The Leadership Triangle in a Cristo Rey School

By: John P. Foley, S.J., Chair Emeritus

Often enough when one is giving a schematic explanation of how a Cristo Rey school is organized, we think in terms of a direct line:  at the top is the President, second in line is the Principal and finally in third place the Director of the Corporate Work Study Program.  (Actually sometimes one gets the impression that the Corporate Work Study Director is in some sort of ancillary capacity, a sort of intruder in the whole academic scene.)  I do not think that schema accurately describes a Cristo Rey school; it misses a basic point in the whole educational model. 

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Instead of a line, the more accurate description is a triangle.  The President is at the top and directly under the President are the Principal and the Corporate Work Study Director.  They are equally important in the school hierarchy, something academics often have a problem acknowledging.  As a result, both those offices at the school are given similar recognition.

When the Principal is taken into account, the Director is too.  Equally, when the Director is taken into account, the Principal is too.  The Principal and the Director both have a say about who is admitted to the school; both have a say about who is asked to leave the school.  In any kind of public formal setting, when one occupies a seat in a place of honor, the other does too.  In this way, the school is telling people that the Corporate Work Study Program is in no way an add-on but a program that is as basic to a Cristo Rey education as algebra or English literature.

Obviously such a structure, a triangle, supposes that the two can work in harmony, both equally responsible and equally committed to the integral formation of the students.  Ours are schools that professionally prepare young people for the work world they are moving into.  One of the happy results of this innovative structure is that, while in the past the President of a school had to be a school person and have clear academic credentials, that is no longer the case.  In our Cristo Rey model, we have discovered that it is sufficient that a good Principal be the academic leader and thus opening up the President’s position to people who come from other, equally professional, backgrounds.  It is obvious to everyone concerned how much value some of our non-academic presidents bring to our movement.

The Cristo Rey movement is an innovative educational model.  Much of the innovation comes from recognizing the education the students receive from working in a professional context.  Let us work on making that clear at all our Cristo Rey schools.

School Visits to Cleveland and Detroit

By: Randy Kurtz, President and CEO of the Cristo Rey Network

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Detroit Cristo Rey High School:
Sonya Mays – Senior Assistant to the Emergency Manager of the City of Detroit, Randy Kurtz, President Mike Khoury, Principal Sue Rowe, Board Chair Sr. Barbara Stanbridge.

You don’t have to wonder much about the value of our mission when you visit our schools in Cleveland and Detroit, as I did last week.

Rich Clark’s school on the east side of Cleveland is a beacon of hope in a rough and tumble neighborhood within sight of downtown. The local Wendy’s has a high volume of retail traffic but is near the usual low income sights such as convenience stores masquerading as supermarkets, identifiable former chain retailing outlets now housing lower end establishments, boarded up buildings with a homeless man in front of the door. Careers, futures and dreams are not made on St. Clair Avenue.

Inside Saint Martin de Porres, however, Rich has 440 students pumped up about the new school year, the Healthy Lifestyles garden they tend that helps feed the student body, art projects and running cross country. And every student this year, for the first time, has an iPad as a learning tool.

Detroit Cristo Rey President Mike Khoury’s (Mike’s a former business exec) school is also a bright spot in its Hispanic neighborhood on the Southwest side of Detroit. I got to witness a hint of the rite of passage known as Quinceañera when I saw one of Mike’s young students driven around the school in an elegant horse drawn carriage. 

Detroit, however, is not a happy place. While you may have more recently learned about its economic travails, Detroit has been in fiscal decline for decades. It is much more dire than when I was responsible for the International House of Pancake restaurants in Detroit thirty years ago – and, even then, unemployment was above the national average.

But I am often struck by how God works in our mission. I invited my friend Sonya Mays to visit Detroit Cristo Rey and she pulled up in the parking lot just as I did last Friday afternoon. Sonya is a former middle school math teacher and Wall Street banker (which is how I got to know her) who now serves as Senior Advisor to the state-appointed Emergency Manager of the City of Detroit, Kevyn Orr.

What Sonya didn’t know is that our school had minutes before celebrated the Mass of the Holy Spirit and its kickoff of the new school year. Most of the school’s Board of Directors and several major donors were having lunch when we arrived. I was called on to make a brief presentation about the work of the Network office but the Q&A – once I introduced Sonya – quickly turned to the daunting civic service issues facing Detroit.

