blog image

Episode 30 : WOKE Microschools w/ Mara Linaberger

November 21, 202229 min read


Welcome back to the RE: WOKE podcast with Educator, Michelle Person. Season 4 is coming back in full swing, so get ready to LEARN! Today, we have guest, Mara Linaberger, who will be helping us examine microschools. Sometimes traditional education doesn’t work for your child. But that’s okay! We’re here to give you solutions that are best for your stellar student. FIND OUT WHAT ELSE YOU CAN DO ON YOUR RE: WOKE JOURNEY


Speaker 0 00:00:00 Hello, my progressive and forward thinking tribe, and welcome to Rew rewriting our Kids Education podcast. My name is Michelle Person, and we are on a journey. We are rethinking, reexamining and reeducating ourselves and our children, and we just don't the things we in the classroom. No way. We look at everything. Have you ever heard the term micro school? Micro schools have been around for years, but they've actually gained popularity during the pandemic because parents were in need of alternative forms of education for their children. Some people swear by it. The children thrive, think independently become leaders. Others are worried that it's another wrong on the step to the overall privatization of public education that would ultimately leave our most vulnerable students even more marginalized. Well, who's right and who's wrong? And is it an option that you might consider for your child? I know proponents of both, and I have to admit that the more time I spent in traditional education, the more I found it harder and harder not to decide that educational anarchy was the way to go. One of my favorite quotes about education is that education should not be about filling a bucket. It should be about lighting a fire. Traditional schools seems to be so focused on making sure buckets are filled and data is collected through incessant testing that they've forgotten the true purpose of education to shape the minds of young people and inspire greatness. Are micro schools a way to find that purpose again and, oh yeah. Are you Speaker 0 00:02:05 Our guest today is me Leinberger a lifelong educator who spent 25 years in service as a public school educator, teacher, trainer, and administrator. She is on a mission to create a global network of 100 micro schools and the next 20 years with her company, micro School Builders like Mera. I spent many years in the traditional public education system with a desire to do what was best for children. And like Mera, I became increasingly discouraged about my ability to do that in the traditional education system. So last fall, I took a leap of faith and decided to open my own school, the Tulsa Learning Center, where we focused on culturally responsive, developmentally appropriate education for children on my journey. I met Mera. She was a wealth of information and support, and graciously agreed to speak with us today. Mera, thank you so much for stopping by and talking to us today about this really interesting topic. Speaker 2 00:03:02 Thank you for having me, Michelle. I appreciate it. Speaker 0 00:03:05 No problem. So we're just gonna jump right into it, and I want you to tell everybody how did you, tell us about your background and your journey and how you became, you know, the micro school guru? Speaker 2 00:03:16 Oh, that's funny that you call me. That I would never call myself that <laugh>, but how did I get to the point where I'm helping people build biker schools? And that's sort of my main thing I do all the time. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, I was a K-12 educator, you know, when I did my undergrad, I did a bachelor's in psychology and realized three quarters of the way through that I didn't wanna counsel, but I really liked working with kids. So I went on and got a master of arts and teaching in as like a fifth year, but I taught for over 20 years in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, I taught in one of the district's magnet schools, which was a traditional academy, but then it became the Arts and Humanities Magnet School for elementary aged. So I got have this experience of a lot of liberation in terms of being a teacher, being able to be creative, being able to make the arts a big part of my classroom. Speaker 2 00:04:06 But over the course of, I dunno, 10 or 15 years, um, curriculum and instruction and assessment started to tighten down on the work I was doing. Um, the state of Pennsylvania issued it's standards, um, and when no Child Left Behind was announced, I was in the classroom and I remember thinking, this is insane to think that 100% of kids will hit some ex exact target at the same time. I think that that was sort of the un the, the, the beginning of the shift in my brain, Michelle. So, um, I went and got my doctorate in instructional technology. Um, I had had some people say, oh, you should become a school principal. Um, and I know you did that, right? Speaker 0 00:04:48 Did I did that for, that was my way of trying to work within the system. Speaker 2 00:04:53 I looked at the job and I actually realized I didn't want that job. It looked too difficult and painful to me. So I went and got my doctorate. Um, I became a tech coach in my district, uh, the first in my district and one of the very first in the state of Pennsylvania. Um, that was fun. I gotta coach my colleagues in my building and across the district in the effective use of