BCS superintendent wins Digital Early Learning Award


Founding Superintendent/Principal Wanny Hersey

Wanny Hersey, founding superintendent/principal of Bullis Charter School, recently won the National Association of Elementary School Principals’ Digital Early Learning Award.

The award acknowledges Hersey for the school’s emphasis on creating and implementing digital tools and offering blended-learning, early-education services that are scientific, holistic, experiential, accountable and relevant to the personalized needs of each student.

Hersey was among five elementary school principals from across the nation selected to receive the award, and the only recipient from California. Winners are scheduled to be recognized at the association’s Better Practices for Better Schools Conference in Maryland July 6.

Hersey has spearheaded the integration of technology in every aspect of the learning process at every level at Bullis Charter School. From kindergarten to middle school, students use technology to deepen and individualize their learning experience.

“I am honored to win this award,” Hersey said. “It reflects the innovation and hard work of the entire BCS staff and our commitment to leveraging our STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) program to seamlessly integrate technology into the BCS K-8 core curriculum, ensuring that technology is accessible to every student. As a national Digital Citizenship school, we are also dedicated to fostering a culture of digital learning, enabling our students to think critically and participate responsibly in both the digital and real worlds.”

In partnership with VINCI Education, the association created the award to recognize principals who have embraced technology that supports early learners in grades K-3. The organizations advocate for a blended curriculum and programs to help educators learn strategies and gain the necessary skills, including the use of digital tools, to help students succeed in school and beyond.

At Bullis Charter School, students learn to use technology to research, communicate, code, model and design starting in kindergarten. All students have access to state-of-the-art tools in the MakerSpace and FabLab, where they are challenged to think critically and work collaboratively. With technological tools like Chrome Books, iPads and iPods available in every classroom, students can choose their own focus areas to conduct independent research, deepen investigation skills and draw their own conclusions.

Hersey was also honored for the school’s use of FreshGrade, a new online assessment tool that makes learning visible by capturing, documenting and communicating progress via digital portfolios. Students, teachers and parents are able to communicate in real time using the interactive digital platform, enabling all to focus on the learning process, not just the outcome.

For more information, visit naesp.org/digital-leader-early-learning-award.

BCS alumni advance to international competition with school project

Bullis Charter School alumni, from left, Ninnad Raman, Maddie Young and Sophia Lufkin received “Highest Excellence” on their SchoolsNEXT project, which was a design for a school of the future.

Bullis Charter School alumni, from left, Ninnad Raman, Maddie Young and Sophia Lufkin received “Highest Excellence” on their SchoolsNEXT project, which was a design for a school of the future.

Bullis Charter School alumni Sophia Lufkin, Ninnad Raman and Maddie Young recently competed in the final round of the Council of Educational Facility Planners International’s SchoolsNEXT project and received “Highest Excellence” on their project.

The Los Altos students designed a “school of the future” as part of Bullis Charter School’s spring eighth-grade Intersession, devoting three full weeks to an assigned study area. After winning the schoolwide, regional and national competitions, they competed in the international round in San Diego in October.

The SchoolsNEXT Design Competition highlights the importance of well-planned, healthy, safe, sustainable and resilient schools. It invites middle schoolers to design learning environments that “enhance learning, conserve resources, are environmentally responsive and engage the surrounding community.” Students engage in the planning process for designing their schools from conception to completion and document each step of their project along the way.

“The SchoolsNEXT Design Competition exemplifies the real-world learning opportunities that all of our middle-school students are provided,” said Bullis Charter School teacher Jessica Lura. “The competition embodies BCS’s unique approach to learning, where students are enabled, engaged and empowered through our STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) curriculum to master the 21st-century skills they need to succeed in today’s global economy.”

The project offered students an opportunity to apply their design-thinking skills. When creating their design, Lufkin, Raman and Young considered the school’s impact on the local community and the type of skills and spaces students of the future might require. In addition, they spoke with local architects to learn about design and planning, visited a zero-waste residence in Palo Alto to investigate how to apply such technology in a school setting and read articles about different types of schools and schooling.

“Participating in the competition was an incredible experience,” Lufkin said. “Ninnad, Maddie and I had a lot of fun tackling these difficult questions and showcasing what we learned in the classroom at BCS on an international stage.”

For more information on the SchoolsNEXT Project, visit cefpi.org.

BCS uses digital portfolio technology to improve communication

Bullis Charter School fifth-grader Anna Morokutti takes a photo of a document to upload to her FreshGrade account.

