestions to bring out your genius and inspire you to greatness:

  • Mensa International, Try out some of the tests on their website to see how you compare to others

  • Get involved with STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) activities at your high school; join a local math or science team to participate in science fairs, tournaments, and olympiads

  • Seek out advanced placement (AP) courses and other ways of challenging your mind and natural abilities

  • Do you have a specific passion, hobby, or talent? Look for ways to stretch your interests, develop your skills, and compete with talented people

GA may overhaul teacher pay

GA may overhaul teacher pay

I’ve always wondered how teacher pay scales started and were implemented. I understood that with a teacher’s union contract it is all laid out in the contract. But in states where there is no official union and it is a right to work state, I’ve often wondered how teacher pay scales got involved.

© Paynich

© Paynich

As it turns out, these teacher pay scales have usually been entered as a law through the state legislature and the contract process is somewhat unnecessary. Here in GA teachers are paid by number of years on the job and educational level of attainment. That’s all. This generally creates an uneven balance where veteran teachers are making a lot of money while newer teachers are making much less. Quality of teaching has nothing to do with the pay.

Under the current system, in place for decades, teachers are paid based on their years on the job and their education level. Their salaries rise according to a fixed state schedule that specifies minimum pay, though some districts pay above that.

Deal wants to free up money so teachers can be paid more if they perform better or if they are teaching subjects — science, math — in which there is high demand for their talents.

But Deal also doesn’t want a formula that costs more, and the money for high performers would have to come from somewhere, like lower-performing teachers.

It sounds like the process will be a slow one IF implemented at all, because the new salaries are only effective to new teachers and those who opt into this system.

Some suggest that it may not help with recruitment and retention, if the teachers feel the system isn’t working on their behalf. But the Governor wants us to be able to take some of the money from an ineffective tenured teacher and provide it to a newer teacher who is performing at the proficient and exemplary stage.

This new proposal is only in the incubation stage and far from being enacted into policy. It would have to win approval of the General Assembly, and before that it would have to emerge as a formal recommendation from Deal’s Education Reform Commission.

Charles Knapp, who chairs both the full commission and the funding subcommittee, was careful to describe the subcommittee’s support for this proposal as only a “preliminary consensus.”

Next, officials will calculate the effect on each district, which could alter the debate. Also important is the reaction of teachers, whom Georgia is working to recruit and retain. (One of the commission’s other subcommittee’s is tasked with figuring out how to do that better.) Hames and other officials have said current teachers will be grandfathered under the current pay structure if they choose, but they acknowledge the state can’t make an ironclad promise.

While this is not perfect, and is nowhere near ready to be implemented, I think it is a good conversation to have. We need to have more incentives and opportunities for newer teachers who may be as good or better than some of our veteran teachers. I have seen plenty of veteran teachers who aren’t effective in today’s environment and we need the tools to make appropriate adjustments.

This shouldn’t be seen as an “attack” on teachers – it’s about making sure ALL of our kids have an effective teacher. Our public schools are not an employment agency, we need to make sure our kids receive a high quality education. They need to be able to grow into productive members of society, because right now too many are not.

Meeting DeKalb School Supt. Green

Great to meet New DeKalb School Superintendent Green last night at Leadership DeKalb’s event last night! 200 people RSVP’d and it was my first time at the Mary Gay HoGreen at leadership dekalb eventuse in Decatur. Only 45 days on the job and everyone seems optimistic about his potential for success.

Take aways:

He says all administrative staff were out in schools for the first day. This was partially in response to my desire to see Department administration cleaned out and when I mentioned that there is a big disconnect between district admin and implementation at the school level. Admin’s job is not “done” when they develop a program or curriculum. they need to see it through to the classroom.

He said that we are going to get academic achievement up one way or another (not 100% sure what the “other” way is)

When taking about cleaning house, he said he has already started and when I mentioned the nepotism, he said “if they are qualified and are doing the job” but I told him I don’t want to hear any more stories about someone’s son or daughter, cousin or whatever with a job at the school department to give them a job.

I explained my experience with substitute teachers in DeKalb. How I couldn’t get a spot as a sub when I first moved here, but that there is now a huge gap of sub opportunities not being filled.

I explained that it needs to be ok to fail, and how I knew of a situation where a school got “all hands on deck” for a state review, but was awful most of the time.

He agreed that middle school is critical to college and career readiness, and also made an interesting comment. He said he doesn’t like school counselors, that all the counselors he has met didn’t care about counseling students and they simply wanted to do admin work. I told him about how in RI you have to be a teacher for 3 years before you can be a counselor and seemed to me that the lackluster teachers just got a cushy job at the counselors office.