Sonya handled the questions about public transportation and fire and police protection with aplomb and grace. She spoke candidly about the challenges – providing tangible proof that the leadership downtown is working very hard and is focused on the most important issues. After the impromptu dialogue, Mike gave us a tour of the school, we met students and faculty and I saw the “inner” middle school teacher in Sonya light up as she grasped the essence of our work. She and Mike discussed who is and who is not on the corporate partner “bulletin board” and Detroit’s business and political landscape. It was fascinating to me – all I did was trail behind and listen like a school kid (and I’m older than both of them).

So our school has a new friend in a leadership role in America’s most troubled city and Sonya knows of a small Catholic high school on the Southwest side of Detroit where the Cristo Rey light burns brightly.

A Jew, a Muslim, and Four Priests

Guest Post by Jeff Thielman, President of Cristo Rey Boston High School

A Catholic high school in the center-city is counter-cultural by its very nature.  Yet even in an era when religion remains one of the Big 3 taboo subjects, young people and adults at Cristo Rey Boston High School freely explore their own faith, the faith of others, and even the absence of any faith in their personal lives.

Every student takes classes where they learn about the Old and New Testament, religions of the world, and ethics.  All students take part in at least one retreat a year, community-wide Masses are celebrated about once a month, and every day two Masses are offered by one of the four Roman Catholic priests who work at our school.

You heard correctly. Four priests from the Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo work as teachers and administrators at our small school of 348 students.   The students gravitate to them. At our fall Community Day, a day of reflection, activities, and a cookout, our Campus Minister, Fr. Franco Soma, fscb, gave a beautiful talk to the students about gratitude. He spoke about how lucky he is to work at Cristo Rey Boston High School. One of my advisees, a junior named Chris Young, told me that it was the best speech he ever heard.

It is uplifting to walk through our hallways and see four priests and their lay colleagues of Catholic, Jewish and Protestant faiths joking, smiling, and encouraging our students.

The other day I was chatting with Nada Shaaban, one of our sophomores. She’s a Muslim who lives with her Mom and two siblings in Jamaica Plain.  I asked her why she decided to attend a Catholic school. “I came for a visit, and it just felt like the school for me,” she said.  “I like the attention we get from teachers. They are always encouraging me, they’re always very positive. And, I like learning about different religions.”

Shortly before my brief conversation with Nada, I gave a tour to a Jewish woman who is fascinated by our mission.  I took her to see a number of classes, including a class that was discussing Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist.  She loved the discussion and waved me off on two occasions when I moved towards the door to escort her to another class.

In a world where faith can be exploited for political and personal gain and where schools do everything in their power to avoid any mention of the word God, Cristo Rey Boston High School is a place where a Jew can be fascinated by a class on Jesus, a Muslim student finds a home, and four young priests provide a rich presence to students and staff.  Despite our differences, we come together at Cristo Rey – a place where we boldly celebrate the reign of Christ the King.

Reflections on Cristo Rey Dress Code

I was recently in New York City and Bill Henson (President of Cristo Rey Brooklyn) was driving me through the Madison Square Garden district.  He remarked that twenty years ago that area was full of violence and drugs.  It was a No-Man’s Land.  I asked what had turned it around and Bill told me it was Mayor Giuliani’s famous Broken Window Policy.  Basically, that was the policy that some social psychologist devised founded on the belief that if you take care of the little things, like repairing broken windows, the big things like drugs and violence will take care of themselves.

How often do we hear that “the devil is in the details” and I think it is especially true in the case of the dress code we try to maintain at our Cristo Rey Network schools.  Frankly, I think it is one of those battles that will always be on-going; it takes constant reminding.  It’s a pain for those who have to be reminded and for those who do the reminding, too.  However, sometimes I have thought that maybe the dress code is the most important part of the culture of a Cristo Rey school.  From the time that our students are putting their socks on in the morning, they are remembering that they are very special people doing something very special with their lives.  The way a person is dressed says a lot about how professional that person is.  That’s simply the way it is in the professional world we are preparing our students to enter. 

