SOAR Schools

Photograph by Tim Wessel.At SOAR, a network of public charter schools in Northeast Denver, Responsive Classroom practices are embedded in the daily life of schools, and the approach itself is integrated into the network’s core elements and values.

Schoolwide implementation of the Responsive Classroom approach was part of the plan from SOAR’s inception. Co-founders Gianna Cassetta and Marc Waxman moved to Colorado after founding a school called the Future Leaders Institute (FLI) in Harlem and co-directing it for nine years. Their desire to bring “a more thoughtful and child-centered approach” to discipline at FLI led them to the Responsive Classroom approach; once they experienced firsthand how the approach affected teachers, students, and school climate, Cassetta and Waxman decided to place it at the heart of the schools they’d open in Denver.

“We are committed to providing an educational opportunity that equalizes the system for children, and Responsive Classroom is helping us achieve that goal.”

—Gianna Cassetta, co-executive director

SOAR has established two schools so far: [email protected] Valley Ranch, which started as a K–2 and will reach capacity in 2014 as a K–5, and [email protected], a K–5 turn-around school.

SOAR has hired almost fifty teachers in the past two years, says Cassetta. “Our staff are some of the hardest-working people you’ll ever meet, very mission driven. During the hiring process, we also try to determine whether candidates are a match for us philosophically: Do they believe in an approach to discipline that is respectful to all? Do they understand the importance of laying groundwork in the first weeks of school? Even if they haven’t yet perfected their skills at doing those things, they have to come in with that mindset.”

SOAR Schools’ Journey

Since its inception, SOAR has invested in Responsive Classroom professional development services for all school staff. Responsive Classroom consultant Margaret Wilson has provided teacher training and on-site coaching, plus ongoing support to the administrative team (executive directors, directors of curriculum and instruction, and principals from both schools).

Wilson, who began working with SOAR before its first school opened, says the focus on continuous improvement is clearly paying off. “Every time I visit I see better Morning Meetings and teacher language. Many teachers are implementing at a very high level now, even though the schools are only in their second and third years, respectively.”

2009

[email protected] Valley Ranch, the first in a new network of charter schools in Denver, receives its charter.

2010

[email protected] Valley Ranch provides its first cohort of teachers with the Responsive Classroom Level I (RCI) week-long training before school starts. Responsive Classroom consultant Margaret Wilson works with the administrative team to develop a detailed rollout plan for how staff will use Responsive Classroom practices throughout the year. She returns during the year to provide follow-up services.

The school opens in August 2010 with 230 students. Every classroom begins the day with Morning Meeting; on Friday mornings, the whole school gathers for a community circle. Lunch and recess expectations are taught proactively, so these times of day get off to a positive start at Green Valley Ranch.

2011

[email protected] takes over the existing grades K–2 at Denver Public Schools’ Oakland, drawing students mostly from the neighborhood. New staff for Oakland and Green Valley Ranch, which adds grade 3 this year, take RCI over the summer. Teachers who have already completed RCI take Responsive Classroom Level II (RCII). At the start of the school year, SOAR schools serve close to 600 students.

Wilson returns for several days of on-site coaching and staff training and continues providing ongoing support to the administrative team, helping them develop a highly structured, week-by-week rollout and monitoring plan.

2012

Both schools add a grade and bring on additional staff. RCI and RCII courses are offered over the summer. The administrative team chooses child development as the year’s focus for professional learning and plans for staff to read Yardsticks.

Several Responsive Classroom DVDs and multimedia kits feature staff and students at SOAR public charter schools. Take a quick video field trip to this Responsive School community by watching the thank you video we gave them after filming at one of the schools in 2011.

To learn more about bringing the Responsive Classroom approach to your school or district, please contact our school services team. Call 800-360-6332, ext. 143 or email [email protected].

Tags: Building Schoolwide Community, Professional Community, Professional Development

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