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Barry Sommer is a Licensed Educational Psychologist, a Marriage and Family Therapist, and an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University. He recently retired as the Director of Advancement at Lindsay Unified School District where he was responsible for Lindsay Leads which was the CyberSchool reimagining learning at Lindsay Unified. Currently, Barry and Kelley Layton are consultants advancing Lindsay Leads and supporting districts outside of LUSD through visitations, training, coaching, and publications.
I am a native New Yorker, born in the Bronx. I have an older sister where I learned to live in small spaces with lots of women. I have two daughters and two granddaughters. I went to the Bronx High School that was a magnet HS of science where I learned how to learn. Then I went to Cornell University in upstate NY where I planned on being an architect.
When I was 15, I had a summer experience working at Camp Limelight in the Catskill mountains for disabled children that changed my life. I discovered that working with people was infinitely more rewarding than inking drawings. I ended up working at the camp for 10 summers and eventually became the director of the camp. I learned a lot about leadership from some gifted people at Camp Limelight and decided to change my major to human development, family studies, and psychology. I went back to New York City and got a graduate degree in Education and Psychology. I got licensed as a school psychologist certified as an Educational Psychologist, then licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist. I met my wife, Donna, who was studying special education at Buffalo State University and was a counselor at the camp when I was her boss. We decided to move to California. We’ve been married almost 42 years and now we have 2 daughters and 2 granddaughters, 8 and 5 years old who live in Portland, Oregon. I started a practice and working in schools, now over 41 years. In the last 10 years, I’ve had the opportunity to do some teaching at the graduate level both locally and at Columbia University.
Barry mentioned the Netflix movie, Crip Camp which was similar to Camp Limelight but was about efforts to bring equity to people with physical disabilities and the American Disability Act. I saw it and highly recommend watching it.
What was it like for you growing up and as a student in the Bronx
Growing up in the Bronx was a real advantage to learning how to get along with people really well. I went to public schools and that was challenging at times. It was during the time of experiments called “skipping” based on a test they gave you when you were a kindergartener, you could move through the system quickly. So I skipped third grade which was a handicap because I never learned cursive writing and didn’t get introduced to multiplication and division until I was older. I did 7th and 8th grade in one year. I was very young when I started high school. Competing athletically was impossible because I didn’t even weigh 100 pounds and was 5 feet tall. I did have a keen interest in music and developed a good connection with others. Graduating right before my 17th birthday, I was able to eventually start my career at a very young age. School wasn’t personalized in any way for me and was very different from what I wanted for my children’s experience.
Your journey as an Educational Psychologist and Therapist
As a junior at Cornell University, I had the opportunity to be a Saturday group leader with a group of school psychologists for young boys who were emotionally disturbed and have behavioral problems. My camp experience put me in a favorable position to get the position. Every Saturday I witnessed how excited the school psychologists were about what they do. They are making a difference in the world and they have summers off. So I became a school psychologist, Educational Psychologist, and helping families with children with disabilities led me to a marriage and family therapist that I still do 2 days a week in my own practice that I have done for 40 years.
Teaching Conflict Resolution during the pandemic
For the past eleven years, I have been teaching at Columbia University international graduate students who are getting a degree in Peace-Making and Conflict Resolution. I teach a class called Intrapersonal Dynamics and Conflict. My students have seen the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to practice conflict resolution. Clearly, it is bringing up some significant conflicts. Now that we are in our homes without structure, routines, comforts, and maybe over-eating, over-drinking, and over-drugging, there are big concerns for families. Kids are social beings. Teenagers who lost their graduations and proms and so many things they looked forward to are feeling remarkable stress. Families are dynamic systems. If one person is feeling stress, it’s going to be evident to everyone. All of us are worried. Health is a giant concern so people are very anxious. Now it’s about community and a transformation about a very different way of being. I have been lucky to be connected to gifted leaders and people who are supportive.
[Check out this article: Learning and Loving are Not Cancelled at Lindsay Unified Anywhere/Anytime Learning — Lindsay Unified School District’s response to COVID-19]
Lindsay Unified School District Re-Invented
Lindsay USD is in the Central Valley of California. It was in real deep pain about twelve years ago because we had poor achievement, bad attendance, and contributing to gang affiliation, high dropout rates, teen pregnancies, etc. We realized that what we were doing was obviously not working and decided to re-invent education in Lindsay. We started with a year study inviting parents to respond to what they want for their kids. We asked questions such as:tt
- Why do we exist?
- How are we going to work together?
- What do we believe about learning?
- What are our core principles?
- What should a graduate look like when they leave our system?
When we reviewed the responses from the community, we established the Lindsay Unified Strategic Design that has been adopted as our blueprint for the last 12 years. These include the Core Values, Beliefs, and Guiding Principles. We are making steady progress every year.
Education Reimagined article Lindsay USD asking What ifs?
Digital Promise article Lindsay USD – Inviting Stakeholders to the Table
Check out Beyond Reform: Systemic Shifts Toward Personalized Learning written by Lindsay Unified School District that included Barry
Home Learning opportunities were initiated in 2009 and now every one of the 4200 learners in the district can tell you what and why they are learning. All learning is 24/7 for all learners and has connectivity and devices at home. Listen for more information about Lindsay USD being the service provider providing wifi and broadband for the entire city of Lindsay starting a 25:00 in the podcast.
Lindsay Leads is needed now more than ever
Being able to connect with people during this pandemic is a moral imperative. It is essential that every learner is known, seen, and heard. Lindsay Leads was organized in 2016 when the district was inundated with visitors. Most of our partnerships are outside of California in states around the U.S. When the need grew beyond our capacity, we received support from the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative to organize a team of learners, classified staff, administrators, learning facilitators (what we call our teachers), parents, and board members to help people develop their models. Before the pandemic, we would take teams including learners to districts to develop their model on-site. Learners were paid and received credit plus they continued corresponding as virtual penpals as good ambassadors and be good consultants.
Barry Sommer recently retired as the Director of Advancement at Lindsay Unified School District responsible for grant writing, partnership development, scaling PBS, publications, communications, and leadership development. He continues to be a Licensed Educational Psychologist, Marriage and Family Therapist, and an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University. Barry with Kelley Layton continues to advance Lindsay Leads and support districts outside of LUSD through visitations, training, coaching, and publications.
Follow Lindsay Leads on Twitter @LindsayLeads
Co-Director of Lindsay Leads, Kelley Layton
For all of the Rethinking Learning podcasts and reflections with Barbara Bray, click on the podcast tab at the top, the logo below, or go to https://barbarabray.net/podcasts/
Go to this page for resources, questions, and more information about Barbara’s new book, Define Your WHY.
Where was Camp Limelightin the Catskills?