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Thoughts on Arthur Academy?

An urbanMama and an urbanPapa would love to hear from you.  They are considering a PPS charter school, of which there are now five (for lower elementary grades) in the Portland Public School district.  In specific, they are looking at Arthur Academy:

We're hoping to hear from people whose children have attended one of the Arthur Academy charter schools.  We know they use Direct Instruction, which we've read up on extensively. We're still trying to decide what we think about it. But more importantly, we're interested in the experiences - positive, negative, neutral, anything, that parents whose children have attended can offer.  Did your child enjoy school and learn?  What concerns did you have?  Was the lack of usual school amenities like libraries, cafeterias, auditoriums, a problem?

So many people (perschool teachers, parent friends who have experience in teaching who are considering it for kindergarten, etc) tell me it is a wonderful program but I have yet to hear from any actual parents with kids who have attended or do attend. Any feedback at all would be much appreciated!


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My son is in 1st grade at the David Douglas Arthur Academy. We couldn't be happier! He started there last year in kindergarten and we loved it then, this year has just solidified those feelings for us. For our family the pluses FAR out-weigh the negatives. They do have recess outside unless it is pouring, but we supplement physical activities all year long with the Portland Parks & Rec. and would wherever he went to school...no cafeteria means no hot lunch provided though the David Douglas school system -not an issue for us as we would pack a lunch anyway, school lunches are just not all that nutritious, library also isn't an issue, as the teachers rotate library books through their classrooms and we use our neighborhood library as a family, our concerts are held off site - last year at the David Douglas Performing Arts place.

It is a small school, so everyone has the opportunity to really get involved and help out. We feel like we are heard if we do have a concern. There is very little administrative staff, so there aren’t a lot of “hoops” to jump through if you want to talk to someone. In fact, our principal is the kindergarten teacher. It is a small neighborhood school, the way I think they were meant to be, people care about the school and each other.

Our son loves school. He is reading chapter books, doing addition, subtraction and interested in multiplication. Plus, they just finished studying Egyptian culture and all the kids where thrilled to learn about mummies and Pharaohs. They have had Mad Science come in, the 5th graders have outdoor school, we still have a winter concert, field day, book fair, get to know you summer picnic, field trips... Plus all the kids stay together kindergarten through 5th grade, that means not only do they really bond, but so do the parents of the classmates.

I like Direct Instruction. My son has always been a pretty smart child, and he has really excelled with DI. At Arthur Academy all the kids are moved along as fast as each child can go – no pressure to go too fast and no one goes to slow. This is a HUGE plus in my book.

I sound like a commercial, but we love it. In fact we are moving to a larger home and are only looking in a drivable distance so he doesn't have to leave.

Ok, I will stop, but if anyone wants to hear more - feel free to email me... :)

I am a first grade teacher at the Reynolds school and I LOVE the program. The kids are challenged and happy to make progress. All of the kids are reading by the end of the first year!!!

Our daughter is at a PPS charter school (emerson) and I just thought I'd speak to the question of the facility - not having a cafeteria, libary, or gym like other public school facilities. Our daughter's school takes full advantage of being located on the North Park Blocks, which spans 4 of 5 blocks. This morning, I saw maybe 4 different groups of kids doing different movement activities in different sections of the park. It was awesome. I am not sure where Arthur Academy is located and whether they are near a Portland Park & Rec, but it would be important to find out.

Similarly, our school doesn't have a library of its own yet, which means that jaunts to the central library are frequent and relatively easy. I believe Multnomah Library also has a book ordering and delivery program for schools; our other daughter's in-home preschool orders books online and has them delivered to the school directly.

All in all, I feel like the facility is not the typical PPS one, but it hasn't hindered learning or movement or activity for us. We feel like our school has come up with excellent alternatives for us.

On direct instruction -- I have read a little bit about the approach and I seems fantastic. I would probably say that classrooms that we've considered incorporate some elements of DI, though not to the disciplined degree to which it is practiced at Arthur Academy.

Thank you all so much for your input!

I'm the one who submitted the OP. The Arthur Academy seems very different from the elementary school that I attended so I wanted to check in on some of those differences. That said, my elementary school experience (which was not in the Portland-Metro area) was decidedly less than great.

We are actually in the David Douglas school district and are looking at that AA - reading the feedback here has me very excited about next Fall!

Thanks again!

Last year my son started Kindergarten at a local public school and the experience there was good but when the opportunity arose for him to attend the David Douglas Arthur Academy we jumped at it. He is now a first grader at Arthur Academy. I found that at his first school he was not challenged enough. I helped in the classroom every week and found that the kids were at very different levels. Some not knowing how to write there name, and others were reading. The teacher and her assistant were not able to instruct them at there individual levels due to the class size and the style of teaching being used. I found my son to be bored, and while bored he was watching other kids with behavioral problems. This was not a good combination.

