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Q&A: Lisa Willis

Vice presieducational programs for Bridges U.S.A.

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At a time when it's hard to hear a good word about the state of education in Memphis, Lisa Willis, Bridges U.S.A.'s vice president of educational programs, is flying in the face of convention. "There are more and more good options for students," she says, offering charter and Catholic Jubilee Schools as examples. "The community is really stepping up to create these options." If everything goes as planned, Bridges U.S.A. will team with the Memphis City Schools to open a 50-student school in Uptown, dedicated to non-traditional learning models, in the fall of 2006.

-- by Chris Davis

Flyer: You'll be putting together a mission statement soon. Can you give us some sense of the school's mission?

Willis: We will be looking at leadership and social reform. We want our students to be both active citizens and active learners.

With obvious exceptions, the traditional learning model in American public schools is pretty much one-size-fits-adent of ll. How is your school different?

To credit the school district, [even bigger public schools] are creating smaller learning environments. Hamilton High School, for example, is about to become five smaller schools in one. [At Bridges], we want to create a community school where [the students] have a voice in how they gain critical skills. The students will know the standards [required by the city, state, and federal governments], and [they] will have a voice in how to gain these critical skills. [Students] will be in charge of developing a plan with teachers as the facilitators.

How will learning be different?

At Bridges, we focus a lot on doing the extraordinary ... [and] vigorous, hands-on service learning. We'll build skills through the curriculum, and then the students give these skills away [through service to the community].

You're only accepting 50 students. How do you determine who gets in?

I don't know. ... It's going to be challenging. We do know that we want a range of diversity and experience.

Bridges received a $100,000 grant through a foundation funded by Bill Gates. That doesn't seem like enough to open a school.

The $100,000 is to support us during the planning year. The school will need to develop additional resources.

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