The First Step

P.S.1's changing course leaves some people wondering what direction the charter school is taking.

"I think it's dehumanizing, and it gives you license to think your actions aren't meaningful," says Huggins, who paid almost half the course fee while P.S.1 covered the rest. "I just don't think it's right for a public school to be sending teachers to Landmark. Maybe it would be okay if teachers had the same opportunity to go on Outward Bound or to some other professional development program, but I wasn't given any other option."

Huggins has since turned in her resignation; she'll leave P.S.1 at the end of the school year.

But Jennifer Ruskey, another teacher to whom Myers suggested the Forum, liked it so much that she's still involved with Landmark. "I went to Steve at the beginning of the year because I was frustrated with a lot of things, and he said that it was something he did that was valuable. I was ready for something clear and helpful, and, oh, man, it's been the most helpful thing. I got a sense of not having to hold on to old grudges and old pain and to be really present with what's happening in the moment. It's been an unbelievable relief," Ruskey says.

Elizabeth Burrows, the school's counselor, also went to the Forum. When she told CYAR's Norvelle that she wanted to mentor a Steps Ahead student, Norvelle suggested that Landmark could help her be a better mentor. Burrows says she didn't get much out of the Forum that she didn't already know and that she didn't like the pressure they put on her to bring in more people. Although she saw a lot of similarities between the Forum and the Steps Ahead launch course, she says the two aren't synonymous; only the good aspects of Landmark -- "the emphasis on your potentiality, what's limiting you and how the past affects the present" -- are used in the program, she says.

Burrows, who has a master's degree in clinical sociology, was the one who interviewed the kids before they joined Steps Ahead, and she attended the retreats as a therapist. In her professional opinion, she says, the program is perfectly legitimate.

Myers says the Forum fits in with the school's mission. "We teach our students to be self-aware because we believe they can learn more if they're self-aware, so the same applies to teachers: They can teach better if they're self-aware."

Executive director Brown, who says he's never attended a Landmark seminar and didn't have time to go on either Steps Ahead retreat, agrees. "The question was, should teachers go to something like this? Our answer was unequivocally yes. Schools send teachers to diversity training. Well, our school is a relationship- oriented school," he explains.

Myers and Brown have no qualms about helping teachers pay for the Forum, either. The approximately $600 they spent to send three employees to the seminars came from a Rose Community Foundation grant for professional development. While P.S.1's grant proposal didn't specify that some of the funds would be spent on Landmark, it did say that P.S.1 aims to help teachers by "embedding transformative and innovative teaching in a 'learning community' framework of unconventional approaches."

The connections to Landmark -- past or present -- trouble Linda Reilly and some parents and students who asked to remain anonymous. They're worried that all P.S.1 students will eventually become part of Steps Ahead; another 25 kids attended the second retreat at the end of March, and if the program continues next year, even more students will be "recruited" for it, they say.

After she realized that she was among only a handful of people who had concerns about Steps Ahead, Reilly began to understand that the school was heading in a different direction -- one she couldn't support.

"Steve Myers has a much different mission and focus in mind; he has a different opinion of what community is and a much different way to get there; the city as a campus is not his thing," she says. "I knew when he came here that he'd bring some changes, and I knew I needed to let him make those changes."

That's something that Brown understands. "The core value of P.S.1 from the very beginning has been to grow and change and learn," he says. "It's not unusual for a charter school to evolve, and it's not unusual for people who were involved in the beginning to no longer feel in control. Although the school has grown and changed, the values haven't. I'm the primary architect of the school; I should know. Is it a little dangerous? Is it a little risky? Yeah, but we're trying to help kids, and to do that, we have to take risks."


Brown was working for the Education Commission of the United States when he got the idea for P.S.1. In 1991, he and his wife bought an old factory on the outskirts of LoDo when the area was still dominated by abandoned warehouses. A couple of years into his renovation project, Brown was discussing downtown revitalization plans with Denver architect David Tryba late into the night. Together they came up with the idea of opening an urban learning center.

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