The age-old saying “education is power” is the driving force behind everything that Stuart Foundation President Jonathan Raymond does. Through curiosity and care, Jonathan has worked to transform the way we perceive learners and the learning environment. By taking on challenges while providing a reliable safety net of support, Jonathan’s educational philosophy allows kids to develop resilience, respect, and a drive for self-improvement.
FableVision Studios is currently collaborating with the Stuart Foundation and The Forum for Youth Investment to put the spotlight on Jonathan’s new book, Wildflowers: A School Superintendent’s Challenge to America. Building on foundational efforts by groups such as ASCD, CASEL, the Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development, and others, Jonathan’s book features his experiences as a school superintendent as he put Whole Child into action. As he shares, while implementing the Whole Child approach presented its share of challenges, he is proud about the transformative impact it had on education in the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD), one of the top 1% of largest school districts in the country and one of the most impoverished and ethnically diverse. By cultivating a much wider, more inclusive, and synergistic learning climate, Jonathan showed how an entire community can work toward uniting around education’s # 1, driving priority: fulfilling each child’s unique requirements to grow educationally, emotionally, and socially into the most powerful version of themselves.
Pushing kids to find their inner drive is at the heart of the Stuart Foundation’s “North Star” mission. Jonathan knows that the first step in helping students unlock their endless potential is by believing that it’s possible. He explains that, “we need to start expecting more from our kids and believing they are capable, competent, and responsible.” By creating adult-student relationships that are free of hierarchy and full of support, Jonathan helps students reach their greatest potential.
From a kid hungry for knowledge, to Sacramento Superintendent, and now President of the Stuart Foundation, Jonathan’s had an exciting array of experiences in the education world. Read on to find out the origins of Jonathan’s passion for education, his guiding values for education reform, and a few of his favorite children’s books!
The Stuart Foundation focuses on district education systems and statewide policies. Tell us a little more about the values this foundation upholds.
We have several values at the Foundation and the two that stand out most for me are being bold and persevering. E.A. Stuart, the founder of the Carnation Company, was a risk taker. He also failed at earlier business ventures before Carnation. Through it all, he believed in the importance of education, helping those least able to help themselves, and good old fashioned hard work and “stick-to-it-ness.” Today, we make sure to keep these values alive in all we do.
You have a deep history of working to enact change in the education space – tell us a bit about your journey to where you are now!
I’m fortunate that I had two parents who believed in the importance of education and giving back to the community – particularly my mother. This all became very real for me in the 6th grade when my parents received a call from the principal in my school explaining that “young Jonny wasn’t reading at grade level, perhaps he had a learning disability, and we want to send him back to 5th grade.” Thank goodness my mother was skeptical and decided to have me tested by an expert. After two days of testing – the two best learning days of my life – he shared “there’s nothing wrong with this kid except that’s he’s bored. He needs to be challenged and pushed.” Sound familiar?
Luckily for me I moved to a new school where I met my first great teacher, Mr. Harry Boyadjian, who turned the “light bulb of learning” on for me. I’ve never looked back since then. I’m grateful that I’ve found my calling as an educator. Being impatient and loving a challenge, reimagining public education is the perfect place for me to give back.
How has your past experience informed how you approach your role as President of the Stuart Foundation?
One of the best things I bring to my role at the Stuart Foundation is my practical experience running a complex urban school district. I’m a bit of a novelty (some might say maverick) in the philanthropy world. I like to think this helps to keep the work of the Foundation grounded in the realities and urgencies facing children in public education.
One of your goals as President of the Stuart Foundation is to hold schools to a higher standard, and you’ve had real results! How do you come up with and implement innovative programs to help better the schools you work with?
It all starts with children. When you put children at the center of the work and think about what is best for them, and engage and empower and hold them to high expectations, lots of solutions and natural partnerships begin to emerge. Sometimes we have to be patient, but it all starts with having an unyielding belief in the unlimited potential of all children. In other words, you have to believe it BEFORE you see it.
Your collaboration with FableVision on Wildflowers has been multifaceted, from an animated trailer, to a website, to customized marketing collateral – what has the process of working with the FableVision and The Forum for Youth Investment teams been like?