I am extremely happy with Arthur Academy. It is a wonderful school in so many ways. With the smaller class size, and direct instruction, as well as some other factors they are able to address children at there different levels of learning. They divide into small groups for reading and math which is wonderful. This creates more individualized attention for the kids. The assistants don't just answer questions and put out fires they help teach. So at certain times during the day there are two or three "teachers" teaching. My son is no longer bored and he is reading at a third grade level. He is also happy and never complains about school.

When I made the decision to switch schools I also thought about the facilities (Library, Gym, the building, etc..) as well as art, and computer class. I have found that at the charter school they actually get more recess time. At the first school, for an all day class, recess was 10-15 minutes and if it was raining that would be in the classroom. At Arthur Academy they get two to three brief recesses and I have even seen teachers let them run out in the rain for a few minutes. I feel this is so important for learning. They do plenty of art, and they have music and PE. The teachers make sure there are plenty of books available. We also go to the public library as a family where I teach my son how to navigate a library. The kids are able to join in the same sports activities such as soccer and baseball as the rest of the elementary schools in the district. I obviously do not have any negative to say.

Good luck with your decision making.

Larena - the kind of experience your son had at the first kindergarten has been our main concern. Our son can read and write and is interested in learning and we want him to be challenged at an appropriate level. Socially and behaviorally he tends to thrive with some structure and routine (and definitely some periodic physical activity!) and it sounds like the AA is going to be a great fit.

I really appreciate your feedback. It is very helpful and I feel good about our choice. Thanks!!

Can anyone comment on how hard it has been to get into a PPS charter school? We are a couple years away from applying, but from what I read it sounded like a lottery system? It sounds like some schools receive tons of applications. Yikes!

Our daughter attends The Emerson School ( a Portland Public Schools charter), but we had looked into The Arthur Academy as well.

Anecdotally, I've never heard bad feedback from anyone regarding AA.

I thought I might as well give my two cents, although the comments on Arthur Academy that are given above, have done an excellent job, and have just about covered everything positive about the school....I cannot say enough good things about the David Douglas Arthur Academy. We have 3 children that have been there for the past two years, and have been very impressed with the school's curriculum, teachers and classroom structure. I had previously homeschooled our 4 children, and was unable to continue 2 years ago. We placed our youngest 3 on the waiting list for A.A. and had them attend a David Douglas public elementary school in the 1 year interim. We were fairly disappointed with the public school structure and curriculum, and found it to be less than adequate to challenge our kids. After getting all three kids in to DDAA the following year, I was very excited to see the challenging curriculum, and the enjoyment our kids found in learning! It was a relief to find a school that made learning fun,challenging and at a high academic standard that I did not find in a regular public school. It was very similar to the homeschool curriculum that our family had used previously. I would highly recommend Arthur Academy to any family who is concerned about their child's education and would like to be a part of a small neighborhood school with open parent involvement, caring teachers,and high educational standards. Not to mention, contact with other families in the school who share the concerns and values you have for your children's educational future! (and we have a really awesome Principal!)
I hope you have already applied to the school for next fall...there is a lottery to get in, and I know they have already done one lottery drawing at the first of April. Call the school for more info.

can anyone comment about the population demographics? since the only one in portland is in the SE are most of the kids also from the SE? We live in NE and love the idea of neighborhood schools but also see the true benefit of the process taking place at the AA schools....do any families come from other parts of Portland? How is is for the kids to go to school with kids from all over the PDX area?

Peggy, I am so glad to hear that my comments helped in you decision. It sounds like AA will be a great fit. I'm confident you will be happy with your decision. Feel free to email if you have any other questions.

MC, Charter schools are by lottery. I would suggest you look at the website and apply as soon as applications are being accepted. If you don't get picked the first round as I didn't, then your placed on a waiting list. Keep checking back if you are really interested. I applied before summer of my sons kindergarten year and a spot opened for my son spring break of his kindergarten year.

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Where do families typically go after 5th grade? How have your kids adjusted to middle school after AA? How is the science?

