Parents and students advocate for a TCS High School
The story of Conservatory School parents advocating for their kids didn't just start this year. TCS parents coming together to use their collective voice, attending board meetings, writing letters, holding meetings--none of that is new. This is just the year we got matching t-shirts.
In a school where we gather regularly for project based learning exhibitions to hear our children lend their impassioned voices to the important causes of social justice, environmental awareness and civic mindedness, we lead by example.
Here is a short history lesson of how parents continue to drive the conversation at The Conservatory School:
In 2010, our principal, Teresa Stoupas, developed a vision of democratizing instrumental music for all children, basing our program on the international El Sistema model. That year a small group of students learned to play violin and band instruments--an ensemble that would grow into the orchestras and bands that are now at TCS. Teachers were attracted by possibility, attracted by a rich canvas created by embracing the best educational experiences for all kids.
There was room to grow (literally, there weren't enough students to fill the building). A lot of reading and research happened, teachers that stayed and joined us were LEARNERS! Together the faculty and administration began to seek out case-study schools, strong equity-focused, child-centered practices, and national mentors for our work. We were just beginning our journey in inquiry in the early years, but as educator skills developed and classroom deeper-learning practices bloomed, families wanted to be able to have their children continue their education at The Conservatory School for middle school.
PARENTS USED THEIR VOICE. They wrote letters, made calls, and one by one started signing up to speak at school board meetings to make their wishes known. We had a principal with the determination to make it happen, and a faculty with big dreams for kids--developing proposals for the middle school choice program, submitting plans for school needs, writing grants to provide instruments. We had the support of our board member…strong support. The school board took notice, and in August of 2015, we opened our first middle school class with 20 students.
At that time our K-5 population was 560 students. We moved into our new building with some empty rooms and over the past 5 years have grown to over 928 students in PK-8.
We are now at 146% capacity and on the school district capacity-watch list. Our K-5 grew by 223 students and our 6-8 grew by 183 students since that first year in the new building. Again, experiencing how different secondary school could be for middle school students, we began to think about extending up to 12th grade. Ms. Stoupas encouraged us to engage as a parent community. Lots of planning meetings took place; we talked about what we wanted for our kids, and PARENTS USED THEIR VOICE. We held design thinking meetings and town halls, and surveyed parents about what they wanted in a high school experience for their children. A school team pitched the idea to the then-superintendent Dr. Avossa and we finally got the YES we had dreamed of. With the participation of the school district choice office, we moved forward with recruitment for our first 9th grade class, and in August of 2018 opened The Conservatory School of Music and Innovation choice program, a project based learning high school with 42 students. It was a proud day when those 9th grade pioneers walked through the door for the first time. It was a glorious success with students learning through hands-on exploration, collaboration, science labs and music engineering. They began to build their own music studio, but in reality, they were building their own school, carving a path for progressive education that had never been done before in Palm Beach County. Six-weeks into the school year, the school district decided to close TCSMI. Parents received a list of varied reasons from the district as to why they chose to close the school. We heard about "seats" and "process" and "budget." What we WANTED to hear was "How do we do what is RIGHT for our kids?" or "How can we be BRAVE, critical thinkers and world class leaders in education?" So, once again, it was time for PARENTS TO USE THEIR VOICE.
Giving up on our kids was not an option. We started a parent advocacy group, meeting in living rooms, churches, parking lots and anywhere parents were willing to have a discussion. We wrote emails, attended school board meetings, and organized parents and students to speak at meetings. Fast forward to our "matching t-shirts moment."
We were successful in getting a school board workshop scheduled on project based learning. The school board asked the superintendent's office to provide more information, presentations were made, momentum built. We invited every school board member for a personal tour of TCS so they could see the work already being done here in inquiry and project based learning (thank you to the 5 board members who accepted and visited our campus!) The Conservatory High School was even mentioned in a future capital outlay document voted on by the school board in July 2019.
We know several things with complete assurance:
1. We know how to provide a deeper-learning, equity-centered, high school environment for kids--an educational experience that we want for all children.
2. We know how to accomplish great things with little support. Our music program, our inquiry work, our continuous professional growth for our educators who travel to High Tech High, Phillips Exeter, etc. to become experts in the field of inquiry and Project Based Learning (we now train other teachers in Palm Beach County and beyond on these strategies)
3. PARENTS HAVE POWER
We invite you to join us in support of The Conservatory School project based learning high school. Call the school board, write an email, or attend a board meeting to show your support. If we want this for our kids--for ALL kids-- we need PARENTS TO USE THEIR VOICE, matching t-shirts optional.....
For more information on how to get involved, CLICK HERE for our parent email.