We all just clicked. It’s like we had this special connection that drew us together around the urgency of finding a better way to educate children. We trusted each other and our ideas. We started with a vision of what this partnership could be and from there we gathered energy and momentum. I know I sound like a broken record, but it’s true. It starts with belief. Like Michelangelo said, “I saw an angel in the rock and craved to set it free.” From Paul and Peter and Karen and our respective teams, we are all connected and united around creating a better way to educate children. When you have something that grounds your work – that is so foundational and fundamental – you feel anchored. Whole Child. Whole Family. Whole Community. What could be more timely and important?
How do you think we can build schools that are capable of giving kids the kind of cultures and climates that support their voice, presence, and learning interests?
This isn’t so complicated. Start by believing in children and giving them a voice and presence. Start asking them what they are interested in and genuinely listen. Start expecting more from our kids and believing they are capable, competent, and responsible. We get great things from kids when we push and pull. It’s amazing what’s possible when we begin forging trusting relationships between adults and children.
What are your hopes for the future of the American education system?Imagine what might happen if we developed more empathy? That we start every public conversation about education with the traditional Maasai Warrior greeting of “how are the children?” We then move to a recognition that they are all our children. As a community of educators, policy makers, community and civic leaders, parents and concerned citizens, we must put aside the “I’m right and you’re wrong,” “my way or the highway,” the either/or rhetoric, and realize that preparing our children to thrive in college, career and community requires a both/and approach. It’s only by working together and making education the priority it needs to be in terms of leadership, resources, and attention that we can hope to achieve the answer to the traditional Maasai Warrior greeting: “All the children are well.”
Boston sports team: The SOX!
Place to eat in San Francisco: The House. A tiny Asian/Fusion spot, nestled among Italian eateries off of Columbus Ave, in North Beach. Yummy good!
School subject: Byzantine History (loved my professor!)
Fictional school: North Star Academy
Book to read with your kids: Goodnight Moon
Peter H. Reynolds book: The Dot – here’s to making your mark!
Wildflowers exemplifies the importance of tending each child’s unique needs. This book was written to spark conversations and inspire thoughts and ideas on how to educate and develop our children in ways that return them to the center of the learning process, with unwavering belief in and expectations for their success, and an unyielding commitment to give each child what he or she needs.
Coming soon in spring 2018!
I’m interested in intersections – those moments in a classroom where different topic areas and skillsets meet to create magical learning experiences for students.
My favorite aspect of Vital Signs, the latest interactive game from Classroom, Inc. and FableVision Studios in the Read to Lead series, is that gameplay takes place at the intersection of a crazy-cool variety of educational topics, from literacy skills to leadership – and somehow manages to remain fun and engaging at the same time.
Students have big shoes to fill when they step into the world of Vital Signs. Playing as the medical director of a bustling community clinic in fictional Port Douglas, students must work with clinic staff and patients to make decisions and solve the thorny problems that present themselves each episode. From the exam room to the counseling office, behind each clinic door there waits a challenge that will strengthen students’ learning. Researching and summarizing the symptoms of a patient’s anxiety requires reading comprehension and writing skills, while choosing the right treatment course pushes students to flex their decision-making muscles.
The award-winning Read to Lead series is a great way for students to build literacy competency in a dynamic and engaging context – but Classroom, Inc. knows that there’s no reason why students can’t also work on higher-level critical reasoning and decision-making skills at the same time. This interdisciplinary philosophy is exemplified in Classroom, Inc.’s blended learning model, which combines scaffolded literacy skills with collaborative project-based activities to create unique learning experiences that transcend the traditional English lesson.
Ben Robinson, Vice President of Digital Strategy at Classroom, Inc., explains that “our approach to game-based learning is multi-faceted – we help students succeed by creating games that emphasize a range of subjects and skills, from literacy, teamwork, and decision-making to leadership in a professional work environment.”
In some school models, opportunities to practice critical thinking and ethical decision making skills, like the ones provided in Vital Signs, are usually reserved for enrichment classrooms – to which only certain students have access. Vital Signs, and the rest of the Read to Lead series, can provide support to any classroom teacher looking to provide an interdisciplinary experience to all students, not just the ones on the advanced track.
