My big decision in 2007

-- did you ever have to make up your mind --

After much deliberation and "thinking gray" for a long time, I have decided to make the job change from CIO at The Chapin School to a similar CIO job at The Children's Storefront School in Harlem (teaching computers and eventually math as well).

The seed for this job change was in summer of 2005 when I drove cross country with my daughter Sarah as I described on the cover letter I used in February 2007 in applying for other jobs:

I am achievement oriented and have dedicated my life over the last 30 years to help make a difference in the lives and attitudes of young people. When I was a junior in college and taking numerous graduate courses in math at Wesleyan University, one of my professors asked each of us what we wanted to do when we graduated. I told him I wanted to teach high school. He went over to the door, slammed it and came back to put his face in my face and said "you want to what? you want to teach high school?" He was shocked and abhorred that I was not going on to get my PhD in Mathematics. I told him that I thought getting others to enjoy math, to understand it and to be good at it was more interesting to me than getting a PhD.

Thirty years later, I find myself on yet another threshold of change. My 25 old daughter in law school asked me a few years ago when traveling cross country "hey, Dad, when are you going to teach and work for people who really need you?" At that point, I told her "I wasn't dead yet and there are many years ahead of me." Yes, I was being flip but I have been thinking a good deal for two years about who I teach and how I can move ahead into the next chapter of my life to help a more diverse group of young people.

And so I decided early in 2007 not to wait 86 years like the Red Sox but to explore job options this year and to be proactive about it this year. I visited about 9 or 10 charter schools around NYC and was extremely interested in 1 or 2 of them. In fact, I almost accepted a job at one of them in late March but under the influence of Steven Sample who wrote The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership and who advocates thinking gray, I waited.

I was torn between an offer from an excellent NYC charter school and the Children's Storefront School and must have listened to the song from the 1966 Loving Spoonful 33 times last weekend

Did you ever have to make up your mind
Pick up on one and leave the other behind
It's not often easy and not often kind
Did you ever have to make up your mind

Did you ever have to finally decide
Say yes to one and let the other one ride
There's so many changes and tears you must hide
Did you ever have to finally decide

In early March, I visited The Children's Storefront School located at 129th and Park Avenue. I brought Lynne with me one time so that I could get her first thoughts, since most of my mistakes in life have been when I have made a few key decisions against her better wishes.

Back in Spring of 2002 when I was debating the Nobles CIO vs Chapin CIO job, the assistant head of Chapin (Ann Hicks) said to me "Hey Steve, you seem to be a person who likes to create rather than maintain." I have never forgotten that observation and it certainly influenced me as I contemplated the future and my complicated decision. I later learned from Ann that the language of "change vs maintain" comes from the Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicators.

In early April, I started reading another book recommended by a friend called Chapters: Create a Life of Exhilaration and Accomplishment in the Face of Change by Candice Carpenter and really enjoyed the philosophy. The author says "we need to start thinking of our work life as a succession of chapters. Just as each chapter introduces different elements of the plot while still keeping to a central story line, so each chapter of our work lives can be devoted to who we are, what we aspire to, and how we want to live while still keeping to the central narrative of our own life." (page 6) According to Carpenter, each chapter in our lives follows from the previous one in ways that you don't know until later on. When I left Nobles in 2002 to come to Chapin, I now can look back and say that I was landing in NYC where there would be many more opportunities than in Boston to work with urban schools. I did not know at the time in 2002 that this would be my desire in 2007, but Carpenter would say this was irrelevant. The point is that the Nobles job opened the door to the Chapin job and the Chapin job connected me with people and opportunities that led to the Storefront job. An indulgence in a bit of mysticism, yes, indeed, but fairly intriguing nonetheless!

And so I am looking forward with much anticipation to the next chapter of my life which starts this August at Storefront which describes itself as "an independent, tuition-free school in Harlem serving pre-school through 8th grade." I wonder what this chapter will lead to and how certain Chapin connections may yet influence the subsequent Chapters. I certainly have met a wonderful number of people in NYC Charter schools and so we will see if I can measure up to my daughter's challenge from 2005.

A new challenge ... a new chapter ... a new fork in the road ... will technology be superfluous or meaningful in this environment? How do computer skills compare with math and writing skills for kids who may be below grade level in the essentials? ... Will the math teaching that I do there ultimately become more important than the computer teaching since these kids have to get into their next school at the end of grade 8 and people will care more about thier math skills than their tech skills? I have started reading and learning about teaching math to urban kids ... the literature is fascinating ... what are the essential Ted Sizer type questions in academics for urban kids trying to get out of poverty situations ... most of the NYC charter schools ("there are many") do not highlight technology ... can I create a prototype laptop program at The Children's Storefront School and help move Summercore to being a resource foundation for NYC Charter Schools providing tech training for their numerous young faculty? Will I actually be able to respond to my daughter's challenge ("hey, Dad, when are you going to teach and work for people who really need you?") in a meaningful way over the next decade?

April 2007 (new e-mail address as of 7/1/07 is )

A Short History of the Children's Storefront School

most of this info is from their Web page at here (flash) or here (regular text version)


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