Bullis Charter School fifth-grader Anna Morokutti takes a photo of a document to upload to her FreshGrade account.

Parents are not always in the classroom to see their children nail an oral presentation or smile in accomplishment after receiving a high mark on an assignment.

Thanks to a new digital tool implemented at Bullis Charter School, that experience gap is closing for parents.

Before winter break, Bullis Charter School introduced FreshGrade, a high-tech tool that enables students to document and upload their work and achievements to an online portfolio viewable by teachers and parents.

The ePortfolios serve as a window into the classroom and help create an open dialogue so that everyone knows how students’ work is developing. FreshGrade supports Bullis Charter School in tracking a student’s progress and measuring the elements of learning not normally accessible to those outside the classroom, especially parents, allowing focus on advancement and not just the final outcome.

“I feel more connected with what is going on inside the classroom,” said parent Evan Parker, whose children attend Bullis Charter School. “Due to a new job, I’m not able to volunteer in class as much this year as I would like. The photos the teachers post give me a visual into what is going on in the classroom.”

Tracking goals

FreshGrade tracks each student’s Focused Learning Goals (FLGs). Each year students set FLGs based on their unique needs, with goals ranging from academic achievements to developing social and organizational skills.

“At Bullis Charter School, parent engagement is a critical component of the school’s success and a fundamental part of our educational model,” said Wanny Hersey, founding superintendent and principal. “Implementing FreshGrade was the obvious next step for us as we continue to build upon our strong foundation of parent-teacher communication, and strengthen parent involvement to improve student achievement.”

Fifth-grade teacher Jessica Morgan said she uses the system to document students’ progress on their FLGs and provide feedback. According to Morgan, FreshGrade doesn’t replace any of the school’s other grading systems, but rather serves as a complement and provides a digital timeline of progress.

Once a week in Morgan’s class students select some of their work, usually connected to their goals, to upload to their digital accounts. Parents can then view the work and initiate a dialogue among student, parent and teacher.

“I open FreshGrade together with the girls to look through the photos of classroom activity along with the teachers’ comments,” Parker said. “They use the FreshGrade content as prompts to go into more detail on the things they’re working on in school.”

Instead of receiving the usual shrug when parents ask how a student’s day went or what they accomplished, parents now can view a visual database of accomplishments and progress toward specific goals. And students get to tailor what they upload to the account, encouraging them to be active participants in meeting their goals.

“FreshGrade is really easy to use and follow,” said Emily, a Bullis Charter School eighth-grader. “On FreshGrade, I upload information about my personal FLGs and then my parents are able to work with me on these goals, providing encouragement, making comments on my goals and getting me the materials I need to complete my projects.”

Parker said he likes that the teachers frequently update the portfolios and that the system facilitates students’ accomplishing their goals. He added that the system is “intuitive and purpose-built for the audience.” While the primary interface for the program is via Web browser, users can also access the accounts through phones and tablets.

For more information, visit FreshGrade.com.

BCS Wins Crayola Grant

Crayola and the National Association of Elementary School Principals recently selected Bullis Charter School as one of 20 elementary and middle schools to receive a Champion Creatively Alive Children grant.

The organizations also recognized Wanny Hersey, superintendent and founding principal of Bullis Charter School, for fostering critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication skills at the school.

Champion Creatively Alive Children grants are aimed at helping schools build creative capacity, nurture children’s creativity and inspire other schools to do the same. Bullis received a $2,500 grant and $1,000 worth of Crayola products to assist with the school’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) program.

The charter school and the Santa Clara County Office of Education partner to offer a yearlong professional development experience highlighting the STEAM program, a collaboration that will also benefit from the grant.

“Art is infused in every aspect of our curriculum here at Bullis Charter School,” Hersey said. “We are excited to use this grant to further student learning and innovation.”

Hersey will share outcomes from the program via the National Association of Elementary School Principals’ website and a special Principal Magazine Supplement to help other principals develop practices related to arts education.

The Champion Creatively Alive Children grant program encourages principals to implement arts-based learning in schools and rely more on project-based assessment rather than standardized tests. The organizations judged grant entries on innovation, collaboration and sustainability.

“Crayola believes that for students to reach their full potential and grow into self-motivated learners, their creativity and critical-thinking skills must be nurtured,” said Smith Holland, Crayola president and CEO. “We believe children develop these 21st-century skills when educators ignite their imaginations through art-infused education.”

For more information on the grant, visit naesp.org/creativity.

