Friday, April 10, 2009

the deciding factor

This morning I toured a new school in our district that I am considering enrolling Maya into next year. The principal (Mr P) took an hour out of his morning to personally show me and my friend around the school.

It was very impressive.

  • Brand new: just opened for the first year in the '08-'09 school year. K-6, as are all the elementary schools in our district (if I were the King of the District, I would change them to K-3 schools and 4-6 schools, but I'm crazy like that).
  • Friendly staff: You must walk through the office to enter the building (safe), and the office staff were super nice and welcoming. Teachers and paras who came through were also friendly and made a point to say "hello" or "good morning" to us as we waited.
  • Responsive classroom: This is a concept that was used in Maya's K and 1st grade classes, and it fits very well within the co-op structure; however, Responsive Classroom is a piece that is being lost in our current program because the teachers who truly advocated for it have left or are leaving. Mr. P really believes in Responsive Classroom; he was actually the principal at our current school when our co-op teachers were really getting into Responsive Classroom. His entire school now operates under that philosophy. Amazing. Every morning he writes a morning message for the students, staff and parents, and that is the first thing they see when they walk into the school. Ever classroom has a morning meeting and they also have an afternoon meeting where kids can add items to the agenda and issues are discussed and a resolution process is begun.
  • They have the highest number of PTA members and parent volunteers in the whole district (our district is the 9th largest in the state, btw). Very impressive. Being able to volunteer in my kid's class is important to me, and you think that would be a given, but some teachers would prefer parents just make copies and correct papers. In the co-op model that we are in now, parents actually work with kids in small groups or one on one. It's nice to take time from one's day and spend it doing more than just busy work for the teacher.
  • Low enrollment numbers: the school is built to hold 750 kids, and they have around 600 kids currently enrolled. Our current school is built for 550 and has about 850 enrolled.
  • Looks good on paper: great WASL scores, not a Title I school.
  • Technology: Insane. Each classroom is paired with another and between them, they each have a project room that consists of at least 4 (FOUR!!) computers, plus there's a computer lab *and* a rolling computer lab with laptops for the kids to use. ......... Astounding. Maya's current school has no computer lab. Her classroom has one computer that the teacher doesn't let the kids use. They go down the hall to another classroom to take AR tests, and that is their exposure to technology at school. Dismal, at best. Each classroom at the school we toured uses Smartboards. Maya's teacher last year had to buy a huge white board that she then hung over the existing blackboard. That is the whiteboard that Maya's teacher currently uses. Again...dismal. Kids check in using the Smartboard. The teacher uses a wireless mic to project her voice to the class--no yelling or voice straining. Sweeeet.
  • The desks that are used are awesome. They aren't those heavy desks that you often see in a classroom; they are lightweight and have a steel grid area underneath for students to store their notebooks and whatever else goes in a desk. They appear to be easy to move around. Most of the classrooms did not put the kids in rows. I think I saw rows used in maybe one 2nd grade class. In K-3 they appeared to be in small groups or horseshoe shape. In 4th-6th grades, the kids make their own choices on where and how they want to sit to learn: alone, at a regular desk, small group, in a lawn chair at a low table, at angled or semi-circle tables. Very innovative.
  • Kids eat in the lunchroom and not in class. That has its advantages and disadvantages. I do like the idea of my kid getting out of the classroom more often, though.
  • Late start school: begins at 8:55 instead or 8:25. In the morning, half an hour makes a big difference. That does mean that dismissal is at 3:15 instead of 2;45.
So that's just a brief list of the great things about the school.
Some things that don't please me:

  • Large class size. We're talking about 26 or 27 kids in 1st and 2nd grade. 30 kids in 3rd. 30+ kids in 4th-6th. Maya is currently in a class of 23 kids with 23 sets of parent volunteers coming in weekly. Next year, the class size increases to 24.
  • No field trips. The district has a lame policy that does not allow parent-driven field trips, and buses are expensive; therefore, most kids in the district go on maybe 1-2 field trips a year. Co-op is an exception from the no parent-driven field trip rule. The usual field trip(s) in our district are: Karshner Museum (snooze), which is a Puyallup history museum (and is great the first year you go and in 3rd grade, when the kids are finally allowed to enter the tee-pee) is an annual field trip, and sometimes the PTA will help pay for bus transportation to a play or NW trek. Maya has gone on numerous field trips this year with her class--5 in March and April: Pioneer Farm Museum, Little Red Riding Hood play at the pantages in Tacoma (PTA paid for the bus...the entire 2nd grade attended), Karshner, Pippi Longstocking play in Olympia (parent driven) and a private screening of the film Earth at the local movie theater (walking field trip--parent chaperones).
If we leave the co-op, it will be with great sadness. At this point, I think we may stay for one more year and then go to the other school in 4th grade. I don't know. I feel like my kid will do really well at the new school; she already knows people there and has friends who go there. I think she may be more challenged at the new school, which is good. This school year has been such a Brain Jell-o kind of year for her; poor kiddo.

We have some thinking to do.

Oh, here's a picture of Maya doing something FUN and COOL in class recently; they were studying geometry, and they built robots using three dimensional objects. The end results were awesome.

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