30 Jan 2013

Five Questions: Adam Ruben, Chair of the School Within a School Expansion Committee

Photo courtesy of Adam Ruben. His son Jasper, with his teacher Alysia Scofield, releasing shad they raised in the classroom into the Anacostia River.

Photo courtesy of Adam Ruben. His son Jasper, with his teacher Alysia Scofield, releasing shad they raised in the classroom into the Anacostia River.

There is some anxiety these days among the parental set on Capitol Hill, reference by Tim in his recent post.  The DCPS school lottery is now open (through 11:59pm on Feb. 25, 2013!) and fears of being #321 on a pre-school wait list looms large. I can tell you among the parents of kids 3-5 the issue, however tiresome, dominates most conversations. I know, I know Tim, we should all just take it easy.

A spot at the School within a School (SWS) is highly coveted. Recent changes at the school, including its location, grades available, and extending spots at the school to kids throughout the city, were made by DCPS.  Many local parents are pleased, while others are very very displeased.

We asked Adam Ruben, chair of the school’s expansion committee, a few questions to spell out the changes.

What makes SWS different from other schools on Capitol Hill?

The Reggio Emilia-inspired curriculum at SWS emphasizes creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving. Of course our kids learn how to read and do math under the Common Core standards, but they also learn how to work in small groups, how to think creatively and use found materials to build a chair, how to persevere when they hit an obstacle and their chair keeps falling over. The children work with teachers to design semester-long projects like studying the Anacostia River.

We’ve got great teachers, nearly all of whom are rated “highly effective,” and some of whom have won citywide teaching awards. That has helped our students achieve top marks on DCPS’s standard early childhood assessments.

DCPS just announced some big changes for SWS. Can you summarize?

A year ago, DCPS decided that SWS was going to expand over the next few years to be a full elementary school, continuing up through 5th grade. We’ve been in a temporary location this school year.

Last week, DCPS announced their plan to house SWS starting next fall in the former Prospect Learning Center building at 9th & F St. NE. They said that we will be a citywide lottery school, just like Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan. Current students have a right to continue to attend, and there will be a standard preference for siblings in the lottery. All open spots will be chosen through the lottery. We hope and expect that there will continue to be many Capitol Hill families who attend SWS, but we’ll also welcome families from around the city who are invested in our project-learning approach.

There seem to be a number of parents upset about the changes. What’s going to be different for kids and parents on Capitol Hill?

We’ll add two new preK-3 classes next fall, and two 2nd grade classes. So that means more high-quality classrooms on Capitol Hill, in addition to the new early childhood classrooms that Peabody opened last fall in the former SWS space. There continues to be high demand for early childhood slots at many Capitol Hill schools, so I think this expansion is great news for the Hill.

DCPS’s decision last week to make SWS a citywide school means that families near the school won’t have a preference or right to attend, but we have a strong Capitol Hill core now and we expect that to continue–we know many of our neighbors will want to apply to SWS. DCPS says that they’ll decide whether to add some kind of neighborhood preference or boundary when they reconsider all school boundaries later this spring.

How many students will attend SWS in the fall?

We’ll have about 200 students next fall, two classes per grade in PreK-3 through 2nd grades. We’ll add another grade each year, so at our full size we’ll have about 350 students.

What’s happening to the building that now houses the school, Prospect Learning Center? And are there any plans to change SWS’ name?

DCPS will assign current Prospect students to newly developed learning disabilities classrooms in other schools.

As for the Prospect building, DCPS was really supportive in working with dozens of our parents and teachers this past summer to transform Logan Annex into a great temporary location for our school. We’ll need the same kind of effort and support from DCPS over the coming months to make the Prospect building fit our program, including reconfiguring classrooms and art studio space, and developing outdoor play and learning areas.

We haven’t discussed changing the name yet, but since we’re no longer a School Within a School, I think that’s a possibility. I’m sure we’ll welcome suggestions from the community!


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