technology in the classroom. But even then, you know, standards and assessment work and, and this hyper focus on data, we're closing the opportunities to really have a personal relationship with children. Now, I, I have to tell you, let me step back and say I had no idea where I was heading at this point. I just knew that it was painful. So I went and got a job working for a regional service organization that, um, supported 25 school districts in Pennsylvania. Speaker 2 00:05:42 It was a lot of fun. I wrote a co-wrote a federal grant for arts educators. So got to stay really creative, but in that space and place, things started to close down there too. In terms of what I could do, um, there's sort of a theme to this. I think when people start to get really creative in public settings, public school settings, it becomes a threat. I dt know about you. When you taught, or even when you were a principal, did you ever notice that the really creative people, people were jealous of them. Like they would think, how does she get to do that? Why does she get to bring in the dance performer? Or why is she getting to paint with her kids when I have to follow curriculum? Much like you? I continued on that pathway and I went into district level administration. Speaker 2 00:06:25 I was, uh, worked for a district in the area, um, as the director of staff of development technology integration, new teacher induction, um, data and assessment and federal programs. It was this enormous job and at the end of my first year, the district hired a new superintendent. Their budget was not balanced, so they cut my position. It was one of those, I just sat there with this jaw drop, like, okay, who's gonna do all the work that I do? And, um, I, I didn't see it coming now. It, there was a real blessing to that. Um, I was able to go on unemployment for six months and to do some really deep soul searching and to decide that I didn't wanna stay in public education, that I wanted to start my own business, that I wanted to become an entrepreneur. Uh, back then I didn't see a whole lot of guidance on that, so I read a bunch of books, tried a bunch of things. Speaker 2 00:07:20 My first business was doing tech coaching for small businesses. Um, and I started, um, teaching online for a graduate level program here in Pennsylvania. So I'm still a professor. Um, but I started thinking about what was wrong with school, what I could do to help, um, based on, based on the fact that it, while I was in that last district level position, I got my superintendent's letter of eligibility. So I was thinking about the big system and, and trained to think in big system thinking about an organization, which actually in a weird way was good cause it got me to see that school is a business and, and it's like the elephant in the room. Nobody wants to acknowledge the fact that school is a business. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it's a non-for-profit business, but it's a business nonetheless. Um, and in the big system, it really does not have the child's needs or interests as its top priority. Speaker 2 00:08:16 Right. Um, you know, it sort of depends on who you're talking to at the, at the district level, different people have different priorities. That made me think, well, if it was smaller, you know, maybe that would allow you to keep your focus on the child. So I started investigating one room schoolhouses. I actually went and taught in one for a short period of time off the coast of Maine when I was there. That really got me thinking about, um, this island actually was a school district of one school, and so they had their own little tiny island based school board of three people. Um, I saw the budget and it got the wheels turning in my head and I thought, well, if it's really that simple, I mean, I had seen district level budgets when I was working on my superintendent letter, but I looked at this district's budget for one school and I thought, you know, anybody could do this. Speaker 2 00:09:10 I mean, it wouldn't be easy, but it would, you know, it's possible. And so I started working on this idea of what could you, how could you open a small school right. As much as I could read. Um, and then decided that out. What I saw that was really missing in this new emerging micro schools movement, which, you know, the term's been around for about 11 years, but in the last, well the pandemic has raised awareness around the term micro school. But, but you know, the alternative education movement has been around for a long time. Actually, as long as school has been around, there have been people who have said, I want something different for my child. I don't actually want, um, some people don't want government support of the education of their child for a variety of reasons. Um, some people just want to take the responsibility for their children. Speaker 2 00:09:59 And alongside, um, homeschooling, we've seen the growth of, um, co-ops and small schools and the micro schools movement. It's just the newest version of that in my mind. Really, we are the same thing as the alternative education movement. We just have a new term to describe the creation of an intentional space for a learning that puts the learner at the center of that daily activity. And, you know, the space is small enough and personalized enough, um, that every child's known by name. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> is seen, is heard, is valued, um, is allowed to grow at their own pace, following their own interests and their own curiosities. Cultivating a lifelong love of learning. The, the really, I don't see happening in public school all that much anymore. Speaker 0 00:10:48 Your journey is one, so many, it's, it mirrors my own on so many levels, even though, like we obviously were like you were, you were coming to the midpoint of your career during No Child Left Behind. I was starting my like, I don't know what teaching was like before. No Child Left Behind. I became a teacher in 2000 a year. It became law. Um, and so like my, my entire existence in education, um, has been but serving Speaker 2 00:11:14 That legislation Speaker 0 00:11:15 Yes, yes. Instead Speaker 2 00:11:16 Of serving the child, Speaker 0 00:11:17 It's been, and as you, as you, as you, as you are actually working in the trenches, that's when you realize like, why do people who have never been where I have been, have never done what I have done, and don't have the education that are not educated in this, are educated, but not educated in the same way that I am, why are they getting to make decisions about the kids that I serve, that I work with on a daily basis? That I do know the back stories that I am. Like I do understand how they develop and what's best for them. Why, why aren't I, who, who is, who is, is the, who is the, the, the specialist, if you will, in this area? Why aren't I able to be trusted to make the decisions on what's best for them given the level? Speaker 2 00:12:02 I'll give you really simple answer, and I dunno that this is the answer, but this is the, is the hypothesis that I work under day. And I, and it's not, it's not, uh, this idea came to me from a friend of mine, Steve Hargadon. He said, um, systems, and he had read this somewhere. So I'm not, you know, this is a secondhand third hand, and I wish I could have the exact quote for you, but systems aren't not designed to serve people. Systems are designed to replicate themselves. Um, there's a lot of good that comes out. Systems. I mean, I don't, I'm not a person who is advocating for the complete elimination of the public school system. I think we would have way too many young people who would not get what they need. Public school, you know, really does public good. Um, but I think that it's the, it's the hyper focus on data assessment, uh, curriculum measurement and evaluation of students and teachers that then bogs things down and keeps teachers from being able to do what's best for kids. Speaker 0 00:13:05 Absolutely. I remember that. Um, so one of the things that like that, that, that, what happened at the, obviously also at the beginning of the two thousands was the, was the charter movement. And, um, and so, and, and I used one, a district that I used to, that I was, I I was worked with off and on throughout my teaching career at its height where it was a bohemoth of power. Um, they, they enrolled something like 84,000 students. There are still 84,000 students in the city of the district that, that, that I, that I once worked in. The issue is once charters came in and people had a choice because those systems that were implemented weren't working rather than fix the systems, um, people went out and started charter schools. And so those 84,000 students, they left and instead of recognizing the bohemoth the machine, instead of them recognizing that it's time to change the systems, what they ended up doing was trying to fight the right of the people to be able to leave and create new systems and what ended up instead of changing and pivoting. Um, so almost like the story of the difference between black and Netflix, like, you have to be able to pivot if you wanna stay relevant. And what has actually ended up happening is that same district that used to educate over 84,000 kids, we now they, they now educate 40, but again, there are 80 in the, in, in the, in the district. Well, Speaker 2 00:14:27 I mean that's, that's, that's coming from, you know, I believe at the core of that is fear. So it's this fear that we're going irrelevant as a district. Um, you know, in business competition is, is commonplace. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, if you are not able to offer your clients the thing that they want and need, they will go somewhere else. Right. I mean, look at all of the new brands of, I was just, uh, my husband was purchasing a mattress for his daughter, and I'm always amazed to see how many new mattress companies come out every year. You know, the one that you and I probably knew growing up was like, maybe like what? Like Serta, that's the one that I can think of. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> Garden. <crosstalk>, okay. Yeah. But I mean, maybe they're still out there. I don't even know if they're still out there, but there's like these, this purple one memory foam ones, you know. Speaker 2 00:15:17 Well, if Serta sits around and complains about the fact that we, the original mattress people, we are the ones that everybody, you know, has used all their lives. This is the mattress. This mattress was, I'm gonna use parents' life. This mattress was good enough for me. It's good enough for you. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, we don't need to improve mattresses. Well, they're gonna find themselves outta business pretty quickly because memory foam has come out, you know, it's providing a different kind of a sleep experience. It, young people are looking at that new thing and wanting to try that new thing. They don't care about the fact that you and I sort was good enough for us school's the same way, you know, big systems of education have to take a look at what's going on. Parents are educating their own children in home schools. Parents are putting their children into online learning, uh, spaces and places so that they have flexibility to go and do things. Speaker 2 00:16:13 We've got people who are selling their houses and traveling the US and RVs with their kids, and their kids are doing online coursework. I mean, people are just going ahead and taking, some people are going ahead and taking, um, responsibility for their children's education, which was always their responsibility. But the system has led people to think that it is not their privilege, their honor, their responsibility to be a part of their child's education. Um, the big system needs to take a look at the fact that people want more personalized, customized, bespoke education. That's what micro, they want less assessment. They want less testing. Like that's, that's what they want. None. You know, I mean, I've got micro school clients who have no testing, no grades. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, so you would, people would say to you, or I, how is that possible? How do you know that the child's learning? Speaker 2 00:17:06 Sit down with the kid every single day and have a conversation about what did you learn today? And unlike what happens when kids come home from public school and they're just like, nothing, they say, not, I've learned nothing today. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, stop and think about why does a kid come home and say, I I didn't learn anything today. It's usually because they're disgusted. I mean, I don't think most people cognitively kids think this, you know, would be able to articulate this to you. But how would you feel if you spent the whole day being told what to do and how to do it? Being told that you could not use the restroom when you needed to. Being told when you could eat, being told that you had to hurry up and wolf your lunch down, and you were given very little time to spend with your friends socializing, almost no time outdoors. Um, you couldn't see the relevance and the connection between what you were learning and what was important to you or what you thought you might like to explore for a life path. I think the, the, you know, when you go through that every single day for 180 days, if you went through that, if I told you for 180 days, Michelle, I'm in charge of your bathroom, I'm in charge of your lunch, I'm in charge of absolutely everything that you take into your mind, how would you feel Speaker 0 00:18:23 For the next 12 years? Like, that's the, you Speaker 2 00:18:27 Wouldn't you be kind of, you might be angry. Speaker 0 00:18:30 Absolutely. Speaker 2 00:18:31 And some kids do get angry, right? Speaker 0 00:18:33 Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Absolutely. I guess. But we, we've like, we've automatically jumped into the, the, um, the conversation about how you ended up as this. But I know there are probably some who are uninitiated who are listening, who are like, what is this micro school? They keep talking about like what is, what is a micro, so let's, let's define that for, for other people who are listening. Um, what is a micro school and, and how is it, how is it different from traditional school? Speaker 2 00:18:58 Ok. Well, the way that I define it is it's a small school that stands independently from the big system of education. It can look really different depending on where you go. Um, but it generally can be anywhere from a handful of kids up to maybe no more than 140. Now, that's the classic definition. If you were to go look up on Wikipedia, um, and that, that term micro school was coined by someone named Kha Barry. Um, but it's, what I, how I define it is it's smaller than that. So most people start out building a micro school with, you know, three, four a dozen kids. Um, lots of them never get much bigger than that. So think one room schoolhouse except one room schoolhouse that's modern. So we've got access to technology. We have the ability to travel. We're not confined to one space or place. Speaker 2 00:19:51 I've got clients who regularly go on field trips. I have ones school that I work with that they take a field trip every Friday. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and times a, they go out school trip. The whole school has an opportunity to together to a, that matches something that they've been studying. Um, I have a, I have a micro school that's all about building and making things not, it's not a maker space. It's based on a very old, um, kind of an apprenticeship tradition it's called. Um, and in this process, the student is apprenticing to a master crafts person in order to begin to express the best inside of themselves through the creation of something. So it's not about making something to sell something, although there is entrepreneurship in it. Uh, that's not the sort of main goal. So it, it can look different ways. I mean, I've had, I, I had a client who would take her kids out into the Florida Everglades and then take them surfing and skateboarding as part of their learning. Speaker 