Frequently Asked Questions of Mike McCarthy

- How long have you been Principal?

I started at King in 1988.

- Why did King adopt the Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound model?

In 1988, King was a highly tracked school with low expectations for students and staff.   Students were not achieving in this climate.   There was also student - student conflict regularly.   There were seven different ability levels and a pull out model was used for Special Ed., ELL. And Gifted.   We were running two schools - one for the haves, and one for the have-nots.

We had done some experimentation with Outward Bound as a change strategy to get the staff out of some ruts

The Outward Bound experience model struck a chord with many staff members and so our piloting Expeditionary Learning seemed to be a natural fit.   We knew that we had to make a significant change if we wanted to make an impact on King.

- What were the challenges that you faced when King adopted the ELOB model?

There were many challenges.   The first was our staff.   While some faculty thought Expeditionary Learning was a good idea, many did not.   Some teachers had been through the "innovation du jour" cycle one too many times.   Others were skeptical of a whole school radical change.   Others were simply afraid of the implication that they needed to change how they taught.   It takes superior skills to teach to the range of differences that we have at King all in one classroom.   So staff resistance to change was a big issue.

The other major challenge was resistance from parents who perceived their kids as advantaged.   These were parents of students who were in the "pull-out" programs and the accelerated groups.   Those parents were skeptical of a "school for all".   Naturally they did not want their child to lose "advantaged status".   In some cases, resistance from the staff merged with reluctant parents forming coalitions of resistance.   These needed to be met with good communication about just what the change really meant.

- How did the national ELOB organization support you?

It helped a great deal for King to be part of a national reform effort with sound research behind it.   King was given a grant for $50,000 to be used for professional development and other resources.   Expeditionary Learning also assigned a school designer to King to help implement the design.   He conducted much of the professional development and was willing to work with staff side by side in the classroom.   He was also helpful in managing the "politics of change" with a principal whose political skills were not always as diplomatic as they could be.

- How long did it take before you began to see positive results at King?   What were the indicators of improvement?

The key change that we saw was in the quality of work students began to produce.   This occurred as soon as house teams began to use the learning expeditions as the primary delivery vehicle for curriculum.   This occurred sporadically in the first two years and as we displayed the products more staff began to work with it.

Full implementation took 3-5 years.   After three years we began to see marked improvement in standardized test scores.   We also experienced a drop in student disciplinary issues and an increase in parents requesting to come to King from out of district.

- What do you do at King to keep the momentum going?

We keep the momentum going at King by keeping the vision of a school that works for all kids a visible and vibrant part of our school.   We make sure that every new teacher is trained in the EL model and its practices.   We conduct our Summer Institute every year, which helps to keep out expeditions fresh.   As much as is possible, we try to support our teachers with strong professional development on company time.   The genius of a great Expeditionary Learning school lies in the energy and sustained creativity of the staff.

Last revised: April 24, 2006