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Brian Stimson of The Skanner
Published: 20 July 2009

About 12 years ago, a group of citizens in Minneapolis, Minnesota opened a public charter school like no other in the city. Beginning with 15 students, the High School of Recording Arts centered its curriculum around a recording studio.
Enrollment is now at about 200 students, and two other schools have opened in New York and Los Angeles. The model has become an icon of success for disaffected, urban youth.
Now, community leaders, educators and musicians are working to create a similar school here in Portland. They are currently gathering community support and will presenting their charter school proposal to the Portland School Board in July with the hope of opening the school in the fall of 2010.
“It’s hard to explain what a high school for recording arts looks like,â€" said Imani Muhammad, community partnership coordinator for the project and organizer of the annual Youth Summit. “To actually be in the midst of the students interacting and see the day to day operations is amazing.â€"
Muhammad, Project Director Erica Jayasuriya and several others team members recently traveled to tour the very first High School of Recording Arts in Minneapolis. What they found was a school with a 100 percent graduation rate with a student body largely from low-income families. A professional record company based in the Los Angeles school helps make the school and students money for their recordings.
“At the core is the studio. For the youth, that is their goal,â€" she said. “They also have the design lab, for the student who isn’t interested in recording, to design the album covers and promotional material.â€"
Muhammad sees the Portland model expanding on what has already been proven to work for artistic students who might otherwise fall through the cracks.
“When you add the recording arts, you’re documenting life, you can have videography, dance,â€" she says. “Recording arts is keeping up to date with technology and what the new trends are and staying in line with what’s out there.â€"
The educational practice at the center of the program is the national Coalition of Essential Schools program and project-based learning, says Jayasuriya.
“Students are lead through initial guidance and then either the whole class, small groups or individuals work on a project,â€" she said. “Or it is individual driven. Each student has an advisor and creates a one-on-one plan.â€"
Mostly, though, it’s about teaching students to ask questions and learn on their own with a teacher’s guidance.
“We’re going to work at meeting you at your strength and interest and over our time together help you expand your skills,â€" Jayasuriya said.
Local hip-hop artists have also gotten behind the project, including Mic Crenshaw and Cool Nutz.
Crenshaw, who is currently teaching hip hop spoken word classes at Mt. Scott Learning Center, says he sees the music providing strength to students who might have otherwise given up on traditional learning structures. Indeed, the school’s founder, David Ellis, believes in a “whatever worksâ€" strategy when trying to educate students.
Crenshaw has worked for years as an independent artist who taught himself nearly everything he knows. This school would equip budding artists with a set of skills before setting out on their own.
“What it does for youth is it equips them to be successful and self-sufficient,â€" he said. “It’s almost like a technical college.â€"
He says the current public school system is not preparing some children, especially poor, urban youth, to be successful adults.
“The system is failing in a myriad of ways,â€" he said. “There always needs to be alternatives.â€"

Charter Application
Most charter schools take a year before they even attempt to apply for a charter license from the school board, which is allowed only once a year in the summer. The High School of Recording Arts Portland is hoping to have their school open in that same amount of time.
“The nice thing about working with a model that’s got great research and data and statistics and is going into its 12th year, is that we get to start at the place they’ve grown to,â€" Jayasuriya said.
She says potential charter schools are given a short window of time for initial funding â€" three years beginning in the springtime. That includes a year of planning, another year to prepare the building and curriculum for students and less than a year to finance the school’s operation, before having to rely on funding from the local school district.
The project’s planners want to cut the amount of time they spend officially planning â€" which they’ve already been doing for the past year -- increasing the amount of time they will have grant funding with students in the building.
Currently, Jayasuriya and Muhammad are looking for parents of students 6th grade and up to contact the Portland Public Schools Board to voice their interest in the project. Students who are currently enrolled or who have left school (before graduating) can also contact the board, as the charter will allow the school to take students up to age 21.
“Believe in this, believe in giving the youth what they need,â€" Muhammad said. “When I heard that Portland Public Schools had a Black graduation rate of 38 percent, that’s a serious crisis, that moves me. When I look at something that will challenge the mainstream education and a new way to look at education, if we take this approach and go towards career paths and exploration of arts, music and culture that have been taken out of public schools because of funding or misallocation of funds, when we get back to essence that created civilization, it is a fabric of life. This model is going back to the essence of what makes us who we are as individuals and human beings.â€"

The educational core is a Coaliotin of Esential schools and project-based learning, major hs reform movements. Hwta HSRA does â€" LEP has project-based learning â€" students are lead through initial guidance and then eithere whole class, groups or individuals work on that project. Or it is individual driven â€" we do personalized learning plan â€" each student has an advisor and create a one-on-one plan. CES is all about asking questions --- ultimaley you’re working on a project where you’re learning how to ask questions, you’re learning how to do research, and for you, you’re hear fo the recording studio. Everything you want is to put into the recording studio, the end product is to figure out how to put it into studio. Maybe we’re going to diversify, make a PowerPoint presentation, make a comic strip or a video. WE’re going to work at meeting you at your strength and interest and over our time together help you expand your skills.
We have courses where classes are taught on biology or (whatever). Teacher directed but ends with project-based. Main founder of HSRA says â€" multiple strategy â€" whatever works.

FROM: Stephanie Brown
So, for example, in the early days, Ivy School design team members gave presentations at neighborhood association meetings and church meetings in a number of different neighborhoods. I think that was pretty key, because rather than forcing people to seek out information about the school (which is what I think usually happens with charter schools), the team delivered the information to the public and let folks decide if the school might be a fit for their families.

Later we sent information to local media, but made a strong effort to contact as many community newspapers as possible. Not that we didn't contact The Oregonian and local TV too, but we really focused on targeting community publications. So it was a grassroots effort. In addition to neighborhood papers like the Hollywood Star and Sellwood Bee - and more regional papers like the Southeast Examiner (which covers multiple neighborhoods) - we also made sure to regularly send information to papers with more of an ethnic focus - papers like The Asian Reporter, El Hispanic News, Portland Chinese Times, etc. I think this was really important, because not everyone reads The Oregonian! (And by the way, I always appreciated The Skanner's willingness to write about Ivy - thank you so much for that! I credit your paper with being a huge part of our success in spreading the word about the Ivy School.)

I think another thing that was pretty key was engaging local message boards. The Urban Mamas site was wonderful. Because it's a blog, it allows readers to post comments. And believe me, people posted A LOT of comments! Many of the early comments were pretty negative. The problem wasn't with the Ivy School per se - it was more frustration with public schools/charter schools in general. Some of the frustrations were valid (many local charter schools - for a variety of reasons - simply aren't that diverse) whereas other comments were based on misinformation (for example, people believing that kids with a Montessori background would get preference over other children. That was not the case and would have been illegal. We're a public school!)

We viewed the message boards (and the negative comments) as an opportunity: an opportunity to answer people's questions, an opportunity to acknowledge their frustrations, an opportunity to set the record straight, and quite honestly, an opportunity to get community feedback. Those comments clued us in as to what we were doing well and what could we do better. (For example, someone commented that charter schools don't do enough to reach out to families of disabled children, so our community outreach coordinator actually met with that poster face-to-face and asked her for suggestions. If you follow the comments on Urban Mamas, she started out as one of Ivy's biggest critics and now is one of our more vocal supporters!)

We also tried to make our public meetings as inclusive as possible - they were held in different neighborhoods instead of always in the same place (for example, the Dishman Center or Peninsula Park Community Center.) And since the school will have a bilingual English/Spanish curriculum, we had a Spanish translator at the public meetings, and made sure that our enrollment forms and brochures were available in both English and Spanish.

We also set up a facebook page (just search for "The Ivy School") where people could become "fans" of the school, read about our progress, check our events calendar, start discussions, etc.
I don't really know the specifics, but I know targeted mailings were involved as well. Ivy paid for mailing lists for several zipcodes known for having ethnically and economically diverse populations and sent mailers to households with children in those zipcodes. I know we got quite a few positive responses to those mailings.

I don't think any one method was more successful than the other - it was the combination - it let us reach lots of different people in different ways. And they seemed to like what they heard. We had 108 children apply for 60 spots in a school that doesn't even exist yet. Pretty cool!

Hopefully that helped answer your question. I'm happy to discuss this further (my number is 503.516.3590) or put you in touch with someone on the Ivy Board. In fact, I'm not the best person for you to speak with about the funding grant - Tammy Kennedy, who is the head of the Ivy board, would be a much better bet: [email protected].

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