This is the purpose statement of Valor Collegiate Academies, a network of free public college preparatory schools in Nashville. Valor opened their first school in 2014 and two of their founders are former Senecan, Darren Dickson, and his brother, Todd Dickson, former educator with Summit Public Schools. Currently with two middle schools, they are set to open up their high school in the Fall of 2018.
Valor has three Core Anchors. Social emotional learning being at the core of their school, rigorous and SEL-integrated academics, and being an inclusive and diverse school community.
Valor places SEL at the core of their model through Compass, a competency-based human development model that serves as a metaphor for growth for all members of the Valor community. Students work towards living inspired, purposeful lives by “Working the Compass” which means growing in body, heart, mind and spirit in the pursuit of excellence. They work the compass by completing phase work, a variety of tasks where students explore their values, develop important scholarly habits and build relationships with peers and adults. They have opportunities to do the phase work throughout the school day, but most importantly they have weekly circle time to work on their personal growth and relationships with others. It is this focus on relationship and community that Valor views as essential to students living inspired purposeful lives. But wait, faculty and staff have phase work and participate in staff circles as well on a weekly basis. For those of you long time Senecans this may sound familiar as circles and phase work are very similar to what was facilitated at the Community Treatment Facilities, group homes, and day treatment locations in the past.
Their rigorous and SEL-integrated academics is based on their goal of being in the Top 1% of growth and achievement in the state of Tennessee. And they are making great strides to those results. In 2017:
- Scholars scores were in the top 3% of achievement scores in Tennessee
- Valor’s middles schools scored in the top 1% of schools in Tennessee for growth scores
- The only middles schools to rank in the top 5 for both growth AND achievement
- Valor’s low-income scholars outperformed their middle and upper incomes peers in Nashville and the state of Tennessee, inverting the “achievement gap”
Their commitment to being a diverse and inclusive school is grounded in their belief that in order to be a critical thinker, you must be able to understand diverse perspectives and that begins with being a part of a diverse community. They are a diversity by design school where they seek to have representation in their school community from all over the Nashville area, and allot a certain percentage of enrollment slots to different ethnic/racial backgrounds that are present in the Nashville community. In addition they also seek to be economically diverse and 50% of their enrollment is from students receiving free and reduced lunch. And of course their belief in diversity and inclusion goes beyond demographics. They hold the belief they need to work to ensure all students have a sense of belonging and feel empowered.
They have lots of open source materials on their website. Check out
https://valorcollegiate.org/. Specifically take a look at the Compass tab to see their compass model as well as sample lesson plans that integrate academics and SEL.
Sara Moses, Assistant Director of Implementation