“I felt like this was a chance for me to work with a community, a staff and a board that were also really interested in putting themselves in the best place possible to begin to find some of those right answers about what 21st-century education is all about,” he said.
Charter schools have an independence that allows more experimentation and site-level decision-making, which he’s thrilled about.
“I think of myself as a relentless architect of possibilities, that’s my job,” he said. “That independence, that autonomy is a real asset I want to exploit, and ultimately help all schools everywhere. We can do things faster, in a more sort of exploratory way, and whatever we learn, we can share.”
Barnett is also more involved in everything, from budgeting to the curriculum.
The entire Santa Barbara Unified School District — and others — are preparing for a new set of state standards, called the Common Core. It’s supposed to implement another kind of instruction, one that teaches students how to learn, not focus on memorizing sets of information.
“The world today is about learning in a whole bunch of dynamic environments, not one set of information,” Barnett said. “Because, as we know, that set of info now is so vast and so huge and so impossible really to contain in your brain, that it’s about using that information in effective ways.”
Students need opportunities to use and show off what they’ve learned, whether in presentations, the school’s Exploration Center, the garden or field trips, he said.
“That’s the next level for us, so a student sees the relevance of what they’re learning in a classroom, and kicking up the rigor by using it in a real-world experience,” Barnett said.
The Peabody parents, staff and community have really claimed the school, and are committed to working hard on its behalf, he said.
“I tell parents, there’s no more efficient way to be involved in the community as a whole and your own kid’s life,” Barnett said. “It’s kind of like this amazing double whammy: It benefits your child, and we’re a school of 750 students, so it impacts 750 families in our community directly, right away. You rarely get an opportunity to see that direct impact for your effort.
“The tone of this school, I think, is just phenomenal, and it’s due to all the hard work that’s been done before. I’m just trying not to screw it up.”
Big events in the school’s near future are the Fall Harvest Festival on Oct. 19, and the information nights to help inform people about the Nov. 6 election. Proposition 30 and local parcel tax Measures A & B are critical for school funding, Barnett said.
“We want to make sure no one from our community gets to the ballot box without knowing what they are,” he said. “If November doesn’t go our way, it will obviously have a huge impact, but worse than anything, it’ll be a really demoralizing message.”