September 10, 2015

A New Middle School for Boulder – behind the scenes

Many regular readers of this blog have received our announcement that Friends’ will be opening a new middle school, beginning with our first 6th grade class, just eleven short months from now.

We are over-the-moon excited at this new development for our students and school. Not only will this be an important step for all of us in the Friends’ School community, this is a giant stride forward in giving Boulder families a much-needed new choice for middle school education.

A number of people have asked me how this came to be.  What have the steps been that have gotten us to this place? Allow me to take you behind the scenes….

Friends’ School was founded by a small group of families who were looking for something different.  We began as a preschool, soon expanded to Kindergarten and the early elementary years, and then up to 5th grade. Change is in our nature.

Since 1987, we have been pioneering a model of education that has at its core the inherent understanding that children learn best through positive relationships and hands-on learning experiences. We have done this well for preschoolers through 5th graders for a long time.  For almost as long, parents have been asking us if (when!) we would expand to middle school.

Our new Middle School Director, Shelby Pawlina, has been at Friends’ for twenty years.  She recalls school leadership having these conversations in her early years. When I was hired as Head of School almost five years ago, middle school expansion was an important topic of conversation during the
search.

During my tenure, the conversation has generally centered on the big idea that Friends’ needs to purchase and develop a whole new campus, large enough for us to adequately house our preschool, elementary school, Teacher Preparation Program AND a new middle school. If you’ve been following real estate prices in our area, you know that was a tall order!

Newly appointed Middle School Director
Shelby Pawlina toasts our new
opportunity with Friends' Board
Chair Elizabeth Henna
This June, our new co-board chairs Elizabeth Henna and Fred Marienthal, invited me to lunch, along with Shelby and Jen Cope, our Director of Finance. Elizabeth had done some out of the box thinking.
What if we rent a second campus? One big enough to launch a new middle school, and also house the TPP (who currently rents off-site space in the East Boulder Rec Center) and ease some of our crowded office space above the preschool?

Lower risk.  Affordable.  Doable.

We loved the idea!

Since June, a dedicated team of Board members, Finance Committee members, and school administrative staff have been hard at work, seeing if we could make this vision a reality.

We rolled out financial models. We engaged a commercial realtor. We searched for viable spaces in a ten-mile radius of our existing campus. We researched outstanding middle schools across the country who share our philosophy. We began to design our ideal.  We envisioned.We imagined. We dreamed.

As Shelby wrote recently: “The opportunity, and dare we say obligation, to offer a similar approach for middle school learners is upon us.”

Friends’ School will open a second campus in the fall of 2016 in rented commercial space (to be determined, though we have our eye on somewhere fabulous!) The new location will house our first sixth grade class, our Teacher Preparation Program, and some offices for our administrative staff. The middle school will then grow over a three-year period, adding a seventh and an eighth grade in consecutive years.

I believe very strongly in the educational mission and vision of our school. I am incredibly excited by the thought that we don’t have to wait for the ideal land or building, because those have never been the essence of a Friends’ education. Instead, we can begin now to apply what really is that essence - Friends’ unique philosophy on developing children’s social-emotional skills and teaching in ways that take advantage of how children actually learn - to a new and important age group.

We envision a middle school that embodies Friends’ philosophy and culture.  Our new school will have a safe climate, where respect, compassion, understanding and belonging are unwavering; we will have small learning communities and challenging academic experiences through emotionally meaningful curriculum and real-world learning experiences; we will support the development of metacognitive strategies and facilitate social and emotional growth; we will hire experienced, caring
Our elementary students learning about the new middle school
teachers, good people, who will serve as excellent role models; we will integrate all subjects, particularly the arts and technology, and focus on emotional and physical wellness; and we will honor and respect student voices: as we always have.

Our school has been destined to take this step since our inception. We are excited that the real journey has begun. We are grateful for all the teachers, trustees and families who have come before us who have brought us to this juncture; and we are grateful for everyone who is working so hard currently to bring this to reality.

It is the children who will benefit. 

We will keep you informed all year of how this wonderful project is developing.  Friends’ first ever 6th grade class will be open to our current 5th grade students and students who have never attended Friends’.  Please help us spread the word and join us at an information evening on Monday September 21st at 6:30 p.m. on our existing campus.

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