Wednesday morning, Northwestern University’s Kellogg Center for Nonprofit Management hosted a presentation featuring Tony Bryk, co-author of Organizing Schools for Improvement. Mr. Bryk recalled research from his book, including a study of two neighboring elementary schools in Chicago with vastly different trajectories. The case-comparison served as a catalyst for discussion about the need for schools to define and implement accountability measures while working within their communities to establish a broad and durable context to support learning.

As their instructional responsibilities near an end for the 2010-2011 academic year, GCE Chicago High School’s faculty will soon gather to reflect and improve upon a successful inaugural campaign. If Mr. Bryk’s prescriptions are any indication, GCE has built a sturdy foundation. Consider that in its first year, GCE already bears Mr. Bryk’s four essential influencers of school learning: 1) professional capacity 2) instructional guidance 3) school learning climate, and 4) parent, school, and community ties.

GCE Founder/Director Eric Davis’ hiring of master teachers with professional experience in their respective disciplines reinforces a culture of trust at GCE; peers are respected as accomplished educators who bring expert credentials and extraordinary content knowledge into the school. Of course, this matters even more in the classroom, where GCE’s juniors bring high-order questions about engineering and design to Integrated Math-Science Instructor and professional architect, James Young. Similarly, GCE’s freshmen—including an ambitious group of foreign-born students—routinely discuss experiments in language and composition with Brazil-born Carlos Leite, GCE’s Global Connections Coordinator and a curator of Fernando Pessoa’s poetic works. In summary, the credibility and commitment of GCE’s faculty enables the school to fulfill its capacity to coordinate curriculum and solve problems in classrooms.

Tony Bryk’s concept of instructional guidance focuses on curriculum organization and the advancement of academic goals of instruction. Mr. Bryk refers to these subsystems more plainly as the “what” and “how” of instruction. Concerning the former, GCE’s curriculum supports three key threads of global citizenship: 1) cultural awareness 2) 21st century literacy, and 3) career readiness. As for the latter, GCE curriculum is designed to be global, integrated, purpose driven, project and inquiry-based, to guide students toward mastery, incorporate multiple forms of assessment, differentiate for individual learning styles and interests, and it is deliverable in-person or on-line (-GCE website).

GCE’s faculty provide a student-centered learning climate that profoundly effects student motivation and engagement. While nurturing supportive academic norms, teachers ensure that GCE is an orderly and safe environment in which to learn by sharing responsibility for classroom maintenance, as well as for the upkeep of instructional resources, recreational/lunch rooms, hallways, etc. It may be said then that GCE’s ‘all hands on deck’ approach to school leadership is an enhanced and non-threatening version of Peter Drucker’s formulation, “What gets measured gets done.” In any case, GCE’s investment in collaboration and community means “What gets supported gets done.”

Finally, GCE embraces Mr. Bryk’s assertion that schools improve when they act deliberately to secure parent-community-school ties. GCE’s small class sizes and customized, even individualized curriculum reflects an interest in providing an intimate education to Chicago’s daughters and sons. This ethos to learn and live intimately extends to parent-community partnerships, such as when Congo-born GCE students relayed their experiences growing up in conflict as part of a parent-provided, international-fare luncheon welcoming Congolese participants in Falling Whistles’ campaign for peace. Whether for peace, or simply rest, GCE has good reasons to whistle this summer.

*Postscript: For more on Falling Whistles’ daring initiative, please visit