Wednesday, December 4, 2013

School Tour: Francis Scott Key

I almost skipped this tour, after my bad impression of Stevenson and my meh impression of Lawton.  In fact, we were starting to give up on the hope of finding a traditional public school near us that we felt good about, and were thinking that we’d need something like Public Montessori or Creative Arts Charter.  I came to the FSK tour with very little information about (or enthusiasm for) the school, and came out happy and excited.  Here’s why (in no particular order of importance):
  • Library:  I loved the librarian (who is onsite MWF)!  Each class visits the library once every two weeks, and the library is also open for lunch reading every day.  The librarian talked about how her programming is connected to that in the classroom, and also to the activities in the computer lab (for example, she collaborates with the teachers and comp lab staff to teach 3rd graders research skills for their 3rd grade report). I got the impression that staff in the library, the computer lab, and the classrooms all work well together to create an integrated, thoughtful learning environment. 
  • TechnologyAll classrooms have a cool Prometheus board that they use to enhance learning.  There is also a nice computer lab with 33 computers (so each student in a class will have their own workstation).  The computer lab has a full-time staff person (!) in recognition of the importance of technology literacy for the kids in general, as well as for future test-taking.  I liked the proactive, practical, competent attitude that the school seems to have about technology.
  • Administration and staffThe principal had been a teacher before being “promoted up the ranks” to being a principal for the past 15 years.  What this says to me is that she understands the work of the teachers as well as how to maneuver within the bureaucracy of the district.  She seemed competent, genuine, and caring about the school.  The other admin staff that I encountered were professional and friendly. Each of the 3 or 4 classroom teachers that we met were young-ish, approachable, and engaged.  In general, FSK seemed like a stable and pleasant environment full of responsible people that got along well together.
  • AcademicsThe principal spoke at length and enthusiastically about how the school is preparing for the new “common core”, and proudly noted that several of the teachers are already developing pilot common core curricula in their free time.  Rather than waiting for GATE-identification in 3rd grade, teachers start identifying “high potential” kids in kindergarten, and do differentiated learning for them within classroom activities.
  • Special needs:  The school seems to do a lot with accommodating all kinds of special needs.  There is a peanut free lunch table, and two peanut free kinder classes.  12% of the student population are “special needs” learners, though I didn’t inquire into this so don’t have any details.  I did learn from the tour leader that the special day class (I think severely impaired) is right next to the kinder classes, which he said was a good thing because it "demystified" special needs for the kids.  I got the impression that inclusion and accommodation are important to the school community.
  • School environment:  As mentioned above, the school was recently renovated and the renovations are quite nice.  There are 3 permanent bungalows outside, which actually look like they’re LEED certified.  One houses the library, and the other two are for first grade classes.  The recess yard is great, and there was talk about additional greening of the outdoor space, including the creation of a reflective area on the playground for the kids who want / need a little quiet time.
  • FundingThe PTA raised 65k last year, which seems really low.  One of the tour leaders pointed out that they aren’t paying any staff time with this money, because the school administration is good at managing their budget and able to pay for staff using other funds.  Another parent tour leader said that they do about 12 fun community events per year (movie night, international night, etc), and that the two big money-making events (a raffle and an auction) don’t require the kids to try to sell books or candy to strangers.
Overall, we were really impressed with FSK.  I’d be happy to send my kids to this school and to be a part of this community.

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