BCS Shares Best Practices With Other Schools


Bullis Charter School has been recognized many times for its ingenuity and signature programs for students. Now school officials are using some of that creativity to design a yearlong program to share their best practices with other educators.

Superintendent Wanny Hersey said the school has attracted several visitors – educators from the area and around the world – to observe its STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) curriculum at work, but they are usually only there for a day or less.

“These people come and we are happy to share, but I wonder if we have any impact,” Hersey said. “What happens when they see this idea? How are they able to replicate it? There is so much more to learn than one can see in a single activity.”

So Hersey joined forces with the Santa Clara County Office of Education to help share the school’s best practices in a more meaningful way – through the program dubbed STEAM: A Practicum on Integrated PBL (Project Based Learning).

Over the summer, Hersey said she charged her staff with creating the practicum to help transform local schools “holistically” through two cohorts – administrators and teachers.

“The best model is something that provides a program that sees (the best practice), tries it out and gets some more support,” she said. “It has to be more long term. It is important to help schools transform, and you need a team of people to do that.”

The goal was to pair an administrator with a teacher so that the two could take what they learned back to their school and district to promote both systematic and curricular change.

The program, which began last month, includes 27 teachers and 14 administrators from Santa Clara County public schools. Hersey said there are educators from the Union Elementary, Evergreen, Cambrian, Berryessa Union, Alum Rock and Santa Clara Unified school districts.

The program requires the two cohorts to visit with the Bullis Charter School team seven times throughout the year – separately and together. Last week, Hersey and her team hosted the administrators, discussing design thinking and viewing two complete STEAM units.

“We’ve been documenting our curriculum so that we can share it,” she said. “We don’t want to let schools think you have to do it all that way, but we want to provide entry points and options for integrating STEAM one step at a time.”

She added that the administrators have to look at things from a broader level. Topics include finances, how to secure funding for programs and lessons, and creating a culture that fosters innovation.

Project-based learning

A key element of the program, according to Hersey, is informing educators of resources they may not have considered using. She said Bullis Charter School and the county are introducing participants to “what is out there and what can be leveraged to improve student learning.”

The teachers will have an opportunity to view the charter school’s project-based learning and STEAM units but will be reviewing them from a different perspective than the administrators.

“We will be building a community with these teacher leaders,” said Jennifer Anderson-Rosse, director of curriculum and special projects at Bullis Charter School. “We will be asking them to try some of what they learned in their classrooms and we will give them access to real people in real time for troubleshooting.”

Teachers will also have the opportunity to interview charter school students and teachers to see what works, Anderson-Rosse said.

A culmination event is planned for May as the school year comes to a close, Hersey said.

For more information, visit bcssteam.weebly.com.

BCS Archery Instruction Hits Target

When Athletic Director Joseph Stark introduced his love of archery to students at Bullis Charter School this year, he hit the bull’s-eye.

“It was a passion of mine,” said Stark, who joined the staff in the fall. “It is something I learned and love, and I know it is accessible to a lot of students, so I thought I should bring it to Bullis.”

Stark taught archery during regular physical education classes, then began to offer it as an afterschool sport.

“Our afterschool athletics program is built around the community interest at our school,” he said. “Archery has been at the top of that list for a long time.”

Participation has been solid, according to Stark, with approximately 60 students enrolled in the afterschool program and 20 regularly attending.

The charter school designed its archery program with National Archery in the Schools (NASP) standards in mind, emphasizing safety and proper technique.

“It’s the second-safest sport behind pingpong,” Stark said. “It may not seem like it, because you are using bows and arrows, but we emphasize safety and steps to succeed.”

Stark trained students to participate in the NASP California Archery Tournament, which requires them to shoot 15 arrows from a distance of 10 meters and 15 from 15 meters. More than 20 students competed in the tournament, individually and as a team. Bullis Charter School eighth-grader Skyler Rosenberg placed third overall with a score of 281.

Archery became one of Skyler’s passions after Stark launched the sport at school. Skyler enrolled in the afterschool program and pursues it outside of class as well.

“I think archery is special because it is one of the sports that is really accessible to everyone,” Stark said. “You are not really held back by any disability – you don’t have to be the most athletically gifted in the world. A lot of it is about patience, focus and concentration.”

Skills learned through archery can be used in everyday life, he added.

“You go out every day and try to better yourself,” Stark said. “There are a lot of kids who understand that. They set their own goals and you see the excitement when they actually reach one.”

Stark said he is fortunate to work at a school that allows him to share his interests with the students.

