It started with Downtown Community School
The founders of the IDEA School first met because their children went to school together at a remarkable little preschool in Tucson’s Barrio Viejo called Downtown Community School. Our Co-Director and Lead Collaborator, Jaime Johnson, also co-founded DCS with another extraordinary teacher, Emily McCrea, in 2011. Together, they built a preschool and Kindergarten in which children’s social and emotional development are central, in which learning is authentic, fun, real-world based, and often messy, and which the children (and their parents) absolutely love!
We started the IDEA School because we didn’t want the kind of rich, holistic learning that our children were experiencing at DCS to end when they became 1st Graders. We wanted to build a K-8 school around many of the same guiding principles and practices that make DCS a special, beloved place: extremely low student-teacher ratios; collaborative teaching and learning; learning through play and exploration; a connected parent community; and a focus on social and emotional development and the building of empathy.
As we were envisioning what this new school would look like, we also looked to Brightworks in San Francisco, where their motto is, “Everything is interesting. We can create anything.” Gever Tulley, founder of Brightworks and the Tinkering School and author of 50 Dangerous Things (You should let your children do), is a mentor and advisor to the IDEA School. Brightworks’ vision for how to organize the curriculum and the learning experiences around real-world projects was the jumping off point for our own.
Why a private school?
As we continued to meet, plan, and envision all the possibilities, we decided that we had to be an independent (private) school, not beholden to state-imposed standardized curricula or high-stakes standardized testing. We believe in high standards — which we implement and continually refine as a community of engaged educators and parents with our children’s best interests at heart. But we disagree with standardization — the idea that all kids need to learn the same things, and all at the same time — particularly since a standardized education holds less and less of a resemblance to how the real economy works every day.
We felt then and continue to feel today that the culture of standardized testing in K-12 public education — and the high stakes involved for schools, teachers and principals — isn’t just detrimental to learning, it is wrong. It negatively affects how teachers and principals view their jobs, how students view school and their roles as learners and doers, and how curriculum is envisioned and implemented.
Standardized testing, far from being a formative way to assess student learning and capabilities, identify gaps, and structure further learning experiences accordingly, is used primarily to grade schools for the purpose of public praise or shame. It doesn’t help students learn or improve their skills and it doesn’t help teachers improve their craft. We wanted no part of it.
At the same time, we knew we wanted to be accessible to all families, not just the lucky few who can afford a private school education.
We strongly believe that the kind of education we are facilitating belongs to all children — and we greatly value having a diverse student body. We are committed to raising and maintaining a robust Scholarship Fund so we can continue to offer need-based scholarships to any family that wants this education for their child, regardless of income. More than 70% of our students attend on need-based scholarships.
We always have had an abiding faith that this is the right way to do education. And we are committed to always learning — from students, families, the broader community — and improving our practice.
Thank you for being a part of our journey!