Looking to learn about the world of Vital Signs for yourself?
April FableFriday: Billy Spitzer, Vice President for Programs, Exhibits, and Planning at the New England Aquarium
Join the rush of school groups and families, and step inside the New England Aquarium’s dark, glowing space. The splash of penguins and harbor seals is the immediate draw. Every year, more than 1.3 million patrons wind their way up the central spiral walkway that loops around the Aquarium’s famous Giant Ocean Tank that spans several stories high. The magic in every tank stems from a carefully mapped experience that helps visitors understand the beauty and complexity of marine habitats. Behind all the digital interactives, touch tanks, and sensory exhibits is an incredible team of scientists, conservationists, educators, students – and Billy Spitzer, Vice President of Programs, Exhibits, and Planning.
FableVision’s first collaboration with the New England Aquarium was on an interactive iPad app that helped Aquarium staffers explore biomimicry with small groups and discuss the examples presented in the program. The Aquarium sought to spark a conversation among visitors about climate change and caring for the environment. Following the success of this project, FableVision was tasked with designing a fish identification app exclusively for the Giant Ocean Tank. The app currently lives inside the Aquarium where it combines digital technology with the real life experience of peering into a tank full of hundreds of unique animals.
Inspiring greater understanding and appreciation for the ocean is the heart of the Aquarium’s mission at the aquarium – one that reverberates throughout the city. Billy’s vision for the Aquarium is one that ignites special, shared memories. He sees the Aquarium as “an important civic space, where people come down to the water’s edge to explore together, engage with the ocean world, learn how and why the oceans matter, and come away ready to learn more and do more.”
Dive into the ocean of creativity, wonder, and constant learning that Billy works in every day and learn about his process for designing exhibits, engaging the community – and his favorite travel spots!
Tell us more about your role as Vice President for Programs, Exhibits, and Planning at the New England Aquarium!
My role at the New England Aquarium is to think about how our mission intersects with the public – through our exhibits, visitor experience, educations programs, volunteer opportunities, and advocacy.
You spent seven years working in professional development for science teachers with our friends at TERC in Cambridge! How does this experience working with teachers impact and influence your current education work with the Aquarium?
While I was at TERC, I was really immersed in thinking about learning and how best to help facilitate that process, both in school and outside of school. I realized how many challenges teachers face in a classroom setting, including professional isolation – especially for science teachers. Back in the early days before there was a real internet, we began to build a professional development network for science teachers.
At the New England Aquarium, I have taken a lot of what we learned from that work and am applying it to building networks of informal science educators at aquariums, zoos, and museums across the country.
The Aquarium teamed up with FableVision Studios to create a fish identification app for the renovated Giant Ocean Tank! Can you tell us more about the collaborative process that led to this project?
When we renovated our Giant Ocean Tank several years ago, we were looking for a new way to help visitors identify the 100+ different species in the exhibit. We wanted to help visitors identify fish the way our staff do: by looking at key features such as overall shape and size, tail shape, color and pattern, etc. We also wanted to make it easy and fun, while giving visitors an opportunity to learn more about what they are looking at. So, we started with a paper version of fish ID, and began to test it out with staff and some visitors.
The next challenge was how to turn this idea into a fully functional, easy to use, and reliable interactive for visitors. We thought that FableVision would be just the right partner for this, and they really helped us strike the right balance of science, learning, and engagement. The FableVision staff was so jazzed about the project and helped us come up with a great iPad app, which has been really successful. It is very easy to use, and is packed with opportunities to learn. For example, one day I was looking at a black and white striped fish that I thought I knew, but using the app I found out that there were two other species that looked almost the same.
How do educational technologies play a role in enhancing learning at the Aquarium?
We have been talking a lot recently about how we want to integrate technology into the Aquarium visitor experience. While people are here, we want them to be able to focus on interacting with the animals, with our staff, and with each other. Technology should facilitate that, rather than get in the way.
How do you plan new exhibits and find new ways to engage the public?
