by John Larmer
Editor in Chief
The good ship BIE has grown quite a bit lately – from a skiff to, say, a schooner – and since July 1 we have a new captain, Bob Lenz. Our former Executive Director of 15 years, John Mergendoller, decided to retire from active duty but will still be doing special projects with us as Senior Fellow.
First, to get a sense of what it means to lead an organization like BIE, look at the size of our staff (grown from 7 to 20 in the last three years!) – some of whom work from home in other parts of the U.S. – and the nearly 80 members of our National Faculty who do our workshops and coaching. We work with over 20 school districts in multi-year partnerships, conduct over 200 PBL workshops a year, and have made arrangements with several international partner organizations to help spread PBL around the globe. We publish books, invent new PBL tools, maintain an active website, make conference presentations, and… Obviously, steering this ship is a big job.
Bob comes to us with a combination of beliefs, experience, and knowledge that prepared him remarkably well for the challenge. He grew up in the Los Angeles area and was the first in his family to graduate from college. In the 1990s as a social studies teacher at Sir Francis Drake High School in suburban San Anselmo California, Bob launched an academy that focused on PBL. When visitors toured the much-publicized school, they were impressed but many said, “Sure you can do PBL here, with these kids, but not in our school, with our kids…”
Determined to change that perception, Bob co-founded Envision Education in 2001, which started three high schools in San Francisco, Oakland, and Hayward CA. These schools used PBL, performance assessment, and a more personalized experienced to create a program that has proved hugely successful in helping underserved urban students enter and stay in college – most of whom are the first in their families to do so.
At Envision, Bob became nationally recognized as a leader in high school redesign and 21st century education. He recently authored a book, Transforming Schools: Using Project-Based Learning, Performance Assessment and Common Core Standards, published by Jossey-Bass Wiley.
As he said in his introduction to a keynote at BIE’s June 2015 PBL World conference, Bob believes passionately in the power of PBL. “I’ve seen it as a student, a teacher, a school leader, and a system leader: PBL is transformative. It makes a profound difference in kids’ lives. It’s the only thing that I’ve found in teaching and learning where you can get academic content and skills and knowledge, deeper learning 21st century outcomes, AND a love of learning, happening simultaneously.”
His easygoing yet strongly process-focused leadership style is a good fit with the Buck Institute too; the first month has been smooth sailing. Bob will soon engage the staff and board in a new strategic planning process that will capitalize on BIE’s past work, good reputation, and talented people to continue our voyage, on wider and wider seas. He intends to take the organization full speed ahead to ensure that high quality Project Based Learning becomes the go-to teaching method of the 21st century for all schools and students.