I think it could be helpful to recall the origin of the dress code policy.  We wanted the school environment to be professional, to continue the idea that one is a professional all the time.  We even thought at one time about setting up the classrooms to resemble offices.  Everyone at a Cristo Rey school is always on the job, sometimes in a corporate office and other times in class.  They are always working professionally.  One of the reasons it is so difficult to maintain this spirit at our schools is that, as is so often true in our schools,  very definitely our goal is counter-cultural; today’s world certainly leans toward what is more casual.     

One of the most important factors is certainly the modeling that the adults in the school are providing. It is a constant battle that calls for our constant attention.  I think it is an important part of reminding people of how high we set the bar at our Cristo Rey Network schools and to be effective we have to have buy-in from everyone involved.  We don’t want to ask the students to do something the adults don’t do. To lead by example, all faculty and staff must be expected to model the professional dress required of our students.  And someone has to accept the responsibility of reminding the adults when they stray outside the following guidelines (a sample adult dress code from a Cristo Rey school):    

Women:

  • Suit, skirt or dress slacks
  • A collared, buttoned blouse with 3/4 or full-length sleeves (if a shirt or blouse does not have a collar, it must be accompanied by a blazer or dress jacket)
  • Dark, close-toed shoes with a back; socks or stockings
  • Female employees must model the same expectations required in the student dress code for hair, jewelry, piercings, make-up and nails.  Visible tattoos are not allowed.

Men:

  • Dress slacks (anything but jeans)
  • Dress shirt and tie with a closed collar
  • Dark dress shoes with dress socks
  • Male employees must model the same expectations required in the student dress code for hair, jewelry, piercings, and facial hair.  Visible tattoos are not allowed.

A professional’s dress and behavior have a powerful impact on relationships with students and colleagues.  Students look to the adults in their school as examples of how to dress and act in the professional world.  Therefore, it is important to model professionalism and respect for others with a neat, well-groomed appearance, dressing only in appropriate business attire.  Even when the students are dressed in a school uniform, the adults are still held to model what is expected in the professional world.

Hopefully, adult role-modeling in these matters can begin right when the person comes in to interview the first time for a job.  How they are dressed is an accurate indicator of how they view the culture we are trying to build up.  They certainly are not going to change for the better after they are working with us.  Our goal is to introduce these young people into a culture where they can succeed professionally and it takes a continuous team effort.  I would hope that on every Mission Effectiveness Review the visiting team might review the dress code as it is expressed in the Student Handbook as well as how well it is followed. 

I am writing this reminder now at the start of the new school year so that as the different administrative teams prepare their policies and handbooks they will make sure that clear expectations are spelled out for everyone at the school, reminding everyone involved that we are about creating a professional environment in our schools so that our young people will know how to act and what is expected of them.  Certainly no one likes to be “the corrector,” but someone has to keep the bar high.  It needs to be a real team effort where each and every adult feels that everyone is headed in the same direction, all for the good of our students.  “The devil is in the details” and this devil is not going away for a long time. 

Riding the Elevator

The Cristo Rey Network office is on the twelfth floor of a building which is owned by DePaul University here in Chicago.  Since there are a good number of classrooms on these floors we often ride up and down with the students.  On two different occasions in the recent past I have had two very positive experiences with the students.

The first was some weeks ago when the University redid the paneling in the elevators.  When we moved in here there was a sort of psychedelic stainless steel motif on the walls that was a bit dizzying to see.  The first reaction was to grab the handrail to steady yourself.  They decided to replace that paneling with something that made it look like mahogany, though it was still metal.  A student got in the elevator and commented “So that’s where my tuition goes.  This is a school after all and not a Madison Avenue office building.”  My first reaction was that I was back in Peru in the sixties.  People were quick to criticize any sort of waste of money.  I liked the fact that this young man was that sensitive to what might be considered over the top.  After all, downward mobility has to begin somewhere.  Maybe on an elevator.

The other occasion was when I was going down alone and the elevator stopped to let two students get on, a young man and a young woman.  I was obviously at the back of the car.  When we reached the ground floor the young man put his hand out to hold the door and let the young lady exit first.  Then he turned to me and my gray hair and motioned for me to go before him.  I said no, thanked him and said “after you.”  He came back saying, “I insist; after you.”  What a delight it was to come across a young man in today’s world that courteous and that anxious to let someone else go first.

