Last summer, I began my journey at PSCS by inviting all current families to meet with me. I wanted to gather feedback on their PSCS experience, explore the things our community values, and see where there were areas for growth as we transitioned into our next 25 years. I asked four questions. One, why did you choose PSCS? Two, what keeps you at PSCS? Three, what changes would cause you to leave PSCS? Four, what would you change about PSCS if you could? Here are some common themes from the answers to these four questions.
Why did you choose PSCS?
Most of our families chose PSCS because of referrals from educators, connections with other families and alum, and their belief in the school’s Core Commitments (Practice integrity, Engage the Community, Act with Courage). Each of our current families were looking for options that were different from their zoned public school or more traditional independent school models. Some of our families home-schooled their children until it came time to branch out a bit. Many parents told me stories about their child’s previous school “just not feeling right.” Most families described PSCS as a place where their child loves to be every day.
What keeps you at PSCS?
Many current families love the small size of our community; they feel their child is seen, known, and heard by our staff. Parents told me that there is a “deep sense of community” at PSCS, which keeps their family here. Overwhelmingly, students said they feel like a part of the community and have a lot of flexibility in their learning. Examples cited by families were “choosing classes,” “no homework battles,” and “community creating a safe space to be who you are.”
What changes would cause you to leave PSCS?
The number one response I had to this question was that they would consider leaving PSCS if we were to change to a more traditional model of education and suddenly had too much structure (although most families did want a bit more structure—just not too much!).
Some families said that they might consider (or have considered) leaving PSCS, because of our small size. Some said things like, “although we love the small community, it does limit social options as well as program options.” About half of our current families said something along the lines of ”if their student was no longer happy, they would likely leave the school.”
What would you change about PSCS if you could?
In about half of my conversations with current families, Math, Writing, and Science rose to the top of what they would change about PSCS. Several families feel we lack focus in these academic areas. This theme has continued throughout the year in conversations with both parents and students. I have found it fascinating to ask our students, “if you had to give up another class you really loved, would it be for a math, writing, or science class?” This has led to some very rich discussion after they pause to think about what they would have to give up.
Another theme that has come up is the hope for PSCS to look outside of our bubble a bit more, to be open to a wider variety of beliefs and perspectives. One parent reported that they don’t speak during parent events because they do not share the same beliefs as many of our community members. One parent said, “PSCS [is] too liberal for me at times, and I am a very liberal thinker.” Last, many parents are seeking out a higher level of partnership between themselves and PSCS. Whether that means more clarity around how the program works (many are hoping to move past a “leap of faith feeling”), or more information on student academic and emotional progress through the school year, many parents want a greater level of partnership with the school .
Connecting closely with our families early on in the school year was an incredible experience. I feel grateful to have learned so much about the school from the perspective of our current community. Our conversations offered me the opportunity to pinpoint certain areas for deeper observation. During spring term, the staff and I will be digging into the feedback I’ve gathered from families, as well as the feedback staff themselves have offered—much of it in similar areas.
Together, we are going to look at scheduling Teaching Staff time better, to allow for more planning and collaboration. We are working on building up a bigger volunteer base of STEM resources, in order to supplement more science, technology, engineering, and math courses at PSCS.
We are also discussing what it might mean to offer a more clear continuum to some of our math and writing courses; how to more effectively serve middle and high school student-specific needs, while still maintaining our multi-age community.
To be clear, all of these discussions were happening before I came to PSCS. In my role, I have re-engaged and focused everyone in thinking intentionally about these things, and much more, by simply asking a lot of questions!