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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Topic: Q&A

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May 20, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Can’t we all get along? Writer calls for truce in education wars

Sam Chaltain

Sam Chaltain

First he was a private school teacher in New York City. Then, briefly, a public school teacher. After that, Sam Chaltain spent years studying schools across the country trying to determine what qualities were common to the very best.

In Washington, D.C., his current hometown, Chaltain got an unusual opportunity to examine two vastly different models up close. For nine months, he observed a new charter program struggling to get off the ground, and contrasted this with the daily ebb-and-flow of life at a 90-year-old neighborhood school. The result is “Our School: Searching for Community in the Era of Choice.”

Chaltain, 43, insists that he never intended to compare and contrast the schools in order to anoint one better than the other. Rather, he strives to present on-the-ground realities in each, with a mind toward suggesting a path forward. As Washington state prepares to open its own charter programs next year, his experience may have particular resonance for public school parents faced, for the first time, with a choice.

What follows is a condensed version of a conversation between Chaltain and The Seattle Times. He will be discussing his book at Powell’s in Portland on Wednesday.


Comments | More in News | Topics: charter schools, Q&A, Sam Chaltain

May 16, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Former public educator builds private school, and partnerships

For more than two decades, Bob Hagin taught in public schools — first as a kindergarten teacher, then with fifth and sixth graders in the Northshore district and later, at an alternative high school. But in 2008, convinced that the rigidity of the system was thwarting many students, Hagin decided to start his own program — with an unusual twist.


Bob Hagin

Q: The website for your Northwest Liberty School says: “As a private school, one of our unique missions is to support public education.” What does that mean?

A: The Jim Collins book “Good to Great,” talks about the tyranny of “or.” You are either going to make a lot of money or you’re going to be consumer-focused. When I read that, I thought that’s what education is like — it’s either going to be public education or private education. Why can’t they be partners?

Q: Should they be?

A:  I think so, yes. Education is a marathon, but sometimes kids look at every quarter as a sprint. So kids who are maybe AP or IB or honors students and need to take a health class to graduate — they can do that through us. Then we’ve got others who show up saying, “I can’t pass the state tests to graduate.” So they go all through public education — 13 years — only to find out at the end that they can’t earn a diploma.


Comments | More in News | Topics: Bob Hagin, Northwest Liberty, Q&A

November 20, 2013 at 5:20 PM

Five questions with Denny Middle School’s City Year mentors

James Dixon and Becka Gross are two of the red-vested City Year mentors who work at Denny International Middle School in West Seattle. Here, the two AmeriCorps members, featured in Thursday’s story about the importance of attendance, answer questions from reporter Claudia Rowe about their work at Denny and their own middle-school experiences.

City Year mentor James Dixon, right, helps eighth-grader Jonathan Barajas with a math equation during a recent class at Denny Middle School. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times

City Year mentor James Dixon, right, helps eighth-grader Jonathan Barajas with a math equation during a recent class at Denny Middle School. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times

Name: James Dixon
Age: 23
Hometown: Seattle

Q: You attended middle school at Denny. What was that like?

Dixon: My middle school experience was a difficult one. I came to Denny not knowing anyone, and the school was vastly different than it is now. There were fights very often, and little to no structure in the school.

QWhat surprises you about working with middle schoolers?

Dixon: I think one thing that surprises me the most is their work ethic. I remember I was not a very motivated student in eighth grade. I often did not pay attention in class. These students do not give up. Even if they do not understand, they stay after school and come in at lunch to succeed.


Comments | More in News | Topics: City Year, Diplomas Now, mentoring