I found hope on DePaul’s elevator.

Prayer with a Price

This morning, as happens pretty much on a daily basis, someone was on the street in downtown Chicago asking for money as I walked to the office.  A few years ago when I made the Ignatian pilgrimage to Spain and Rome, I was impressed by the fact that for a prolonged period in his life, Ignatius begged for what he needed to live on outside a church in Barcelona.  Since that time I have thought of Ignatius when I see people asking for help and I try to share something with them.  I remember that even Ignatius had to ask for help in such a humble way.  So this morning I gave the person some money.

Then I got to thinking that accepting money for prayer was one of the most serious complaints Martin Luther had against the Catholic Church.  Admittedly it’s not exactly the same thing, but he definitely didn’t like putting a price on prayer.  Then I realized that something really important to me is the “God bless you” that you get most often when you give something to someone on the street.  Personally I place a lot of trust in that prayer.  I look forward to receiving it and somehow it makes my day better.  I am always reminded of the Scriptural refrain that “the Lord hears the cry of the poor,” so the God-bless-you that I receive no doubt goes straight to heaven and has God’s ear.  So I am grateful for the cry of the poor that is made in my name.  The fact that people in need are so attuned to the Lord in their life is a lesson for me.  And I am happy that they are praying for me.  That’s worth paying for.

A message from The John Templeton Foundation

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Christmas card picture circa 1954

Happy New Year! This week the Cristo Rey Network would like to share the Christmas Gift of Sir John Templeton.

Not long after Sir John Templeton died in 2008, his daughter-in-law Pina Templeton discovered a curious document in his personal archives. It was a short letter the legendary investor and philanthropist had included with his family Christmas card mailed out in 1962.

“Though it wasn’t as common back then as it is today, people might have opened the Christmas card letter expecting to find an update on John Templeton’s family, or maybe even some stock tips,” says Dr. Jack Templeton, Sir John’s son and president of the John Templeton Foundation. “Instead, the letter began, On the 1962nd birthday of Christ, we invite you, our friends, to share with us this little simile: Are You In Control of Your Mind?”

An unusual start to a Yuletide message? No doubt—but one entirely in the spirit of the visionary investor who was not born into wealth, but who spent the Great Depression diligently preparing the ground from which his great fortune later grew. The short letter, which we have reproduced below in its entirety, encouraged readers to think of the mind as a garden, and themselves as responsible for tending it. The goal is not simply to render one’s mind healthy and productive for its own sake, but rather to open itself to God and to love—and in so doing, to cultivate one’s gifts to be a blessing to others. Sir John believed that after love, the greatest gift God gave to humanity was the mind.

Though Sir John was rigorously logical and analytical as a financial strategist, Dr. Templeton believes his father’s choice of a poetical metaphor in this letter reveals something about the way he saw the world: as filled with life and the potential for unlimited bounty—if wisely and lovingly cared for.

“He could have portrayed the mind as a mechanical thing that could be tinkered with to make it run more perfectly,” Dr. Templeton says. “But he saw the mind as something organic, something that could proliferate, and be a source of bountiful blessing for others. He believed that a well-tended mind could contain the seeds of joy and wisdom that could be picked up by the wind, and blow into a neighbor’s garden.”

This past year, Florida State University social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister turned his Templeton-seeded scientific research on free will into a New York Times non-fiction bestseller, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength (see Templeton Report, Oct. 19). What Sir John knew intuitively half a century ago, science is proving today—and doing so at a time in history when people need the hope that comes from knowing they are not condemned to passivity amid the worst economic crisis since the 1930s Depression.

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Left: Sir John Templeton, Right: Dr. Jack Templeton

“Sir John believed that trouble brought opportunity,” Dr. Templeton says. “He believed that if you look at adversity as a blessing and an opportunity to overcome barriers, then hard times can become a source of enduring joy. If we really believe that we are children of God, then we won’t be fatalistic. We will use the minds that God gave us to thrive in times of crisis.”

