Archives for posts with tag: City Neighbors Hamilton

Dr. Shyla Rao, Principal, City Neighbors Hamilton

This year at City Neighbors Hamilton (our 2nd City Neighbors school, K-8 est. 2009) we welcome Dr. Shyla Rao as our new school leader.  Already Dr. Shyla (as the kids call her) is deep in the work of getting to know the students, connecting and supporting her teachers, and focusing on the health and well-being of the community. She has entered into our fast-paced environment right in stride – literally! On a recent Sunday, Dr. Shyla offered a walk around Lake Montebello for any parents and students who wanted to connect. It was a beautiful day. Dr. Shyla said it led to some great conversations, fresh air, and the fun of being out in the community together.

Here’s another fun detail about Dr. Shyla: Every week, she sends out a faculty bulletin to her staff that includes all the nuts and bolts, a calendar for the week, meetings, notes, and of course a quick message.  I asked her if I could share the message from Week 1.  She calls her bulletin: “What’s Good?… For Staff. The idea of taking good care of yourself – straight from Dr. Shyla Rao.” Here’s the first message of the school year:

Faculty Bulletin   September 5-8

Welcome to a brand new school year!  Let’s all begin this year with hope, optimism, and focused attention on our learners.  Let’s make decisions based upon what’s best for the students, and remind each other to maintain a work-life balance for ourselves.

“What are you doing? You ask.

“Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”

“You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?”

“Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.”

“Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it will go a lot faster.”

“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically.  “I’m too busy sawing!”

Covey, Stephen R. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Please take time to sharpen your saw.  I hold true to my Sacred Saturdays (no work, no email, no work texts) every weekend, except for the first and last of each semester. What do you hold sacred for yourself?


How wonderful to start the journey of a new school year, and a new leader, with such an inspiring message of well-being and mindfulness. As much as our students need these messages, so do our teachers and school leaders. We all need to take care of each other. And, as Dr. Shyla is demonstrating, we can have fun doing it!



barbarshop kids

These kindergarteners at City Neighbors Hamilton were playing “barbershop” when I stopped by the other day.  They had already moved a few chairs around and set up the things they thought they’d need, and were having a great time together.  In the fine tradition of the back room barbershops of down south, they were sharing music, telling stories and practicing a range of roles and social interactions.

At City Neighbors we take a stand for Play as essential to teaching and learning.  Play strengthens creativity, imagination and self-confidence.  Through Play, children learn to collaborate, share, express themselves, and increase their vocabulary and attention span.  (Check out this great article by David Kohn for more on Play!)  Play gives young children a chance to practice the different grown-up scripts that they want to understand and master, like Barbershop.  Most importantly, through Play, students begin a relationship to learning that is driven internally– not externally.

This is one of the many reasons City Neighbors Teachers led a push-back to the standardized PARCC testing in schools this year.  At City Neighbors, we create long, uninterrupted times for students to develop scripts.  We use assessment that are ongoing and authentic, and find PARCC testing results simply not useful to inform our instruction.  In these ways and more, PARCC testing is a waste of everyone’s time.

Your voice can make a difference.  Join us in this effort.  To find out about the movement to end PARCC testing in Maryland, visit

In the meantime, the good times are still rolling at City Neighbors Hamilton Kindergarten!  Be sure to stop by the Barbershop and listen to some fine quick pickin’, hear some great storytelling or pretend to get your haircut.

This is real learning.  This is not a test.

I had a chance to gather with folks at the  Princeton Junior School in NJ for a great conference today.  I took the train down with Bob Dietzen, the City Neighbors Hamilton (CNH) Awesome 5th grade teacher, and was met at the train station by the CNH Fabulous 3rd grade teacher, Marilyn Mullen, along with Jessica DiLorenzo, past teacher of City Neighbors, and grand connector who brought us all to New Jersey for a conference about applying the Reggio Emilia approach to American Schools.

Reggio Emilia is an amazing system of preschools in Italy that were founded by the villagers after World War II.  They sold the tank left among the ruins of their town and decided to make a school that would teach children to be true to their humanity, a school that would prevent the next generation from ever choosing war.

Louise Cadwell of the Cadwell Collaborative spoke to us about Reggio Emilia.  She identified 6 essential components of Reggio Emilia that are inspirational to our work:

1.  Relevant work and projects with students.  (If you are in the city – study the city!)

2.  Redefining the teachers role  (Facilitator and reseracher and provocateur.)

3.  The practice of dialogue (“Dialogue is a conversation in the center without sides”).

4. The multiple languages of learning (How many ways can children express their knowledge?)

5.  The effects of the environment on learning (The classroom and school environment that allows us to do our best work)

6.  The learning community (Teachers looking closely and reflecting on the complex work of teaching)

We had a lot to learn today together!  Ashley Cadwell gave a great workshop on school environment and setting up the classroom.  He said lots of great points, one especially that I am bringing home on this train. “School can be like a home.  Home speaks of relationships that are comfortable, organic and evolving.”

Juliana McIntyre Fenn  (Author of Wisdom at Play) was there, the Founder of the Princeton Junior School 30 years ago. She told us she is 78 years old.  She told us to remember JOY in our work.

A great day!  The train is pulling into Baltimore.  Welcome Home.


Thoughts and ideas on great public education in Baltimore City

Stories of U.S.

Connecting communities through storytelling.

On the arts and education

with Chris Ford, Director of Baltimore School for the Arts


This site is dedicated to education, philosophy, spirituality, leadership, management, social commentary and self-actualization.


This site is the bee's knees


Just another site


once upon a time in a world that is not yet our own...

The Huffington Post | The Full Feed

Thoughts and ideas on great public education in Baltimore City

Deborah Meier on Education

Views on Education