2 00:20:55 You know, there are lots of different ways that kids learn and there's lots of different ways for kids to have experiences that contribute to meaningful, uh, I don't wanna say instruction cuz it's really more exploration and inquiry. So micro schools, the hallmarks really are small, multi-aged, um, owned usually by a single person. Uh, could be a small group, could be a pro for-profit or non-profit that, that really can vary, but is grounded in the community that it serves and is very much a response to something that people want and that is not currently available. Um, and of course all schools provide childcare for kids, so the parents are able to work. But what micro schools are really doing is providing a way for parents to be involved in a meaningful way if they choose to, if they wanna. So there are many micro schools that, um, utilize parental support for the instructional processes. Um, that's something that's very unusual. I mean, you can't, I can't even imagine very, when I was a kid and when I started teaching, you know, we had the homeroom parent who came in, you know, couple times a week to help put up bulletin boards and mm-hmm. <affirmative> and get materials ready and, um, host parties and things like that. But parental involvement in school is in an all time low. And it's because of, you know, the need for safety because of all of these school shootings. Um, yeah, Speaker 0 00:22:27 I think that's it. I think that that pretty much sums it up in a nutshell. I know that for Tulsa, the, um, the micro school that we opened this year, um, is, uh, definitely what I saw was that there were, were not a lot of schools who were focusing on prioritizing culturally responsive, developmentally appropriate curriculum. Um, because I like everything out there isn't bad. Um, it's just, it's not presented to children in, in the right way. Um, and, but then there, there is some bad and the freedom to be able to throw out what's bad and keep what's good, and also make sure that everybody feels to create that sense of, uh, I don't hate school and I wanna go there for 180 days for the next 13 years. Um, was definitely, um, a, a, a one of our founding principals or guiding our, one of our, the things that were guided, the fact that we wanted to create a different type of space. Speaker 0 00:23:17 Um, so I guess, um, given that you have worked with a, a bunch of different micro schools owners and like, I mean, you've already, you mentioned, uh, a bunch of different ways in which people are reimagining education, um, <affirmative>. What are the benefits that for parents who are one, learning about this alternative right now during this conversation between you and I or those who have been looking and are, um, and, and are searching for possibly a n a new way to educate their kid. What would you say in your experience, given that you've worked with Probably what I mean, tens of tens of hundreds of, of, of Speaker 2 00:23:52 Not tens of hundreds. I've worked with hundreds of people at this point and have helped support the opening of several dozen schools. So it's not, it's not the easiest of tasks, right? I mean, you know, it, having worked on it when we worked together, your brain was, you took in that information about what it would take and then you, and then you took some time to make it happen. It doesn't always happen right away. Would do parents need to know. One, you can look around in your community and you may well find that someone has had a vision for a small school that is just the thing that your child needs mm-hmm. <affirmative> to thrive. Um, it's time to stop assuming that the local public school was good enough for you, so it's going to be good enough for your child. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, I wrote a book, my first book was called Help My Child Hates School. Speaker 2 00:24:38 And it was really written to get parents to realize if a kid is saying that they don't like school or if they're demonstrating that school isn't working from that for them through truancy, behavior issues, um, illness, you know, the kid who gets sick and doesn't end up going to school. Um, all kinds of things. Uh, poor low grades when you know that they have ability. Those are ways that kids are saying that school's not working for them. Parents need to take that seriously and not get mad at the child. It's not the child's fault that school is not working for them, Speaker 0 00:25:14 Especially when it wasn't designed for them. It was designed for it to be easy for other people. Yeah. Speaker 2 00:25:20 So, you know, if your child's having a problem, it, it's really easy for me to say it on this side, but the best thing you can do is to be calm and say like, oh, be curious about that. Oh, this isn't working. Let see if I can figure out what it is that isn't working for my and what they actually really want and need. Then let look to see does that actually exist in It may, well because more and more people are opening micro. Speaker 0 00:25:44 You have any or resources that, um, that you suggest that. What are your favorite as you started your journey and have continued your journey, what tips and resources have you accumulated that you can share with parents? Like places where they can go look to figure out what the next step is? Speaker 2 00:26:00 Well, there's not one, unfortunately, there's not one place, and I've had a lot