We usually start planning exhibits with a goal in mind, and then work to develop a design. For example, a couple of years ago we wanted to find a way to help visitors understand more about sharks and the research and conservation work we do here to learn about and protect them. That led us to develop the Science of Sharks exhibit, which uses a combination of live animal exhibits, interactive exhibits, and immersive video to help visitors learn more about the diversity, life cycle, and adaptations of some of the 500+ species of sharks – 80% of which only grow to a size of four feet or less, and many of which are threatened by overfishing or are caught accidentally.
In 2014, you were recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change for inspiring the Next Generation of Environmental Conservationists! Tell us more about the important work you do with the museum to raise awareness about climate change.
About 10 years ago, we realized that climate change was the biggest issue facing the oceans (and the planet), yet no one was talking about it much in aquariums, zoos, and museums. We set about to change that with a series of projects that pulled together climate science research with social science research on effective communication to create new tools for public engagement, a training program for informal educators, and a national support network. We have now built the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI, pronounced like the pasta) which involves more than 170 aquariums, zoos, and science/nature centers in 38 states. We have been able to increase public understanding of climate change and engagement in civic climate action, and inspire hope in how we are addressing climate challenges
The New England Aquarium has been a classic Boston cultural institution since 1969, and you’ve had a hand in its educational programming for 20 years! What are some cool new things the Aquarium is working on?
We recently finished some work on exhibit master planning, looking at how the visitor experience will evolve over the next 5-10 years. We are focusing a lot on how we can reduce barriers to visitors having rich, immersive, and social experiences while they are at the Aquarium. This includes making it easier for visitors to get oriented, navigate their way through their experience, and get more engaged through interactions with staff and exhibits. As a result, we hope that visitors will leave more inspired, informed, and mobilized to help the oceans. We are excited about new techniques to exhibit live animals, new opportunities to allow people to learn at their own pace, and new ways to use technology that complement the live, social experience that the Aquarium excels at. We see the Aquarium as an important civic space, where people come down to the water’s edge to explore together, engage with the ocean world, learn how and why the oceans matter, and come away ready to learn more and do more. Nearly 80% of our visitors leave wanting to increase what they do to help the oceans.
The city of Boston has made recent efforts to “go green” with expanded bike lanes, shared bikes services, and water taxis. What are some ways you like to take part in environmentalism in Boston beyond the Aquarium?
I have been really inspired by Boston’s transformation from a car-oriented city to being much more friendly to bikes and multi-modal, environmentally-friendly transportation. I am a regular bike commuter from the suburbs (and commuter rail rider in the dead of winter), and a daily beneficiary of the Greenway and Harborwalk. We are so lucky to have these assets.
We hear that you spent your college years as a whitewater raft guide in the Smoky Mountains – have you made it back to the river since then?
A few years ago, after having not paddled much whitewater for a number of years, I did a week of whitewater kayaking in Nepal. It was really cool paddling on these rivers flowing out of the Himalayas, and also getting to interact with people living in these wild river valleys. But these days I am mostly paddling flatwater on the Charles River, which is so accessible, peaceful, and full of local wildlife.
More about Billy!
What is your favorite exhibit in the Aquarium?
One of my favorites is the shark and ray touch tank first thing in the morning, it is peaceful, quiet, and you feel like you are on a tropical island.
Your favorite museum or informal learning space in Boston?
The courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in the middle of winter – it is an oasis of beauty and art.
What’s your sea creature spirit animal?
I think I may be a harbor seal at heart – curious, playful, and not afraid of cold water!
Are there any upcoming travel destinations for you and your family?
Last summer, we took the family trekking through small villages in France with a donkey named Lulu. That trip is going to be hard to beat. This year, I’m hoping to:
Naomi: that was Rosie the Riveter’s name. Back in January of this year, Naomi Parker Fraley, the real-life model for the feminist icon Rosie the Riveter, died at the age of 96. Naomi was one of the many young women who proudly stepped up to help her community and country by working in a factory during World War II. As Rosie, Naomi was immortalized as a symbol of women’s strength and dedication, and in March of every year, we have the exciting opportunity to honor that strength by celebrating National Women’s History Month together.
The push for the creation of celebrating National Women’s History Month in March was driven by the National Women’s History Project, an activist group dedicated to the noble mission of “writing women back into history.” They saw success in 1987, when Congress first designated March as National Women’s History Month. Every year since, March has been dedicated to honoring and celebrating the many achievements of American women and their contributions to our rich national history.