From Sir John’s perspective, reminding family, friends, and associates on his Christmas card list of the blessing and the responsibility of God-given free will was a holiday gift greater than any investment advice he might have provided. For some, it might have offered the secret to riches. But for all, it offered the secret to a richly meaningful life.

“Dad was not only suffused with gratitude, I would say that he was almost helpless in the face of gratitude to God,” his son recalls. “He was driven by the desire to express that gratitude by helping others to find mental empowerment, moral empowerment, and spiritual empowerment. He wanted to seed others’ gardens.”

The text of Sir John Templeton’s 1962 Christmas card letter:

On the 1962nd birthday of Christ, we invite you, our friends, to share with us this little simile:

Are You In Control Of Your Mind?

In some ways your mind is like your garden. If you exercise no control, it will become a weed patch and a source of shame and misery. If you exercise wise control, then it will be filled with God’s miracles and become a place of indescribable beauty. You are free to choose which. How can you do it? Simply for example, develop a habit of looking at each thought as you would a plant. If it is worthy, if it fits the plan you desire for your mind, cultivate it. If not, replace it. How do you get it out of your mind? Simply by putting in its place two or three thoughts of love or worship, for no mind can dwell on more than two or three thoughts at one time.

Circumstances outside the garden of your mind do not shape you. You shape them. For example, if you expect treachery, allowing those thoughts to dwell in your mind, you will get it. If you fill your mind with thoughts of love, you will give love and get it. If you think little of God, He will be far from you. If you think often of God, the Holy Spirit will dwell more in you. The glory of the universe is open to every man. Some look and see. Some look and see not.

Gardens are not made in a day. God gave you one lifetime for the job. Control of your garden or your mind grows with practice and study of the wisdom other minds have bequeathed to you. He who produces an item of unique beauty in his garden or his mind may have a duty to give that seed to others. As your body is the dwelling place of your mind, so is your mind the dwelling place of your soul. The mind you develop is your dwelling place for all your days on earth, and the soul you develop on earth may be the soul you are stuck with for eternity. God has given you the choice.

Serenity

This week’s post comes from a guest writer, Rev. Robert J. Sandoz, OFM, President of Christ the King Prep in Newark, New Jersey.

Recently I had dinner with a good friend of mine and we were talking about this year and how eventful the year has been.  We spoke of movements large such as the “Arab Spring.”  We remembered a year filled with natural calamities: tsunami in Japan, volcano eruption in Brazil, floods in Pakistan and earth quake in Turkey.  Of course, we decried the financial scene unfolding across the globe.  On the plus side we both were happy over advancements in peace between India and Bangladesh and the celebration of World Peace Day in Assisi, Italy in October.  We smiled as we acknowledged that the world never tires of a beautiful love story such as that of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.

This friend knows my belief in the spiritual wisdom contained in the Serenity Prayer.  I’m sure that many of you know it: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”  He asked me if I had difficulty this year with the first part of this prayer.  I quickly answered that the first part was not an issue. The second part of the prayer is what motivates me and keeps me on focus. I told him about my ministry here at Christ the King Prep and that I am convinced every day that we need to change the educational success rate of young urban students. It takes courage to enter upon such a mission as this.  Many people will say, “It can’t be done.”  Others will suggest that we need to wait until there are better times than now to be committed to  such a project.  Still others will say that I should let others “deal with that problem.”

I am inviting you to join me in a very courageous mission: “Transform Urban America One Student at a Time.”  This is the motto of the Cristo Rey Network of schools, now numbering 24 schools across the United States, with more in feasibility.  We believe that we do not have to accept the fact that only 10% of urban young people complete a college education.  We have the courage to change that.  We believe that we do not have to accept as unchangeable that the United States has fallen to #15 in the production of college graduates worldwide.  We have the courage to change that.  We believe that we do not have to accept that in less than 10 years more than 20 million jobs in this country will go unfilled because the new jobs require college talent.  We have the courage to change that.

As we bring this year to an end, let us end on a renewed commitment to courage and to a future of hope.  We have the courage to change; join us in this mission.

