School Beat: Grattan Elementary School – Educating Students and Nurturing Community

by Hedy Chang on December 14, 2006

Four years ago, when I first began researching elementary school options for my oldest son, Grattan Elementary School didn’t even make my list. I just couldn’t imagine my family could ever wake up early enough to arrive in time for its 7:50 start time! But, not wanting to close off our options, I thought I could at least pay a visit.

As soon as I walked on campus, I was struck by the school’s warm atmosphere and close sense of community. Everyone on staff, particularly the principal (Jean Robertson), seemed to know each and every one of its 260 plus students without exception. When I saw kindergartners paired with 3rd grade reading buddies in the classroom, I realized that these values were also being thoughtfully nurtured among the students themselves. At the same time, the student body was among the most ethnically diverse I had yet seen.

By the time I left the tour, I felt most excited by Grattan’s deep commitment to learning. It was evident in the principal’s vision of a vibrant, project-based curriculum that fosters the highest level thinking skills and her deep commitment to professional development of her teachers, not to mention, the rich quality of the classroom activities.

My son is now in third grade at Grattan and is, in my view, receiving the best of what public education can offer. His problem-solving and academic skills are being nurtured every day by committed teachers who work in grade level teams to integrate curriculum across classes. Best of all, they pay explicit attention to how they can foster math and literacy skills for children of all ability levels. Because they know our children intimately, teachers tailor their strategies to meet the needs of those who are struggling to acquire basic skills while still finding ways to challenge the more advanced learners.

As a parent, I’ve especially appreciated how our deeply committed and skilled principal has created the conditions under which parents, through our rapidly growing PTA, have been able to partner with faculty to play a major role in transforming our school. The results have been remarkable:

*We have significantly upgraded the quality of our library and our computer lab.

*In less than four years, Grattan has established a school-wide greening and gardening program that is transforming our campus into a living green classroom and helping to raise a next generation of environmentally aware children.

*We have dramatically expanded afterschool enrichment offerings. This year, we are able to offer Spanish, Mandarin, Art, Science, Hip Hop, Academic Chess, as well as afterschool sports teams.

* Fundraising –- always an important function for any PTA– has in the meantime has been growing every year.

Most recently, the PTA launched the Grattan Speaker Series. Aimed at expanding our community even farther beyond the students and their families, it brings in nationally prominent speakers to present evening lectures to the public on a wide variety of topics—from world politics to literary fiction.

Over time, Grattan has become a major part of the life of my entire family. It is not only helping my son to grow and develop but also offering opportunities for my husband and me to be active and contributing members of our community—he co-chairs the Grattan Green Committee and I help to coordinate the afterschool programs. While Grattan holds a very special place in my heart, I believe that what we have is and can be achieved in many schools when administrators, teachers and parents work together and find ways to draw upon their respective talents and strengths. I also realize that waking up early in the morning is a small price to pay for a great education!

Hedy Chang, is the proud mother of one (and soon to be two) Grattan elementary school students. Currently an independent consultant working with non-profits and foundations, she previously served as a program officer at the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund and as the co-director of California Tomorrow.

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