Favorite ice cream flavor: Chocolate!
Favorite type of food: Mexican
Favorite card game: Bridge
Favorite vacation spot: Lake District (England)
Favorite book: Conversations in a Cathedral, Mario Vargas Llosa
Favorite movie: The Departed
Favorite slice of pizza in NYC: Grimaldi’s (Brooklyn)
Favorite mode of transportation: Long train rides
Favorite news source: NY Times
Favorite band: The Band
Favorite animal: Dogs (I live with three!)
Favorite guilty pleasure: Decadent Sunday brunches
Teri: What attracted you to Portfolio School specifically?
Lorenzo: Walking into Portfolio is a joyful and positive experience. I am inspired by how clearly and strongly the school is committed to finding truly effective ways for students to learn and develop creativity, ingenuity, and critically important skills. The school’s emphasis on project-based learning, integrated curriculum, collaboration, and a growth mindset are exceptional and exciting. When I was interviewing for the Head of School position, a student asked me whether I was interested in programming, and I replied that I wasn’t very good at it. He told me that I am good at it, but I am just not trying hard enough. Wow, talk about a growth mindset!
T: At Portfolio, the teachers talk with the students about having a Growth Mindset and learning from your mistakes or from challenges. Can you give us an example or two of things you’ve learned from working at different schools that you believe have helped you to grow as an educator and administrator?
L: I am a strong proponent of a growth mindset for everyone in a school. I think learning from experience - successes and setbacks is really important. Two particularly important things I have learned are: to listen very closely and be open to what you are hearing from students, parents, and faculty; and to be as transparent as possible in making and communicating decisions as a leader. Early in my time at Calhoun, I tried to make changes to the schedule too quickly. I hadn’t spent enough time talking with students and teachers to understand their perspectives and ideas. So it was not surprising that the early changes we made were not especially effective or useful! We then took another look at the schedule in a more holistic way, This time, we made sure to survey everyone first, so that we were able to implement changes to the schedule that made it more organized, gave students ample time for independent work, and allowed for more student-teacher collaboration.
T: How did you get into education to begin with? What inspired you?
L: I was raised in a family that valued education, and that also valued actively engaging with the world. While my parents weren’t educators, they cared deeply about making sure that I was involved in school, and that I wanted to learn.
When I was in college, I worked as a teacher for a summer at the Summerbridge program at my high school in San Francisco (SF University High School), and it was a transformative experience for me. Summerbridge is a year-long academic enrichment program for disadvantaged middle school students. I taught Humanities. I particularly enjoyed teaching literature that summer, both because it gave me an opportunity to share my passion, and it allowed me to hear my students’ perspectives and ideas. When a student asked a question that I hadn’t thought of, or presented a point of view that was different from mine, it made me think differently and more openly.
T: What did you enjoy most about teaching? What are you most proud of during those years?
L: I love teaching and I have taught every year that I have been in schools. The excitement of sharing a learning space with students - to hear their ideas, opinions, and interests, and to be part of their successes, failures, and growth, is an amazing privilege. At Fieldston and Calhoun, I created and taught courses that focused on immigration, urban studies, and current events. Nothing is better than going out into the city with students, to explore neighborhoods, ask questions, do on-site research, and then find ways to present and reflect on what we’ve learned.
T: As you moved into administrative roles, did you naturally gravitate towards progressive schools? Why?
L: My own schooling was quite traditional, which might be why I did gravitate towards progressive schools. To me, progressive schools are joyous, connected and engaging. They give students opportunities to help run the school, and they promote hands-on activities like constructing models of cells and leading walking tours in the city. They support students in following their passions, and they teach students not only how to learn, but how to reflect on their learning.
T: What do you think is the opportunity for Portfolio school?
L: I believe that Portfolio has a unique opportunity to serve students in ways that are genuinely effective and that matter. I think the school has an opportunity to be challenging, relevant, joyful and engaging at every level - early childhood, lower, middle and high school. I hope that Portfolio can serve as a model for other schools and that it can be a leader in innovative education.
T: What do you see as your role in making that happen?
L: My role is to lead by serving Portfolio’s constituencies - students, staff, and parents so that everyone has a voice and everyone can realize their full potential. I see my leadership as a way to engage the Portfolio community, as well as the wider community, in a process that allows us to build a K-12 school that is truly student-centered, innovative, and engaging. I want to support students in having authentic agency and responsibility, so they can be creative, generative, and positive citizens of the world.
T: Do you think we as a society we will move away from such a big emphasis on standardized tests as a way of judging outcomes for our kids? If so, how do you think children should be evaluated?
L: I see many schools moving away from standardized tests and more traditional assessments, and I think that this is an acknowledgment that students need to participate in developing and determining how they are assessed. I think that portfolio assessment - which allows students to build portfolios of their work and then gives them opportunities to demonstrate their mastery of material, is the most effective and real way to assess and evaluate skills and knowledge.
T: It’s so challenging as a parent to know what type of education is right for your child and how to make the right decisions for the future. What is your advice to parents?
L: My advice is to listen closely to your children and to really take the time to know how they learn most effectively, what interests them, and what kind of learning allows them to be happy and engaged. I don’t think there is a “one-size fits all” model, but I do think that personalized, open, and relevant learning and teaching is really powerful, and I believe that students learn best when they are treated with respect and care.
T: What do you like to do when you are not at school?
L: I love spending time outdoors, rambling and hiking in the woods. I have three dogs and they are the best! I am teaching myself how to play the Irish pipes, and I am an amateur poet. I love traveling with my wife Laura Clark, who is a visual artist as well as Director of the College Office at Fieldston. We spend a lot of time in Maine.