March 23, 2009

March 23, 2009


Dear LoMA Family,

In his education speech last week, Barack Obama retold a familiar story. When he was a boy, his mother would wake him up at 4:30 to tutor him for a few hours before he went off to school. When young “Barry,” as Obama was then known, complained about getting up so early, his mother responded: “This is no picnic for me either, Buster.” As David Brooks pointed out in his Times column last week, “tSkip to next paragraphhat experience was the perfect preparation for reforming American education because it underlines the two traits necessary for academic success: relationships and rigor.”

When we were forming LoMA, we realized the paramount importance of caring relationships, which is why we created two advisory periods a day, hired plenty of support staff, instituted mandatory tutoring, brought in loads of NYU tutors and partnered with a dozen community-based organizations that believe in taking care of kids. Based on the surveys that our students completed a few weeks ago, we are succeeding. Overall, the most significant assessment on the survey was that LoMA cares. Some students, like Barry, complained that we care too much because we always nag them about timeliness, homework completion and hard work. Like Obama’s mother, I can only repeat, “it ain’t no picnic for us either, busters.”

The rigor is something I think we need to continue working on. While many of our students are completing all of their homework, staying focused in class and performing well on tests, we still have too many students who fail to realize how tough the competition will be. I worry about all of the competition our students will face when they leave LoMA and lose the supportive family atmosphere they have here. When they apply to college or to a high paying job, college admissions officers and employers will compare our students with students from Stuyvesant, Beacon and wealthy suburban high schools. These kids complete two to three hours of homework a night, write at least an essay a week and perform high-level math. They aren’t any smarter than our students, but many of them know what it’s like to get up ridiculously early to complete homework, stay after school for tutoring everyday and read for pleasure.

Obama became a famous law student at Harvard because he had people who cared for him enough to stay on his case and push him to meet rigorous expectations. We all know that LoMA’s staff cares for its students, but are they pushing hard enough? Do our students value rigorous work? Can we continue to raise the bar so that LoMA’s students can compete successfully with their peers after high school and develop the necessary work ethic required for college study?

In order to raise that bar higher, as promised, we are increasing our expectations of good behavior this marking period. For the rest of the year, two pink slips in a marking period will lead to a principal’s suspension. In a school that is preparing all of its students for success, there is no place for any sort of misbehavior. Iknow that loMA’s students can rise to more rigorous expectations..


Work harder,



John Wenk