“Think of it as a wild zoo. We got away with a lot a lot of things,” said Helen Grant, who was a freshman during that school year. “There used to be a dress code, but that just went out the door. Principals coming in and out. … We left whenever we wanted. It was just ridiculous.”Justin Deutsch, who teaches media, was a founding faculty member, one of the few who are still there.“We didn’t have any kind of basic procedures, like, OK, it’s lunchtime and how are we going to get these kids to lunch? What do we have to do with students before the teachers get here in the morning? How are we going to switch classes?” he said. Additionally, the combination of a block schedule and teachers jumping ship left 85-minute chunks of time when students had nothing to do and no supervision.“To be honest, I did whatever I wanted to do,” Grant said.“We all did!” chimed in Marreri, her classmate. “It was not school. It was like normal life, like if you were on the street on your own.”Although the chaos was disastrous for the students’ education, it created an unexpected camaraderie among the remaining students and teachers.“Because that first year was so messed up, we have pretty good relationships with most of the kids because it was like a ‘let’s get through this together’ type of thing. So, as unstructured as it was, there weren’t a whole lot of serious incidents,” Deutsch said.At that point, Bujak was a vice principal at Olney Charter High School. She had 12 years of experience in North Philadelphia, mostly in Edison High School as a math teacher, department chair and dean of students. The LINC’s model interested her, so she jumped when Cheryl Logan, the District’s chief of academic support, asked her whether she would be interested applying for the school’s top job.But with no personal experience in project-based or competency-based learning, she needed to educate herself while working to restore stability.Ultimately, Bujak scrapped the competency system and put project-based learning on the back burner for a year. She let the advisory model, which is an intense homeroom allowing students and their teacher to bond, fall by the wayside. The staff that had originally come on board for those very reasons started to clash with their new principal.The pivot toward policies that are more emblematic of a “traditional” Philadelphia neighborhood high school — like the cellphone ban, uniform policy, and use of metal detectors — made Bujak an outlier in a network of schools known for their progressive education models, where freedom of movement and student ownership of curriculum and community policies are the norm.“I am in the minority, clearly,” said Bujak. “I think I am in a different position than the other principals [in the Innovation Network] by all means. … I think I’m the odd man out.”All of the other schools in the network still have their founding visionaries. And although these schools have tweaked things along the way, the core tenets that led the design process are still there. For the LINC, a school that lost its founder within two weeks, those core values, at least temporarily, were lost.“She came in to stabilize things, but [the teachers] felt like she was taking the innovation away,” said Deutsch. “They felt like it was turning into a traditional school.”Although some teachers lost sight of Bujak’s endgame — order first, innovation later — Bujak focused on the students. And though she had quite deliberately decided to do this, the students were understandably skeptical of their fifth principal and her new rules. She had to work hard to build trust with kids and families.When Bujak arrived, “I was like, let’s see how long she’ll be here, to be honest,” said Grant, one of the initial skeptics. “Because a lot of principals left.”Added her classmate, Marreri: “She actually tried to work with all of us. She actually took her time and got to know us, and she got teachers that actually wanted to do this job.”Bujak got to know every student by name, greeted them at the door, and required that her staff, including the school police officer, be engaged with students.This approach is in line with the philosophy of the other schools in the Innovation Network.“I imagine every principal [in the network] knows every one of their students by name, right? And you know something about them and we have some sort of relationship with them, which is pretty amazing. We are just super-connected to our kids. In a comprehensive school, you just don’t have that opportunity. …It’s just so big,” said Bujak.And the kids feel this difference.“With Ms. Bujak, you can feel it when you walk in. Last year, that was my first year here, and I felt welcomed by all the teachers,” said Tyler, the 11th grader.Her classmate, Rosbiris Gomez, added, “ I was living in the Dominican Republic, so I came in the middle of the school year. … I went to her office and we started chatting up, and she memorized my name, which is a hard name to memorize. The first day I came to school to study, she was like, ‘Hi, Rosbiris.’ I was like ‘oh my God.’ A principal rarely knows 500 or 400 kids’ names. And she knows all of them, knows what’s happening with them, or if they’re up to something.”From survival to learningBujak describes her first year at the LINC as a “survival year,” and she describes her second as a “learning year.” By the fall of 2016, the school was stable enough to move forward with instructional innovation.The school partnered with New Tech Network, a nationally recognized organization that promotes new ways of learning through professional development, technology tools, and curriculum design. It integrates an online system called Echo that is used for grading and assessment. A dashboard organizes students’ work and assignments so it is easy to follow both for teachers and students.Pineiro, an 11th grader, said it has made a big difference.“[My first year] it was harder to check and keep your work together because it was all around. But last year, since we used Echo, it’s kind of easier to track our grades and our work and all that,” he said.One of the benefits of the New Tech system was straightforward feedback from teachers on projects and grades, which made it easier to pinpoint problem areas.For most of the faculty who came on board after Bujak took over, the idea of becoming project-based was overwhelming.
Interesting essay samples and examples on: