A Note from the Chief Academic Officer

Embracing Scholarly Habits: Clarity, Persistence, Accuracy

The essence of a school is the quality of the teaching and learning that takes place there.  This is a fact I know deeply as a fifth generation teacher.  My great-great grandmother taught my great grandmother in a one-room schoolhouse in Birmingham, Alabama, and my great grandmother taught my grandmother in that same room.  Back then, students were not separated into grades, there was no library or Internet, and the community could only afford to pool resources and send one or two of their “brightest” students to college.  Nevertheless, there were tremendous assets in that one-room schoolhouse: love, determination, and community.

From our birth in 2008 in the annex of a church in Southeast Washington, DC, Excel Academy has reminded me of the schoolhouse of my grandmother’s youth.  That first year at Excel, the church’s choir room doubled as my Preschool classroom.  My 3-year-old students learned not to disturb the choir robes and piano as we studied our colors, shapes, letters and numbers.  Every founding teacher of Excel could tell stories of how we took limited resources and miraculously overrode any sense of limitation to provide our girls with an amazing education.  We have been determined that Excel’s young scholars receive an education that reflects the value we see in them.

When you step into a Excel Academy classroom, or walk her halls, you can feel love, determination, and a profound sense of community.  As a community, we have decided that getting to and through college is not a pipe dream or a privilege for a subgroup of “bright” students.  Rather, we embrace a value of Sisterhood, where we will rise together and ensure that no girl gets left behind.  Rising together in these times includes mastering a new set of national learning standards, called the Common Core Standards for College and Career Readiness.  It also includes preparing for the computer-based PARCC assessment that will replace the DC CAS as our state test in SY 2014-15.

This year marks the beginning of three-year journey for Team Excel to Embrace Scholarly Habits.  On this journey, teachers and students alike are deepening core practices that lead to an intellectual rigor that exceeds traditional academic achievement.  We start this journey with a focus on three mental habits common to highly intelligent people: thinking and communicating with clarity and precision; persisting; and striving for accuracy (Costa and Kallick, 2008).  We know that these and other scholarly habits can be taught, so that every Excel Academy scholar is equipped to achieve at the highest levels.

We believe that this scholarly approach reflects the essence of the Common Core Standards – that students would once again think deeply, reflect earnestly, approach mathematics conceptually, write and speak thoughtfully, and share a common grounding in classic disciplines and texts.  The intellectual rigor that results from this type of education will prepare our female scholars to innovate, lead, and actualize the closing words of the Excel Creed they recite every morning:

“We will change the world.  We will EXCEL!”

And they will.

Nikki A. Stewart
Chief Academic Officer
Costa, Arthur L. and Kallick, Bena, Ed..  2008.  Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind: 16 Essential Characteristics for Success.  ASCD: Alexandria, VA.