Each year, the National Women’s History Project chooses a theme for the history month. This year, they have chosen to honor the courageous women from all walks of life who have worked to dismantle cultural, structural, and legal discrimination by naming this month Nevertheless She Persisted: Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
As a team dedicated to moving the world to a better place, FableVision is celebrating Women’s History Month by spotlighting passionate, powerful women who have helped change our world and our history for the better. We’ve asked each of the creative and driven FableLadies to tell us about the “she-ro” they most admire, and the result is a diverse group of inspiring ladies that we’re so excited to share with you.
Our campaign honoring and spotlighting influential women in our lives is dedicated to both Naomi and Rosie, who have inspired generations of women and girls since World War II . As we read about Women’s History Month and the history of Rosie the Riveter, we realize: there were multiple Rosies and we are all Rosie. The spirit of Rosie and Naomi lives on in all of us.
Sarah Ditkoff (Communication's Director): Amelia Earhart
Amelia embodies so many things that I strive to embody: feminist, adventurer, entrepreneurially spirited, fearless, creative. She mentored, wrote, advocated, and broke countless barriers. She worked as a newspaper columnist, fashion designer, social worker, sales rep, English teacher, and nurse’s aid. She played the banjo and took an auto mechanics class. Ultimately, I have always viewed her as a woman who worked her butt off and didn’t take the word “no” too seriously. She is the epitome of every person’s path being her own -- there is no one way to success.
Leigh Hallisey (Creative Director): Tina Fey
Tina Fey is my Bae. I especially loved watching her on 30 Rock as Liz Lemon, the head writer of the TGIF show dealing with a “boy’s club” in the writing room and a super alpha male boss. She was the first female head writer on SNL, and while 30 Rock reflected some of that experience, my guess is in reality it was a lot uglier. I’m thankful that she bravely broke down some of those barriers with humor that is sharp and funny in universally human, not just female, ways. Today we are seeing more women creators in TV and film, which is really our best hope of seeing ourselves represented on screen in diverse, complex, and empowering ways. I love that Tina Fey makes being smart a good thing, not something to hide, and appreciate her honesty about the difficulties of being a working mom. She elevates and celebrates female friendships, on screen and in real life—-I’m hard pressed to find women my age who don’t aspire to have a “Tina and Amy” friendship in their lives.
Sam Bissonnette (Producer): Shonda Rhimes
Shonda Rhimes has been one of my professional idols since college. Whether or not you’re a fan of Grey’s Anatomy (*raises hand*) or Scandal, you can’t deny the impact she’s had on the television industry. She was one of the first showrunners and creators in primetime drama that made racial diversity and diverse stories a priority (however idealized they may be). And because of that, she made the path clearer for more creators of color and women in a white, male-dominated industry. On top of that, she uses her influence to empower those who work for her, like actress Ellen Pompeo. She is a creative genius who never takes off her white hat, as well as an independent introvert who’s always challenging herself, personally and professionally.
Christina Kelly (Production Designer): Rebecca Sugar
My She-Ro of choice is Rebecca Sugar, creator of the animated tv show Steven Universe! I find that the people and women that inspire me most are the ones that are an emblem of what is achievable that used to feel out of reach in their career. Female creators in the animation world are still rare, even though the majority of students graduating with an animation degree still continues to be a vast majority of women. She gives me a lot of hope that not only can women have more of a place in the animation world, but that they can create a beloved universe that gathers fans all over the world and inspires future young female storytellers.
Hannah O'Neal (Artist & Animator): Boudica
One of my heroes is a woman from ancient Britain known as Boudica. I’ve always had a tremendous interest in ancient Celtic/Gaul/ “pagan” tribes and culture. I’ve always thought of it as a way to culturally go as far back as I could within my own heritage. Of the other ancient legends and historical figures of the age most, if not all, are men. But not Boudica. She was a warrior queen of the Iceni tribe in eastern England. After an awful encounter with the Roman occupation, Boudica decided to lead her people in revolt and to throw the Romans out of Britain around 60AD. And she almost succeeded! It is so inspiring to hear of this account of a Celtic woman, bringing tribes of people together, being as smart, ruthless, and strong as any military leader of the day! She was standing against the might of the Roman Empire, THE patriarchy….it’s an amazing story of human and female strength.