of people say to me, couldn't you put together some kind of a resource that tells us where all the micro schools are? That's a human's task and it's, there's not really a huge benefit for how, I don't mean me personally, um, but it, it takes me, that kind of a task would take somebody's full attention and it would keep me from doing the piece that I'm here to do, which is to support the creation and the opening of new schools. Um, what I do tell people to do is to look at, there's an organization called the Alternative Education Resource Organization. Um, they maintain a map of micros, um, that are out there and you with their list, you'll find mostly democratic schools, Sudbury schools, um, liberated learner schools. You can also go and look at Acton Academy. Speaker 2 00:26:52 You know, they have a couple hundred schools open globally now. Um, those are all models. What we're doing and what you're doing, Michelle is opening a bespoke school. So, you know, we, in, in my, one of my goals down the road is to actually have a listing of all of these bespoke schools, these one of a kind schools that are networked together. And that's, that's what we're working on with our VLA grant, um, is to begin to network schools that are already open to strengthen their business, pri you know, their business operations, um, their marketing skills and so on in the community with one another while allowing them to still retain their uniqueness. So, um, lots of ways to do things. I'm just of a mind that, you know, curriculum, one size curriculum didn't work in school. So I don't really love the idea of opening, helping people to open schools that all use exactly the same curriculum. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> again, I think that, that, that puts curriculum at the, of the focus of the school instead of the child. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So I would, you know, it's, the truth is, most of the schools that I work with have many things in common. Mm-hmm. Speaker 0 00:28:07 <affirmative>, Speaker 2 00:28:09 However, they're all slightly different because of the kids that show up. Speaker 0 00:28:13 Absolutely. Um, if people want to reach out directly to get assistance or are are interested in the services of you to provide, you know, a help starting a micro school, our parents are looking for like, you know, a direction. How can, how can people get ahold of Speaker 2 00:28:28 You? Visit our website, micro school builders.com. Um, we do, we help both educators and we help parents to open micro schools. We have a nine week program that we take people through that results in a business plan and a budget and a marketing strategy. Um, we have services beyond that, uh, where we continue to support owners as they prepare to open and launch working through all of the myriad of, um, details that have to be taken care of, from insurance to, uh, rental of space to, um, all of the forms that we need to use to, uh, carrying insurance to, uh, picking materials and whether we're going to use curriculum or not, what the rhythm of the school day is gonna look like. All of those kind of things. Um, uh, finance and accounting, legal issues, all of those things. So we have that, those kinds of services. Speaker 2 00:29:27 I mean, in a nutshell, what my organization does is provides all of the same kinds of services that a school district offers. It's me, you know, it's schools mm-hmm. <affirmative> except in a, in a flipped way. We are, you know, I offer my superintendency skills as a consultant mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and we offer all of those services in a, in a community. Um, no one's obligated to use any of them. Um, but it's really nice we're in community the same way the principals of a school district would come together and collaborate and work together and support one another. Definitely to the benefit of the children that they serve. Speaker 0 00:30:06 Definitely me. I wanna thank you so much for your time. It was a, it was, I mean, you shared a wealth of information. Um, I think people are gonna have to go back and listen to this episode two or three times to make sure they pulled everything out of it. Um, I know that I probably will as well. Um, micro school builders.com if you guys are wanted to reach out and, and pick her, pick her brain or explore her programs. Um, but thank you so much for taking the time to be here with us today. Speaker 2 00:30:31 Oh, you're welcome, Michelle. Thank you. Speaker 0 00:30:34 Traditional schools are built around systems, micro schools are built around kids. I want to thank my guest, Mary Leinberger for taking time to speak with us today and encourage listeners to reach out to her [email protected] to check out her programs and for guidance on how to begin your micro school journey. Show notes and resources to the things we discuss today are available on our website, just like me presents.com. Share this podcast with other parents and educators in your circle and be sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode. If you liked what you heard today, leave us a review, reviews, help others discover our show and begin their woke journey. Have a great week, and remember, if our children can see it, they can achieve it.

Back to Blog

© Copyright 2023
Just Like Me Presents, LLC
All rights reserved.

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | SMS Policy