Head’s Lines: Exciting Highlights About Our Move to Two Divisions

in Winter 2019 by

In fall 2020, Park will officially open as a two-division school. Our Lower Division will be composed of PreKindergarten – Grade 4 and the Upper Division will be made up of Grade 5 – Grade 8. A two-division model, guided by our Strategic Plan, will allow us to clearly define and deliver exceptional elementary and middle school programs as components of a ten-year social, emotional, and academic journey — the arc at Park.

Leading up to this transition, we completed a thorough assessment of the benefits and challenges of three- and two-division models. We found a two-division model would bring greater alignment and continuity PreK through Grade 8 and garner a clearer and stronger sense of identity for each division. The most significant outcomes that come with this change include:

  • Four full days for PreK students with added time for science, music, art, and play;
  • A reimagined Grade 5 as a highly differentiated beginning to the Upper Division;
  • A new academic schedule bringing longer interdisciplinary blocks in the Upper Division and lunch after recess for PreK through Grade 4.

Four Full Days for PreK Students

The PreKindergarten faculty first considered moving Park’s PreK program to this model several years ago. As the majority of our PreK families began to utilize the After-School Program a minimum of four days per week, the rationale for a schedule change became more and more compelling. Additionally, the longer days will allow for exciting changes to the curriculum such as more science and more opportunities for free-choice, play, and rest.

“With a less pressured schedule, the teacher is able to be more responsive to the children in her care, allowing more time for ‘child-initiated learning activities’ and ‘stimulating interactions with their teachers.’”
– Erika Christakis
, The Importance of Being Little: What Young Children Really Need from Grownups  

The Redesign of Grade 5

Bringing Grade 5 into the Upper Division creates a transitional year that meets the developmental and intellectual needs of our fifth graders. Starting in the fall, math in Grade 5 will be taught by a designated math teacher and co-taught by the assigned homeroom teacher, allowing for greater differentiation in the math curriculum. Science in Grade 5 will also get a boost as more time per week will be dedicated to scientific exploration. Additionally, world language study — French, Latin, Mandarin, and Spanish — will begin in the fifth grade, as well as visual and performing arts electives, after-school athletics, as well as one season of after-school drama. We’ll also build in developmentally-appropriate flexibility and autonomy into the day of fifth graders as they prepare for their successive years in the Upper Division.

“Fifth graders are eager to take on more responsibility. Joining the Upper Division will allow fifth-grade students to experience a boost in responsibilities and opportunities, such as traveling to classes independently, interacting with specialized math and foreign language teachers, and participating in clubs and athletics with the rest of the Upper Division.”
– Courtney Bonang, Grade 5 Teacher 

A New Academic Schedule

PreKindergarteners and fifth graders will not be the only students to benefit from a two-division model. The shift to two divisions brings with it the launch of a new academic schedule schoolwide, PreK through Grade 8 (See New Student-Centered Schedule Takes Shape). For the Lower Division, this means longer blocks of time during the day for literacy and math. It means recess before lunch so that students can burn energy and socialize before eating. And, it also means moving Lower Division Community Time (currently Fridays at 11:15) to Tuesday afternoons. “This will be an exciting opportunity to create a cohesive, unified community where everyone in PreK – Grade 4 feels known and fourth graders are recognized as leaders,” says Kimberly Formisano. For the Upper Division, the new academic schedule will bring longer teaching blocks fostering interdisciplinary and differentiated learning, new academic arts electives in visual art, drama, and music, and the introduction of a social-emotional learning block to support our Advisory and Growth Education programs. Caroline Beasley shares, “What I love most about the new schedule is its flexible design and how it creates more opportunities for differentiation for students, collaboration between teachers, and engaging curriculum. It removes barriers that can often get in the way of innovation.”

“The new division structure creates opportunities for interdisciplinary work between math and science, enriching each subject through meaningful connections and challenging students to apply their learning in new ways.”
– Meg Armour, Science Teacher

“We are most excited about having weekly 80-minute periods to engage more deeply in applied, project-based learning opportunities with our social studies students.”
– Chris Beeson and Merrill Hawkins ’96, Upper Division Social Studies Teachers 

Thanks to the excellent leadership and planning by Kimberly Formisano and Caroline Beasley and the incremental steps we’ve taken in the last two years, we have laid the groundwork for Park to begin the 2020-21 academic year as a two-division school. I’m excited about what’s ahead and the opportunities that await all of our students as we embark on a new model for what it means to grow up together at Park.

Scott became Park's 14th Head of School on July 1, 2018, bringing two decades of exceptional achievement to Park as a strategic, compassionate, and effective leader at three nationally recognized independent schools. Prior to joining The Park School community, Scott spent seven years at Marin Academy in San Rafael, CA where he served in the roles of Dean of Faculty and Academic Dean. He lives on campus with his wife Katie, their son Peter, and their daughter Caroline.