How to Create a New School 101: The Croft School is Opening Its Doors This Fall in JP

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It's not every day, or year, that a new elementary school is created in Jamaica Plain. Public, private, charter, Montessori, Catholic -- the birth of a new learning institution is quite an ordeal. Come this fall, the Croft School will be opening its doors in Forest Hills.

Croft School co-founder and Jamaica Plain resident Cristina Smith.

The Croft School is co-founded by Scott Given, who previously founded and was the CEO of the UP Education Network, and Jamaica Plain resident Cristina Smith, who moved to the area in 2017 after working at elementary schools in California.

The Croft School is opening at 3815 Washington St., which was previously home to the Harvest Co-op.

Given answered questions from Jamaica Plain News about what it takes to create a school from scratch.

Q: Why did you want to open the Croft School?

Given: The motivation was initially quite personal. For a while, my wife and I leaned towards city public schools as our default option, but we became more and more concerned about quality inconsistency. We also wanted a more holistic education than we saw being delivered within BPS. Our review of most private schools yielded options that were unaffordable and not diverse. We felt stuck — there were no undeniably high-quality mid-priced schools.

So, in 2017, I decided to create the Croft School in Providence in an attempt to solve this conundrum for my own family and for others like us. We hypothesized that many families would value what we built. As it turns out, we were right. Our founding group of 20 students and families enjoyed and valued their experience — and this past spring, we had more than 70 applicants for our 20 open kindergarten seats.

Given how well it has been going in Providence, we realized we could now create the same type of school in Boston, close to home.

Q: What goes into opening a school?

Given: The process involves finding out what the community wants and needs, and then building a program that we hope surpasses those expectations. In Jamaica Plain and Roslindale, we heard that families are looking for school that prioritizes excellent teaching and a balanced curriculum, with both academics and play. They want to be welcomed in their child’s class and receive high levels of parent communication and opportunities for involvement. Families are looking for a personalized education experience that fosters a love of learning, community and meets each child where they are academically and social-emotionally.

To build that, we did extensive research. We visited top-performing schools across the country. We also spoke with many teachers and school leaders about what they love in elementary education, what’s working and what is not. With the model in hand, we began spreading the word about our school and meeting with parents. We were met with a very warm reception both in Providence and in Boston.

The other nuts bolts that we had to figure out include:

  • Finding a site that is bright, centrally located, and conducive to building community.
  • Working with an architect and construction team to build a welcoming space that inspires learning.
  • Recruiting and hiring engaging and exceptionally skilled teachers. These are teachers who are eager to be founding members of school.
  • Training our new hires in “The Croft Way”
  • Creating and executing an admissions process that allows us to enroll a diverse student body of curious learners.
  • Throwing fun events to get the word out

Croft School co-founder Scott Given

Q: Are you using your own money to start the school? Taking out loans, receiving grants from the state, city, or federal government?

Given: We’ve been fortunate to raise funds from a number of Bostonians to construct the school and get it started. We’re really grateful for their belief in our team and about what a school like Croft can bring to our city.

Q: Why in Jamaica Plain?

Given: Jamaica Plain and Roslindale are wonderful, dynamic, and diverse communities where so many young families value the quality of education their children receive. We talked to families throughout lots of Boston’s neighborhoods and sensed the most enthusiasm for our school right here! We have been so excited to see how many families from JP and Roslindale, as well as other neighborhoods, have decided to pursue enrollment at our school.

Q: How do you two [Scott Given and Cristina Smith] know each other?

Given: As many working relationships go, we met through a mutual acquaintance in the field of education several years back. We’ve worked very closely together since then.

Q: How many teachers will be at the school?

Given: In our founding year, there will be two co-teachers in both of our two founding classrooms. Having two lead teachers for every 20 students allows us to work in small groups and personalize each child’s experience. In the pre-K classroom, we will also have an associate teacher.

We will also have part-time teachers for music, art, and physical education.

Our extended day program includes enrichment programming. Ukulele, robotics, and dance are examples of classes we have held for our Providence location.

Q: What makes the Croft School different from other schools?

Given:

  • Co-teachers: two lead teachers allow us to personalize instruction
  • Balanced curriculum: excellent academics, project based learning, and play
  • Weekly trips: connecting our project-based social studies and science work with the real world
  • Comparative affordability: Our school’s tuition is roughly half the cost of other top private schools and we also have a good amount of financial aid available
  • What we call “Parent 3.0,” a unique concierge-like approach to supporting and communicating with our school’s families.
  • Small, nimble: Because we are small, we can quickly learn and implement the most up-to-date learning theory and practices.

Q: How did you decide on the cost of the school?

Given: It was important for our full tuition rate to be accessible to a lot more families than can afford schools that are in the $30,000 or even $40,000+ range. We did a robust analysis of the costs required to establish a truly excellent school program and determined the tuition based on that work.

Q: There will be two classrooms in the Croft School in JP. Do you plan on expanding so the children can continue their education at the Croft School? Would that require retaining a larger building?

Given: Initially serving students in K1 (pre-kindergarten) and K2 (kindergarten), the school will expand by one grade level each year until becoming a K1 through Grade 6 school. We are building out a second floor in our space to accommodate the older grades. Our school will have about 160 students at full capacity.

Q: Will your children be attending the Croft School?

Given: Yes! This fall, my two boys will be in the founding pre-K and kindergarten classes, respectively.

Q: You opened a Croft School in Providence this past fall. What have you learned from opening that school that will help you open the JP one this fall?

Given: There are many small lessons that you learn from opening a school, and also some big ones. For one thing, we started our timeline out a lot earlier with our construction plans in Boston than we did in Providence. That will help us ease into the founding school year. Another lesson we learned is enrichment classes are best taught in smaller groups, so each of those classes only has 10 students, which is awesome for our kids’ experience and learning.

Q: How many students can attend the Croft School? Do you still have spots open for this fall?

Given: There will be 20 pre-kindergarten and 20 kindergarten students (totaling 40 students) when the school opens in September.  Last fall, we admitted about half of those students through an early admission process.

For more information about the Croft School click here.

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