Democracy, discomfort, courage, and educational innovation collided last night. What is in a name?
I have been working with a team from the Poway Unified School District. Their charge: open a new K-8 school in 2014 with a mission that has four key words: Design, Learning, Creative, Future. It will be the first “choice” school in this 35,000 student district, a design-thinking environment piloting differentiated and adaptive learning to meet the needs of every child, which can be scaled up to the rest of the district. The team decided that the name should actually reflect the mission, so, running against a proud tradition of names based on geography and place, they asked a profound question: if we are going to DO school differently, shouldn’t we NAME schools differently?
For the last two years, the school has been informally referred to as “School 39” as it is the 39th school in the district. Here is the short video we presented at 10:30 last night:
The Board members watched, smiled, asked questions, physically squirmed, and let the odd name sink in. It was the first time they had heard the proposed name, so different than all the others in the district. It seemed to both entice them and push them outside their comfort zone. Superintendent John Collins and founding principal Sonya Wrisley focused on the key: we WANT people to ask “what does that mean?” and we WANT potential families to know this is a different kind of school. The Trustees prodded themselves, absorbing, questioning, I think even enjoying, the obvious dissonance of risk. They went through exactly what we want the future students of this school to go through: uncharted ground.
And then, courageously, they voted to support the new name. What is in a name? It helps us know who we want to be, and the future students and adults of Design 39 Campus will have that ongoing discussion for many years to come. If the vision of the founding team has a legacy, the conversation will never stop, the answer will never be reached. That is the nature of great learning for the future.