Cathy Diersing, Tarrey Banks & Heather Rock

#8: Cathy, Tarrey & Heather

Cathy Diersing, Tarrey Banks, and Heather Rock discuss the rewards and challenges that have come with founding and growing The Project School—a chartered public school in Bloomington, Indiana.

Description of the video:

As we've been thinking about next steps for expanding The Project School, I have been thinking a lot about the first round of the process of developing schools, and taking something from scratch based on our own schema and our own area of expertise in the things that we believe so strongly and sort of what looks similar and different as we start the process, really digging in, of doing it a second time around.
Something that's really different as we come together to start those conversations is, for me anyway, my ability to be vulnerable and have some of the harder conversations is greater this time. When I think back to our first meeting, when I was invited to have this conversation with you all, I was really scared of you. I was very intimidated by your expertise and everything that I had to learn from the people at the table. And I spent hours researching things before I came in order to try to sound smart enough to be a part of this group of people that I admired so much. So, the admiration is still there, but coming into it feeling more comfortable with the people in the room is a big change for me.
Well, what's the same is the sense of urgency. I feel an urgency to take ten more steps, and I think we can't take ten more steps if we don't take one more step. I think there's a need for 100 Project Schools.
I think part of what is really compelling to me, as we have moved into these conversations, and as we feel more and more pressure for the conversation, is that when we began the process the first time, much of that was around a shifting landscape in our own professional experiences. For us to live our core beliefs, we had to do something different, We weren't existing in a structure where we could make those things come true. And so that was much of what compelled us. And then through that process, families found us. Right?
Families found us who felt that they needed us for whatever their reason was. Each year, I find lottery day just crushing. You know, as we end up with somewhere between 250 and 300 kids being left on the waiting list, we shift that process to have it be done more electronically two years ago. It was impossibly hard to look at the same names showing up on the waiting list over and over and over again and knowing that families who were beckoning for this weren't getting that opportunity.
Yeah, I think the first time around, I had that fear of, what if we create a school and no one shows up? And now the fear is driven by all of the families that we know need us and want us that we can't be there for them right now.
You know, we have been pretty public, I feel like, in this last year and a half. You know, we had a huge event in May of 2017 that looked at very much announcing that this was work that we intended to do, that expanding our work to a second site, to increase the number of kids and families and educators that we can serve with this work was made very public. But I think that we regularly hear of a sense of surprise from folks. And that is one of the challenges that we will continue to face. You know, in a community our size, when the argument nine years ago is that, if we take- And I'm using that word very intentionally even though it's not the way I perceive it. If we take students from a local traditional district, what risk does that put the local district in? And often it was stated things like small schools will be closed. And local districts will have fewer kids and as a result less funding. From my perspective, nine years later, no small schools closed. At least in the local district in which we sit. have more students currently enrolled than they did when we opened our doors in 2009. And in reality, while the per-pupil expenditure that comes from the state level follows the students who are being served, income such as property taxes and referendum dollars remain within the local district. So in a sense, in that way, those dollars allow for more expenditure per student than if the students we currently serve were in that district. And so these kind of ongoing conversations that can be challenging because there's actual data and information around it are so loaded with so much emotion. And I think it's important that the conversations that we have are also factual in nature and not just based on that passion. And so we knew what that felt like nine years ago, ten years ago. And so going into the possibility of expansion, knowing that feeling, is hard. It's a hard layer.
Our expansion is modest. It's a modest, realistic expansion that covers a waiting list we already have. We're not trying to start another school that has a thousand seats because we think we can do that. It's, we need to take care of kids who want to go here. That's what our expansion is about. That is what it is. And we also don't want to expand to something that we can't do well. So we're not gonna do that. So I think what we're hoping for is something modest, very realistic, very, and exactly what we said we would do all along. So hopefully those principles hold up and people see that and say, this makes sense.

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