I’m just hoping he doesn’t mean that school counselors aren’t critical to student success when he said he would rather have hired someone else for the counselors spot. I am hoping he said that because that person was ineffective and not because he doesn’t believe in the work of school counselors.



Spend the time to build classroom culture & intrinsically motivate your students

I love what Susan Wolfe, an elementary school teacher in Boise, Idaho does in her classroom. She starts by creating classroom culture and helps the students brainstorm what makes a great student, a great teacher and a great learning environment. This shows the teacher what the kids expect of her and shows the students what they expect of themselves. They are going to be more likely to rules they made up together and feel ownership over.

“The kids need to believe that they’re not here to have learning crammed down their throats,” she said. She says it is fundamental for teachers to take the time to build a class culture for which students take ownership. And contrary to many stereotypes about disadvantaged kids, in her experience, every child, no matter their background, wants that learning autonomy.

“Students have the ownership of the critical factors, so I’m no longer the ‘heavy,’ ” Wolfe said. “They designed this so they have to hold their own feet to the fire, and I’m just here to help them out.”

Self discipline is a skill I never fully learned and I would have likely benefited greatly from this strategy.

The next piece that I love is how she intrinsically motivates her students. She uses what she calls a Genius Hour to allow students to learn about whatever excites them. This gives students power over some of their learning and might be one reason they look forward to school. These projects can also work out to be community service projects as well, which is a category of learning that is very effective and powerful.

For example, a group of students wanted to be outside more, so they are working to build an outdoor classroom. They teamed up with a group of parents who were interested in the same concept, connected with the Bureau of Land Management and eventually designed and began clearing the way for a native plant garden.

They’re working with the community, learning to fundraise, using Excel spreadsheets and building websites. But there’s no grumbling because students are invested in the end goal of the project.

“A lot of teachers spend a lot of time trying to motivate kids, but if they can tie it into students’ passions, you can tap into a lot of energy,” Wolfe said.

This next example reminds of the teaching style at the MET school in Providence RI where my sister attended high school. They allow students to learn about whatever they want to with guidance. The model is teaching them process not content. Here is a perfect example of that here:

“I had a student that I could just not connect with,” Wolfe said. “I could not get this kid to do anything.” But she knew he loved skateboarding, so she suggested he research and become the expert on Tony Hawk and skateboarding. The principal even agreed to let him do a skateboarding demonstration at the end of the project.

The student made a total switch. He was staying in at recess to work on his report, asking for help and doing a great job on his work. Recently Wolfe bumped into him around town and he still remembered that project. He’s in college now, getting straight “A”s.

Giving students the autonomy to direct their own learning teaches them process to do the rest of their school work later. By researching about a Skateboarder, he gained and developed research, writing, reading and analytical skills and had a positive experience in school. All of these skills translate into continuing to do well.

“Kids want that ownership, they want to be in charge of their learning,” Wolfe said. “We just have to give them little pieces at a time to be in charge of and give them a space where it is safe to do so.”



His Students Were Struggling, So He Changed 1 Big Thing. Then Everything Changed

I absolutely love reading about new and different classroom strategies. Here I read an article about flipping classrooms: His Students Were Struggling, So He Changed 1 Big Thing. Then Everything Changed.

The principal had the idea from his time as a coach to offer the classroom lectures to students outside of class, as homework, so that the written work and discussion and projects could occur during class time with the help of the teacher.

How many times do students have trouble completing written homework, and then not receive help in class because the teacher has moved on to the next lesson?

How often do students have trouble taking notes AND absorbing the information during a class lecture? I know that I am a writer and I usually need to write things down to understand them. Writing takes time and the comprehension comes second. I am usually feverishly writing notes before they are erased or the teacher moves on, but can’t listen to the words for comprehension at the same time.

This principal tried “flipping” one classroom to see if it would be successful. The teacher recorded short video clips of the lesson approximately 10 mins and the students would watch them as homework instead of written work. This also allow the student to re-watch, pause, take notes and really get a sense of the material.

When students went to class they already had a basic understanding of the lesson and could work on written work in class with the help of the teacher. Class discussion and projects are more productive because the material has already been covered and you can just engage with each other – which is the whole point of school.

I know when I had reading homework, I rarely ever completed it. Class discussion never really required that I had read the material, I always managed to make it work. If I had been asked to watch a video instead of reading, I probably would have covered more material. Also, its easier to watch a short video when you are tired and virtually impossible to read when you are tired, which is probably a good amount of my high school and college career.

They started with one teacher teaching a flipped class to struggling kids and the same teacher teaching the same material in a traditional way to average students. The idea was to see if the students having problems would be helped at all by the switch.


The at-risk kids actually outperformed the other class!

It’s not really about the technology, its more about more engagement in class with the teacher and students. Granted there could be some barriers in terms of student access to technology to access the videos and teachers have to commit the recording all the videos. But a successful strategy is always a good one! The rest can be worked out.