“You can really see how my passion is reflected in the students’ growth throughout the year – I am lucky to have that,” he said.

BCS Students Attend Turtle Camp to Learn Conservation

Fourth- and fifth-graders at Bullis Charter School stepped into the role of teacher last week when they taught kindergarten and first-grade students how they can help save leatherback sea turtles.

The school developed the event, called Turtle Camp, after receiving a $4,000 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Ocean (NOAA) Guardian Grant awarded to schools that demonstrate a commitment to protect and conserve local and global waterways.

Jessica Lura, director of strategic initiatives and partnerships at Bullis Charter School, worked with students in her co-curricular class “The Blue Crew,” an elective class focusing on reducing marine debris, to design the Turtle Camp for younger students.

“The NOAA grant allowed us to expand upon our school’s mission to teach our students about the interconnectedness of people and their environments,” Lura said. “It is important for students as young as kindergarten to understand that they have a direct impact on our local waterways, and that small actions can have a big impact on our oceans and marine life – in this case, the survival of the leatherback sea turtles.”

Leatherback sea turtle protection and conservation are part of an Environmental Science unit that all grade levels participate in at Bullis Charter School. Lura and her students wanted to build on their knowledge of leatherback sea turtles and explore the negative effects of marine debris on the health of the oceans.

Fourth- and fifth-graders led the younger students through four activity centers, all focused on different aspects of protecting the oceans. The first station included a world map and an explanation of the gyre in the Pacific Ocean and culminated with students signing a pledge to recycle and use reusable water bottles.

“It was exciting to teach the younger students because it gave them a good chance to learn about how all of their actions affect the ocean,” said Sophy Mintz, a fifth-grader at the charter school. “We wanted them to learn about how harmful even one piece of trash can be in the ocean, and we used interactive activities like a skit at the end of our presentation to help them remember the information.”

Another station included a mini-lesson on how local waterways connect to the ocean. Kindergartners used ocean props and costumes to act out a skit demonstrating how a piece of plastic could eventually harm a leatherback sea turtle.

Students also had a chance to draw and write short notes on ways to help preserve the oceans and marine life. The notes will be mailed to their sister school in Costa Rica later this spring.

BCS Teacher Works With Online Lesson Plan Resource

Bullis Charter School has a new tool in its arsenal this year as it tackles the implementation of Common Core curriculum standards.

Seventh-grade teacher Lisa Stone was one of 200 chosen from among 4,000 applicants for the “Dream Team” assembled by the educational startup LearnZillion. Stone and the other members of the Dream Team worked to create online lesson plans for teachers that are Common Core-aligned.

LearnZillion, an online resource for teachers, offers a growing set of math and English resources for grades 2-12, developed by experienced teachers and connected directly with Common Core State Standards.

Stone spent the summer collaborating with four other teachers and a coach to dissect a Close Reading lesson for seventh-graders.

Her team was given a text selection and tasked with creating a five-day lesson plan around the text that would meet Common Core standards.

“Common Core now says that you need to put text in front of students that is really too hard for them to understand,” she said.

The final product instructs teachers on how to examine a piece of literature, identify what is complex about it and explain what to focus on with the students – step-by-step and at a determined pace.

The resource is valuable for teachers because it not only provides them with the lesson, but also offers real-time professional development, Stone said.

“It really teaches how to engage in metacognition,” she said. “It models for teachers how to teach these types of habits of mind.”

The lesson plans include instructional videos that teachers can use in the classroom or as part of their lesson preparation. The videos for each lesson are free and available to teachers, students and parents.

LearnZillion’s premium service provides details on how to build a unit around the Common Core concept. The end product of The Dream Team’s work is a textbooklike resource for schools and their districts that addresses the requirements of Common Core.

Common Core spells out the benchmarks and concepts that students need to learn, but leaves how to get there up to teachers. That’s where LearnZillion steps in.

“The focus of LearnZillion is on the metacognition – what are the building blocks you need to build up to the requirements of Common Core,” Stone said.

Because Stone served on LearnZillion’s Dream Team of teachers over the summer, Bullis Charter School benefits from the website’s premium service – equipping teachers with many different Common Core lessons to select and implement this school year.

“I think it is part of my job to help teachers become the best they can be,” she said. “Part of the reason why I chose to do this was because I need to go outside of my school and scale my impact.”

For more information, visit LearnZillion.com.

Local Parents Organize Summer Camp Experience for Those in Need

A group of Bullis Charter School parents established the Bullis Boosters Summer Bridge Camp to provide a summer camp experience for underserved local students.

