Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ridgeview Classical Schools

I spent the day at Ridgeview Classical Schools where a handful of us learned about how the charter school teaches reading and writing. First, Mr. Florian Hild, the principal, explained the school's classical philosophy, which is based on the trivium of learning: grammar, logic and rhetoric. The grammar stage is elementary school where students are taught lots of facts and information. Logic is where the students begin to apply this knowledge while under the guidance of their teacher. The full use of what a student has learned is the rhetoric stage. At the rhetoric stage students should be able to cogently explain what they believe and be able to ask probing questions because they have a foundation of knowledge upon which they can build.

Ridgeview Classical uses Riggs to teach students how to read beginning in Kindergarten. The program is heavily phonics based and is a complement to the classical educational approach used at RCS. Throughout the K-12 charter school the Socratic method of inquiry is used to guide discussion on primary and classical works.

RCS consistently scores in the top five high schools in the state. They do this without ANY preparation for CSAP. In fact, they aren't even aware of the state's model content standards that CSAP assesses. Instead, RCS focuses on teaching a solid sequence of learning based on what the school believes is important for students to know. The discussion, or Socratic method, is the methodology used to deliver the curricula.

Like almost all charter schools in the state, RCS has a waiver from using licensed teachers. They still must employ Highly Qualified teachers, but they don't have to meet that requirement with appropriately licensed teachers. The majority of RCS teachers have advanced degrees. The administrator's approach to hiring is an emphasis on hiring people with deep content knowledge. Most elementary school teachers did not receive a general, elementary education degree. Instead, many have a content area degree.

While RCS has developed a successful model over its ten-year history, how replicable the model is, particularly at the high school level, remains to be seen. Part of the school's success is being able to train students in the trivium prior to high school, allowing a higher level of achievement prior to high school graduation. Students that come in during the high school years require intense remediation and a desire to adapt to the model of high expectations. These elements that define Ridgeview Classical Schools are difficult to achieve in a new school and take time to develop to the level RCS currently enjoys.

The RCS vision has been guided since the school's inception by founders Kim Miller, Peggy Schunk, the first principal, Dr. Terrence Moore and the current principal, Mr. Florian Hild. Mr. Hild has been at RCS since its opening where he began as the German teacher. The clarity of vision for what the school is, and is not, has allowed them to develop a sophisticated, unique educational program that is effective with a number of students. The charter school's lottery pool is 1400 students.

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