School take over plan that is working – Lawrence, MA

School take over plan that is working – Lawrence, MA

Thanks to Peter Cunningham for sharing this Education Week article with me about progress in Lawrence, MA, especially since I remember hearing about the beginning of the state take over when I worked with STAND MA and it’s hard to keep up with news all over the country these days.

He points out that it’s a good example of district administration and unions working together so I had to take a look.

The state take over or “turnaround plan” has several key points that matter to both unions and the pro-reform community:

  • Strong district leader – Mr. Jeffrey Riley, a former principal and former chief innovation officer in the Boston public schools, as Lawrence district’s receiver. A very important ingredient is that the turnaround team approached the takeover with a “strong dose” of respect for the adults in the system.

“We did not start with the assumption that the adults were the problem,” Mr. Chester said. “We started with the assumption that the system as a whole was broken and needed to be restructured.”

[Principal Lennon] “He knows that [teachers] are the people doing the work every day, and they are the ones solving the problems,” she said of Mr. Riley. “And the fact that he could gather information from them, and say to them, ‘What are some ideas that you have at the school level that’s going to impact students?’ That’s a positive shift.”

  • Expanded learning time – Schools added between 200-300 hours annually, allowing time for enrichment programs and interventions. Teachers got collaborative planning and professional-development time.

“Mr. Riley said the opportunities that children now have to engage in enrichment activities have been a critically important piece of the turnaround effort. Through partnerships with the Boys & Girls Club, the Merrimack Valley YMCA, and the district’s teachers, students are able to take classes in cooking, karate, theater, swimming, squash, and a host of other extracurricular activities they might not otherwise be exposed to.”

“Principal Colleen M. Lennon proudly watched over some of her young charges at the Emily G. Wetherbee School on a recent afternoon in this struggling city of 77,000, seeing students engage in activities that are a given in most middle- to upper-income communities. They were taking drumming lessons. Fingerknitting. Practicing cheerleading stands. Illustrating a short story. And making fruit salad in a class on healthy eating.”

“Ms. Lennon also credits professional development for teachers, giving them latitude to collaborate with their peers on classroom strategies, and creating leadership teams that rely on their expertise.”

“At UP Academy Leonard Middle School, Principal Komal Bhasin says the dedicated planning time that teachers get each Friday has been powerful. Working in cohorts, teachers spend 2½ hours on Fridays reviewing student data, revising curriculum, sharing successful teaching strategies, and setting goals for the school on a range of issues such as school climate or support for special education students.”

  • Partnerships – The district partnered with charter-management organizations and the Lawrence teachers’ union to run schools. It worked with Boston-based Match Education to provide math tutoring to high school students.

 “The district’s non-dogmatic view of who is best suited to run schools targeted for turnaround—charter-management organizations, the local teachers’ union, and the district itself are all operating schools in Lawrence—has also been a strength.”

“Mr. Riley has championed a governance model he calls “open architecture,” in which the district consists of a combination of charter-run schools and regular district schools. There is expanded autonomy at the school level and the central office’s role is curtailed.

“The problems in urban education are far too big for the civil war that’s going on out there today,” Mr. Riley said about the debate over charter versus district-run schools.

“We’ve created a small community where people have been willing to put aside their differences, work under this unified umbrella, and get results for kids,” he said.

An example of that “open architecture” system is evident in the district’s approach to turning around the low-performing Henry K. Oliver School. The Lawrence Teachers’ Union took over grades 1-5 and launched the Oliver Partnership School in August 2013, while the Boston-based UP Academy, a charter-management organization, took over grade 6. That new school is the UP Academy Oliver Middle School.”

  • Data – Boston-based Achievement Network (ANet) has trained teachers and principals to analyze data to measure student progress and improve instruction.

“[Lawrence is] looking deeply at performance and data, and they are targeting interventions at the problems,” Ms. Yatsko said. “They are unleashing their professional staff in the buildings by providing them with autonomy and coupling it with supports.”

Under Mr. Riley, principals and teachers are expected to know the proficiency levels of every student in their schools, Ms. Lennon said. Students are also keenly aware of their scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, or MCAS, what they need to do to reach proficiency, and how much their schools are expected to grow annually, Ms. Lennon said.

  • School autonomy and accountability – Successful principals got more authority over calendars, interim assessments, and staffing. Includes the charters, union run and traditional public schools.

An emphasis on creating and supporting strong school leaders; attracting and developing effective teachers; aligning resources to student and teacher needs; and providing both the funding and flexibility to school leaders to design programs that meet their school’s unique needs.