Mitul Daiyan (Communications Strategist): Andrea Davis Pinkney
When I first stepped foot on my career journey, I was fortunate enough to turn to Andrea as my mentor and support. She helped pave the way to my entry into Scholastic and provided mentorship and advice that I still stand by. She is powerful and mighty, packaged into a small frame. Her voice emanates both authority and kindness. I look up to her for being a trailblazer in the kidlit industry, a down to earth human being, and an all-around female powerhouse.
Mikaela Johnson (Associate Producer): Amy Poehler
She’s a hilarious actress, brilliant writer and inspiring philanthropist whose organization, Smart Girls, tells girls, “change the world by being yourself.” Plus, Leslie Knope is my favorite tv character of all time.
Loren Lee-Flynn (UX/UI Designer): Mary Roach
Popular science writer/reporter Mary Roach’s books tackle the science surrounding a wide range of subjects (death, space exploration, the military) in a relatable, humorous, and informative way. She chooses subjects for books based on her own curiosity and is known for conducting exhaustive research.
Here's a quote: "Make no mistake, good science writing is medicine. It is a cure for ignorance and fallacy. Good science writing peels away the blindness, generates wonder, and brings the open palm to the forehead: 'Oh! Now I get it!'"
Margarita Dekoli (Senior Developer): Megan Smith
Megan Smith, former United States Chief Technology Officer (CTO) in the Office of Science and Technology Policy under the Obama administration and the first woman to hold this position.
Megan Smith, former Vice President at Google, was the first woman to be named United States Chief Technology Officer, under the Obama administration. Nowadays, Smith is traveling the country as leader of the Tech Jobs Tour, which aims to both welcome individuals from diverse backgrounds into the often-exclusive, male-dominated world of tech, and to engage in conversations about the role technology will play in our future.
Andrea Calvin (Vice President of FableVision Learning): Sally Goodrich
There are two women in my life that have shaped the woman I am today - Sally Goodrich is one of those women. My path intersected with Sally in 2006-ish because of a documentary my then boyfriend, now husband was working on. Don and Sally Goodrich lost their son in the attacks on 9/11. The documentary was chronicling their building of a girls school in Afghanistan and the support of Afghan students to study in the U.S. During the filming of the doc, I had a chance to spend weekends, Thanksgivings, and just moments with Sally. Her strength, compassion, and drive empowered me through the hardest time of my adult life thus far. She was a woman who truly worked to do good when it all seemed impossible.
Allie Caton (Marketing Intern): Janelle Monáe
Janelle Monáe fully embodies what it means to use art for a greater purpose. Through her music, she created an intricately built world full of androids, clones, time-travelling rebels, and killer beats. Wrapped up into her three albums is a sci-fi story of oppression, romance, and liberation that insights vibrant visuals despite being just (insanely dance-worthy) music. Her albums are so much more than just one bop after another; the story that she tells is a reflection of the real life experiences of marginalized people. Her musical novel has taught me so much about experiences outside my own, especially those of people of color. Her tireless dedication to her story and the values that her musical novel embodies is endlessly inspiring. On top of all this, she rocks a tux like no one I've ever seen before.
Claire Nataro (Marketing Intern): Tobin Heath
Growing up with an older brother, I watched a lot of sports as a child. Although I enjoyed the (many) hours I spent watching hockey and baseball with him, I never really idolized the teams or players in the same way he did – until I discovered the US National Women’s Soccer team when I was in high school. I was thrilled to explore a whole new world of sports, one with talented and strong female athletes that I could connect with and look up to in way I never could with my brother’s favorite players on the men’s teams. For my she-ro this month I chose Tobin Heath, a midfielder for the USWNT and my favorite player in the world of women’s soccer. Heath serves as a representative of my love and respect for this team of women, and my belief in their power to spark conversations about gender equality and inspire girls and women to break down gender barriers both on and off the field.
This post was written by Claire Nataro. Illustrations provided by Allie Caton.