Here's an idea, let's turn Sonoma Development Center into a school for the future, the Ischool.

Here’s an idea, let’s turn Sonoma Development Center into a school for the future, the Ischool. (Photo: Erik Castro for Sonoma Magazine)

By Walt Williams

For Standard #2 of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District Certificated Personnel Evaluation, I received an Overall Standard Rating of I (Improvement Recommended) because, in the words of my administrator, “Employing clearly articulated classroom routines, procedures and norms could improve the learning environment.”

I don’t care about Standard #2 (or any other standard for that matter). Good teaching is providing for the needs of the students, period. What students write in my yearbook and how they develop in class and after class is what I’m in it for. To be fair, my administrator also wrote, “Walt is the heart and soul of the school.” Which led to me developing my bigger plan, creating my school, the Ischool.

And why not? The Zuck gave away 100 mil to public schools in Jersey in 2010 and 120 mil to Bay Area schools last year. The Gates foundation spent 373 mil on education in 2009 and keeps shoveling cash into programs at an alarming rate (Check the bubble chart,

The answer to education reform is simple. It’s the same as the answer to any big life reform: define the problem, create a solution, implement the solution, and solve the problem. Wait, did I say that was easy? What I meant was it’s easy for me to explain on paper. The reality of Education INC is that it is just as problematic as Big Government INC or Big Oil INC or Big Prison INC or any of the other modern societal INCs (bloated, ineffective, difficult to change, you know the story).

Joe Strummer once sang, “It ain’t Coca Cola, it’s rice.” Meaning that while global access to modern convenience seems important, the reality is we need to feed people. This is also true in education where we implement technology at an astounding rate but is it improving learning? Giving a kid a fish is not as important as teaching her to fish.

I want to turn the Sonoma Developmental Center into a facility of learning and all I need is 200 mil. Actually, I can do it for a lot less but when asking for stupid-money from the tech industry it’s important to go big. It will be called the Ischool and it is a rethinking of education that creates a learning program specific to a student’s needs rather than putting students into little boxes that may or may not fit their needs.

It’s a tech school, vocational school, boarding school, developmental center and social responsibility think tank. It has commercial enterprises (winery, restaurant, art gallery) and unique facilities (ropes course, zoo, skate park and wavehouse). It targets students ages 16-24, providing a model for global education.

Johnnie is a 16, from a broken home. ACE score of 7, angry but not really sure why, he moves into the Ischool where his personalized curriculum overcomes not only academic needs but behavioral deficiencies. He learns empathy working with developmentally disabled adults and talking care of animals on the farm.

Janie is 19, tired of working in fast food and wants to better herself; she enrolls in the transitions program and learns about the wine industry from on-site vintner Will Bucklin.

Jimmy is 22, just out of prison for drug offenses. He interns with Diana Rhoten and her Ischool Challenge Sonoma Adventure Ropes Course program. He chooses natural dopamine from environmentalism over artificial dopamine from drugs.

Jeannie is 24 with a 4 year-old. She moves into the Ischool facility to learn coding and take advantage of the subsidized rent and childcare.

Ischool is individualized education, a very different box for different people. It is a micro-utopia of learning complete with its own constitution (history lesson), and one golden rule: Provide a positive learning environment for all people.

The Sonoma Developmental Center has a long history of helping and is in need of a vision. Here it is.

Now, if I can just get a meeting with Mark and Bill…





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