​Dena R. Cushenberry 

Superintendent, Warren Township in Marion County, Indiana 
The Center for Appreciative 
Organizing in Education 
When I took over in Warren Township, the Board of Education had expressed concern about student safety and disciplinary issues. My first real act as Superintendent was the opportunity to both put the district back on track and to show my fellow administrators that I really do mean business.
AO Director Leonard Burrello took me with him to New York after my appointment as Superintendent. He had a specific purpose in mind, as he had just attended his fiftieth high school reunion, and all of his closest friends had identified one teacher in particular who they had all revered. His name was Brother Phillip Eichner, their former Latin teacher.  
He and his Irish driver, Brother Donovan, met us at our midtown hotel, and as we walked to the restaurant and talked over dinner, Father Phillip described the philosophy of his schools on Long Island and their commitment to COR, an acronym taken from the Latin word for heart. In his schools, COR stands for Civility, Order, and Respect.
Father Phillip spoke grandly of a curriculum built for all students, a curriculum designed to really prepare students for college instead of just pulling them through standardized tests and reducing them to figures on a spreadsheet. He believes that, with educators guided by COR, with hard work and effort, all students can and will meet the high expectations we should be setting for them.
When I got home, Father Phillip’s words began to coalesce. I couldn’t stop thinking about COR. But his idea kept churning, and it didn’t take long for a new idea to finally take shape: Add an E!
The E stands for Excellence and Equity for all, and ever since this revelation, the CORE framework has been posted around every school in Warren.
As it turns out, I had been living by the philosophy of CORE for some time without knowing it. Back when I became Principal at Liberty Park, my teachers were concerned that the students from the neighboring low-income housing projects could not possibly achieve on the same level as middle class students. Faculty thought they could best serve those low-income students by caring for their social and emotional health – and not for their education.
The faculty were preoccupied with classroom management instead of with the instruction, focused on discipline instead of the art of teaching. But I reviewed every student record and found that some of the students from the housing projects actually had the highest IQs of all the students in the school! This was a revelation, indeed, and when the teachers were confronted with the data, they had no choice but to change their mindsets.
My favorite reminder to the staff became: “If you do not believe all students can learn, fake it – they’ll believe you.” We have since amended that philosophy further, and we now live by what we like to think of as CORE’s mantra: “All students can learn the important stuff under the right conditions.” Some students will learn best through a project-based approach rather than through lecture, while others will learn best in teams rather than in isolation. Some will need extended practice and support. It all depends on the individual, but it’s our job to pay attention to what every individual needs.
Thanks once again to Father Phillip – Warren Township is all the better for having learned from you.  
Next Up: Adapting CORE to Our Schools – and Yours 

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