Leonard C. Burrello
Executive Director
Dena Cushenberry
​Social Media Manager
Follow Dena on Twitter!
As many of you know, the media has had a field day beating up educators and education—especially public education. David Brooks, our friend and influencer at The New York Times, writes about American journalism and the philosophy that drives it. “The world will get better,” he says, “when we show where things have gone wrong,” and what journalists do, he argues, is “expose error, cover problems, and identify conflict” —and, we would add, monitor public and private enterprises and their impact on community life. In short, they should prioritize the negative over the positive.
This type of coverage impacts consumers of the media in disempowering and depressing ways; Brooks asserts that these stories “sink [people] into this toxic vortex—alienated from people they don’t know” because they do not interact—or are totally insulated from—the Other. They fear the future. Indeed, at the same time that it exposes problems, the media should also be identifying solutions to those problems. And while some do not find news of thriving local and community life as immediately captivating as stories of disaster and terror, Brooks points out that this is wrong.
To that end, our focus has, as of late, been on identifying positive stories and uplifting news from the world of public education and administration. Over the years, we have found many enlightening stories of local and regional educational successes all across the country—in Maine, Colorado, Virginia, Illinois, Nevada, Indiana, New Mexico, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, California—and especially in Vermont, where Center Director Leonard Burrello came to know what truly personalized learning looks like during his time at the Williston School with Dr. Lynn Murray. Recently, however, we have turned our attention specifically to Warren Township in Indiana.
Center Social Media Manager and educational consultant Dena Cushenberry knows Warren well, having worked there for over nineteen years and inhabited nearly every role—from that of an assistant middle school principal all the way up to that of the district superintendent. In light of Dena’s recent retirement, Leonard, Dena, and their Mississippi-based colleague Robin Mills have been enmeshed in a study of how Warren transformed itself from a struggling district to a thriving one. The results of our study are being published in a forthcoming book entitled Vertigo, but in the meantime, we plan to bring you some excerpts—right here on our blog. Today, we want to frame this book for you and really let you know what’s coming. And so, with that being said, here’s an abstract (of sorts) for the forthcoming Vertigo!

You can’t control what might impact—or befall—your district on a daily basis, but you can, as superintendent, control your response. And that is key.
We live in turbulent times, in an era characterized by division, tension, and anger. The world of public education—saddled with new financial burdens; increasingly diverse and complex student populations; ever-changing state and federal standards and mandates; teacher retention; and, perhaps most damaging of all, negative public perceptions—might best be described as being in a state of vertigo: unable to tell which way is up or down.
But how educators should respond in these turbulent and disruptive times can be found in the same place as always: in the creation of optimal conditions for student success at the local and district levels. Few administrators understand this better than those in Warren Township, Indiana: a district that, over the course of nearly twenty years, went from a struggling district to a thriving district. With insight and commentary from former Superintendent Dena Cushenberry and her cabinet members, we analyze ten issues that Warren Township school leaders were able to successfully navigate in their efforts to revolutionize their district—issues that any administrator of any district in any city or town in any state of America might well face. Dena and her team discuss lessons learned; offer advice for others to consider as they move their districts forward; and share the research they used to make their decisions, the templates they used in constructing district narratives, and the frameworks upon which they built their policies.
Above all else, though, what this book offers is a story of how a collaborative district leadership team came together to build a coherent message that connected students, staff, and the community in the common pursuit of transformative learning.