Transubstantiation

This is a sort of public confession.  As a priest, when I say Mass, sometimes I say it with people who know nothing about the Catholic faith.  When that happens I try to make the Mass as intelligible as possible and I try to explain what is going on in the different parts.  At the time of the consecration, our church professes that a change takes place.  We believe that, although the bread and the wine look exactly the same as they did before the consecration, taste the same, feel the same, we believe that they are not the same.  We believe that with the words of the consecration they are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ.  That’s what we believe.  And here is my confession:  when those present are people with no background in Catholic teaching, I feel a little silly telling them what has just happened, that it is no longer bread and wine.  I feel like they may be thinking, “Look, we are all educated people here, adults who are pretty much in touch with the real world.  How can you possibly affirm that what is on the altar is no longer bread and wine?  Get real.”  And yet we know it is true; our faith tells us it’s true.  We believe it because that is what Christ told us. 

It occurs to me that there is a parallel here with how Christ is making His Kingdom come in our world.  Everything looks pretty much the same and maybe even getting worse.  Sometimes it’s hard to affirm that Christ is at work, that He is the Lamb taking away the sins of the world.  It certainly doesn’t look that way.  And yet we believe it.  We take it on faith because of the one who tells us so.  As the feast of Christ the King approaches, we affirm that the Kingdom really is on its way.   

Bridging the Gap

This week’s post comes from Jeff Thielman, President of Cristo Rey Boston.

Thanksgiving is always a great chance to reflect on the year with my family. This year I did something a little different and took the day after Thanksgiving for some further reflection here at the school. Several members of recent graduating classes came by our library to have a bite to eat and to chat with our principal, Fr. Jose Medina, and me.  Each one told us they felt prepared for college because of the education they received here, and most told us to continue to offer a rigorous program. “Add more Advanced Placement classes,” one said. “I wish I could have taken more than one AP my senior year,” another added.  She was happy to hear that we now offer five AP classes, students can take up to two AP courses, and plans are underway to add another AP class next year and allow seniors to take up to three of these courses.

The alumni we met with last week are working extremely hard in college – they know they have an opportunity of a lifetime.  The message that came from our conversation with these young people is that they want to erase the achievement gap, which is what Cristo Rey Boston is all about.

The achievement gap is the difference between the academic performance of students from low-income communities and students living in middle and upper middle class areas.  The achievement gap is a drain on our nation’s resources. In fact, a few years ago researchers from McKinsey & Company concluded that if there was no achievement gap in the United States, the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would be 2 to 5% higher per year.

One barometer of the achievement gap is the 200 point difference between the average SAT scores of all college bound students and the average SAT scores of college bound Latino and African American students.  Keep in mind that this is a comparison of students going to college, not those who don’t take the test at all or the 30% of entering 9th graders nationwide who fail to earn a high school degree.

All of our seniors take the SAT – something only seen at Boston’s elite high schools – and for the past four years our average SAT scores were below the national average of Latino and African American students. To make any kind of impact on the achievement gap, we knew we had to work extremely hard to address this trend.  Cristo Rey Boston’s 304 students are the demographics the achievement gap points to; 49% are Latino, 44% are African American, and all are low-income, with an average family income of $26,013 and household size of 3.7.

We revamped our freshman curriculum, put a lot of effort into improved instruction in math and English, added double block courses throughout the curriculum, restructured our faculty professional development and teacher coaching effort, and added an intense remediation program for all freshmen to ensure they were proficient in math and English by the end of 9th grade.  This year’s seniors are the first group to undergo four years of the new curriculum.

The results of the fall SAT tests are in, and this year’s seniors are 86 points above the national average for students of color.  The improved scores tell us that the work we’ve been doing in the classroom these past four years is paying off, though we have a long way to go.  Our next goal is to reach the national average for all college bound students, and this will take an enormous amount of work and additional resources.

Average SAT Scores for College-Bound Seniors

As recent graduates urged the principal to keep up the rigorous academic program, I saw the kind of dedication our alumni gain at Cristo Rey Boston. They will work as hard as they need to in order to succeed in college and beyond, and I can already see the gap narrowing as they enter the job market our Corporate Work Study Program prepared them for.

We’re finding a way to close the gap between those with resources and those without at Cristo Rey Boston High School, and everyone involved in our school in any way can take pride in our success.  We know we have work to do, but with a little help from friends in Boston and beyond, we’ll get there, and we’ll set an example for educators everywhere.