  • Staffing – A new contract with the teachers’ union created career ladders for teachers and provided opportunities to earn more money based on proficiency, performance, and leadership roles. About 50 percent of principals, 20 percent of assistant principals, and 10 percent of teachers were replaced.

The contract approved a year later created career ladders for teachers and gave them opportunities to earn more money based on their performance and the leadership roles they embraced in their schools. And Mr. Riley insisted that all teachers, including those in charter-run schools, be members of the local union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

  • Increasing parental engagement—the district recently opened a resource center at one of the city’s old mills, where parents can get help finding jobs and housing—is also part of the turnaround strategy.

Funding might really be the interesting area or question for the future.

The district receives about 95 percent of its annual $190 million budget from the state, and that contribution level has not changed under the takeover.

In a report by Education Resource Systems they make a point that while cutting administrative costs, state funding has remained the same and many of the new reforms were funded by grants that will end. The question is will the district be able to maintain these new programs once the grants end? Will the state realize the importance of these programs and provide more funding?

LPS received substantial transition funding during the first three years of receivership. The highest level of funding was received in SY 2013–14, including more than $3 million in School Redesign Grants and more than $2 million in Massachusetts Race to the Top funds. Also in 2013–14, the district reduced central office expenses by $1.6 million and provided that funding directly to schools to finance reforms. Although the district has been able to reduce central office non-staff spending in the 2014–15 budget by an additional $5 million to help offset School Redesign Grants and Race to the Top funding as it expires, it is not enough to replace all of the transitional spending. Lawrence has a growing enrollment, which should provide for some increases in state funding over time. However, it will be critical to watch expenses closely to ensure that the funding needed to continue the reforms is available.

ERS also notes that while Lawrence is a relatively small school district, the concepts are scalable across districts:

Reform is scalable. While LPS is a relatively small urban district (only 28 schools) and had the advantage of transitional funding from the state and private funders, even the largest districts can likely make the same kind of changes in a subset of schools. Creating the conditions for rapid change—including the flexibilities, supports, and human capital changes that Lawrence made— in the worst-performing schools in a district build momentum by improving outcomes in those schools. The key is to use that success to pave the way for broadening those changes to other schools by working to change the structures and policies that will enable lasting improvement.

This story encourages me as GA is about to look at state take over of certain schools throughout GA, if the bill is ratified by voters in 2016. Look for my next post analyzing the district/union relationship throughout the state take over in Lawrence.

How do you define harmful? Where is the “grit” factor?

Trying to wrap my head around this tweet I saw this week:

lily harmful tweet


How do you define harmful? Here is one example in the article she references:

The pressure placed on students is enormous. Children understand all too well that their test results may be used to label them or their school as a failure.

In Oklahoma the state legislature and governor doubled down on the testing obsession to declare that no third grader could go to fourth grade if they missed the mandated cut score on the reading test by even one point….one point on one test given on one day. Unbelievable.

The arrogance of politicians who voted to give themselves the final say as to whether a small child should be held back regardless of the professional judgment of the teacher or the wishes of the parent is unforgivable. Even after the outrage of parents and teachers helped to overturn the policy, the harm done to the over 8,000 eight-year olds labeled as failures is inexcusable.

So which is it? Are we responsible for making sure EVERY SINGLE CHILD is ready to college and career? Or are we responsible for making sure that there aren’t any tears at test time? Should a child be advanced to the next grade simply because the parent or the teacher says the child should be? Teachers have been advancing students for years because of social promotion, ineffective teaching or dislike for a student. Letting a teacher decide should not be the only factor. Having additional information regarding a academic achievement and preparedness for the next grade are important considerations.

In this post I discussed a friend of mine in Massachusetts, a state every loves to talk about as a “such a great education state,” who received excellent grades an graduated top of her class, to find out she was not able to perform college level school work. Top of her class and in remedial classes.

Maybe children wouldn’t be “failing” the test if their parents spent more time with them at home, reading and working on school work, and if teachers were engaging and connecting with their classes.

And if a child needs to stay in a certain grade level to completely learn the material it is going to be better in the long term if the student actually learns the material – no matter how it feels to be kept back. The real world is a tough place and if this is one way that children learn how to accept changes that are best for them, then that’s a good lesson to learn.

By passing students who aren’t ready for the next grade, who didn’t learn everything they needed to learn you are actually harming them. They may continue to be set back because they didn’t fully learn the material in the first place. They may not be properly prepared for college and career and then who’s fault is it if the student isn’t able to support his/herself as a productive member of society?

As we have read in Paul Tough’s book: How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, adversity can be helpful to develop character of individuals who are successful.

Do what is ultimately  best for your child and ensure he/she is learning everything he/she needs to learn to be successful. And if it creates healthy adversity, it might even be more helpful for your child to learn to overcome earlier than later in life.