The camp, in its second year, offers a free, weeklong program for second- through fourth-graders from the Los Altos and Mountain View Whisman school districts.

Charter school parents Martha McClatchie and Grace Yang co-founded the camp, which ran last week at the charter school on the Egan Junior High School campus.

“We do outreach to populations that wouldn’t normally get to attend summer camp,” said McClatchie, who is also a candidate for the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees. “We really believe that in the summer, kids need something going on in their lives.”

And the timing of the camp is intentional, Yang added.

“Having the camp when we have it – two weeks before school starts – and just getting kids back in that mindset brings a real confidence when they come back to school in two weeks,” she said.

Yang and McClatchie stressed that the camp takes a village to host. The pair estimated that there are as many volunteers as there are campers – 50 – devoting hundreds of volunteer hours.

The campers enjoy a small-group experience, with a ratio of approximately 6:1 in the classroom.

Assisting are 14 volunteer counselors from local high schools and a number of volunteers from Explorabox and i3, who oversee science and math activities.

Explorabox, a nonprofit organization based in Los Altos, produces science-in-a-box kits that encourage students to participate in hands-on activities. Explorabox donated its boxes and volunteers to the camp.

i3, a group of Stanford University mechanical engineering students, volunteered to conduct science experiments and math games with campers.

A thirst for learning

In addition to the daily language arts, math and science activities the camp offers, students took a field trip to Deer Hollow Farm, where they identified plants and animals and connected them with their camp curriculum.

“I love watching the kids’ reactions and watching them learn right in front of my face,” said Mary Porter, a senior who volunteers with the camp. “This is an outstanding camp for the kids. If you watch their faces during the day, you see their faces change because they get hot and tired – but they are always so excited to see what comes next.”

Yang said student engagement is part of what makes the Bullis Boosters Summer Bridge Camp unique.

“All of our kids are so well behaved and so eager to learn, and that is unusual to see in many camps,” she said. “They are thirsty to learn, and they just need the opportunities.”

The camp is a true volunteer effort, McClatchie said. The only paid staff members are the two teachers, one from Castro School and another from the charter school.

Local organizations, including Linden Tree Books, Whole Foods Market, The Counter, LuLu’s, Spot Pizza, Choice Lunch, Smitten Ice Cream, Explorabox and the Kiwanis Club of Los Altos, donated supplies, lunches and money to offset camp expenses.

In the future, McClatchie and Yang said they want to create a “camp-in-a-box” model to share with other school districts.

“All you need is a group of dedicated parents to get started,” McClatchie said.

For more information, visit bullisboosterscamp.org.

BCS Hosts Junior Olympics for Area Charter Schools

The fourth biennial Bullis Charter School Invitational Junior Olympics drew a crowd of nearly 1,000 student-athletes and spectators June 1 at Foothill College.

The event is the only athletic competition of its kind in the area for students who attend charter schools. In addition to Bullis Charter School, participating schools included Charter School of Morgan Hill, Livermore Valley Charter School, Voices College-Bound Language Academy, Rocketship Discovery Prep and Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary School.

“I can’t believe how amazing this event is,” said Sandra Lopez, parent of a student at Voices College-Bound Language Academy. “This is such a wonderful opportunity for all the children to experience something of this caliber – it feels like the real Olympics.”

Darcie Green, member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education Board, kicked off the event by welcoming the crowd during the opening ceremony, which featured a performance of the “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the entrance of all student-athletes onto the track and a choreographed rhythmic gymnastics routine starring students from first through eighth grades. Students carried a ceremonial Olympic torch, which traveled to all of the competing schools in the weeks leading up to the event.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to bring charter schools together for an event that promotes athletics and sportsmanship,” said Wanny Hersey, superintendent and principal of Bullis Charter School. “It is important for us to work together with our fellow charters not just in improving academic education for children, but in developing the whole child through events like this that incorporate goal-setting, resiliency and strong character.”

The daylong competition included traditional track and field events plus an egg and spoon race, a beanbag toss, a soccer-kick battle and a basketball shootout. Four local Olympians handed out medals to the event winners – including gold medalist Keshia Baker, who won the 4×400-meter relay at the 2012 Summer Games in London.

“I love that I get to come out here and support something that I enjoy doing and to see students and parents participating in activities that encourage a healthy lifestyle,” Baker said. “It’s important that it doesn’t end here, but that families go home and keep running, jogging and being active.”