Interesting Michelle, no one has answered your very good question! What exactly does happen when these children have completed the Arthur Academy? How does the academy help to transition students into "regular" middle school environments, with MUCH larger classrooms, and less expectations?? It seems that they have a decent IDEA in instituting this program for elementary aged children, but exactly how does a student transition from this strict style of learning to the every day run in the mill public school teachings in junior and high school? It does not seem well thought out, for the future of the child. To have the expectation that a student who leaves this program will A) function adequately in a 1000+ student school, B) after 5th grade will be home schooled by the parents, or C) the parents will come up with the $$ to pay for private schooling all of a sudden, or D) (worst of all) they release these children after 5th grade with no direction or care what happens to them beyond 5th grade; none of these expectations are at all acceptable. What are the school district's expectations for these students beyond 5th grade? I would LOVE to see each child's assessment scores beyond 5th grade, would they stay the same, meet, exceed, or fall below previous standards/scores? What is the follow through beyond 5th grade? Has anyone addressed this? With such Strict expectations for these children, combined with a rigorous academic schedule/environment (and dress code), you would think that the people involved in creating and or working/overseeing this program, for the children in our community, would have looked beyond their own paychecks to ensure the well being of the child, well beyond the elementary level. Also, Michelle, it is my understanding from speaking with several parents (and ex-staff), with all these reviews touting such high standards leading to greater assessment test scores, that each child is encouraged and allowed to take multiple assessment tests to achieve more acceptable scores. Money they receive for this charter is in large part based upon these assessment scores. The primary focus of the staff is indeed these assessment scores, it lines their pockets. What a shame. Not to say there isn't a need or place in our community for charter schools, as they indeed typically have smaller classrooms, etc, these programs need to look beyond just their agenda/paychecks for the greater good of the children involved. It seems to me these programs have many issues to work out, and should have before they were implemented. Also one more item to note: children should NEVER be Punished for things that are completely out of their control! Not adhering to their strict dress code (they state they are not uniforms), AA Website: *Sweats/pajamas/workout pants are not considered part of our dress code. *All students will be held to the dress code. If a student is not then s/he will be written up and s/he will need to change.
*After being written up 3 times s/he will be sent home to change.
A child singled out and "written up" like a referral for not adhering, when it is typically the parents who are at fault for such events, not to mention think about the community they are catering to: lower income, minority, etc. Since when can lower income families afford such attire for their children? The child should NEVER be singled out or written up for such an issue well beyond their control! The Expectations are ridiculous and no child should be expected to conform to such standards. Please do read them before considering applying for this program, you can find them on their website. You may be better off finding a chartered Montessori, which is structured with only the child's well being in mind, or coming up with the cash to pay for a k-12 private school. Upon research and reviews, my opinion: these are nothing but glorified public schools with a power trip. Do all your research Before submitting your application!!!!! Don't just talk with parents who's children attend the AA, but with parents who removed their children from the program as well. Talk with both current and ex-staff, this is your child, they deserve for you to do your due diligence. Being "charter" does not necessarily equate to "better" than other opportunities for your child.
Submitted by a concerned parent and citizen

@MAB, while I'm pretty anti-charter, there were a couple of things in your post that I'd like to point out:

1) I can't think of a single middle school in PPS that has over 1000 students (those are high school numbers, which is why I'm pro-middle/anti K-8, because that IS a shock for those kids). Large middle schools here have 550 students.

2) Rigid structure and rules (as you kinda later note) doesn't translate to higher achievement, quite the opposite, actually. Some of the most successful PPS middle schools (Davinci, for example) are also the most flexible and enjoyable for the kids.

3) You talk a lot about low income families scraping together enough funds for private school. Since the only truly superior private schools in Portland (OES and Catlin-Gable) are over $20K per year in tuition, I'll assume you mean parochial schools.

That's a different bag altogether---they don't offer any sort of superior education and are not worth the additional resources at all. Families would do better to simply buy or rent in an area with a decent (and I don't mean super expensive, either) school.

4) Lastly, the dress code/uniform thing. Believe it or not, for all my authority bucking and challenging, I'm fine with that (and their rigidity). Why? It's a charter school----you CHOOSE to go there and adhere to their many stipulations. Now when neighborhood schools enact these rules, I feel very differently and would flout them every chance I got!

5) Really lastly---you assume the kids will fall apart once they're in a less controlled environment. Some kids will, some kids might actually do better. Based on what you say, Arthur Academy are a lot more focused on conformity and test scores than kids actually learning something.

I am a teacher in David Douglas, but not Arthur Academy. I can tell you that if our school got to select the students we enrolled, we would have amazing test scores as well. We have received students who have been released from Arthur Academy because that school cannot meet their needs. They do not have the resources for students who qualify for Special Education. They do not have the resources for second language learners.

When I was applying for teaching jobs 12 years ago, I looked into Arthur Academy. I quickly turned away because I disagreed with their approach of rigid, direct instruction. In my experience, that produces rigid learners. When a student transfers into my class from Arthur Academy, I find very fundamental critical thinking skills are lacking. They have great rote memorization of facts, but are unable to go beyond the surface. I also find some of them far below grade level because they were unable to master basic skills and did not get to move beyond that. Exposing children to new curriculum and concepts even when they haven't mastered prerequisite skills helps them to gain greater understanding of the whole, not just the parts.

I do believe that Arthur Academy is great for some kids. That is why it is a charter school. If you think your child would thrive in this kind of environment, I would say give it a try. If you have a creative, critical thinker, this environment would likely feel like torture.

That's just my two cents...

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