Smith Preparatory High School

Changing the World, One Student at a Time

Our Mission Statement

We aim to help students grow into informed students who can compete at the highest levels of academics and embrace the daily challenges of modern life.

These challenges can be economic. After all: “the economic motive looms large” (Rose 2014, p. 27). However, while economically successful students is an important goal, this is not the main emphasis of Smith High School. We want students to grow personally as well. That can mean academic growth, character growth, or more varied hard to define types of growth. We hope to help our students along a path of lifelong fulfillment.

What Informs our Mission Statement?

Several branches of philosophy influence the way we think at Smith. Specifically, we agree with the philosophies of John Dewey. For Dewey, "the aim of education... is more education" (Noddings, 2012, p. 27). We believe everyone spends their entire life learning. Although the classroom is not forever, learning is. Because of this, we focus on helping students learn in traditional and non-traditional environments so they can find their learning later in life wherever it may be. We also embrace the philosophy of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi. We seek to incorporate what Pestalozzi might call "object lessons" (Noddings, 2012, p. 18), although we hope to refine the concept somewhat. Rather than using these lessons as a moral lesson, we hope to show students the ways traditional academic skills crossover to everyday situations. We want students to be able to apply what they learn to solve real world problems and develop meaningful skills.

Who can come to Smith?

We are a public school. However, we don't have a “home district.” Any students within the district are allowed to apply, and all are accepted. There is no entrance examination, making us a school of choice.

Who goes to Smith right now?

We offer grades 8-12. However, in order to insure all students complete basic requirements, students are not normally allowed to transfer into grades 11 or 12. Since we are a public school, any student in the district may attend.

How big is Smith and what are typical class sizes?

Our size typically varies year to year, but we are usually around 1,000 students. We strive to offer small classes, although this is not always possible. Introduction classes are typically larger, between 40 and 60 students. However, most other classes are 20 students or less, and every student will have a year long seminar each year capped at 9 students. Smith High is organized more like a college. During their first two years, students have some core classes taught with only their grade level. The main focus of these classes is preparation for statewide assessment tests and foundations for challenging classes later on. However, from the beginning of their time students are encouraged to take whatever elective classes interest them, regardless of the composition of the class in terms of grade level. Most classes are only taught by one teacher. Some interdisciplinary classes or very large classes may require two, but the majority of classes require only one teacher. In general, smaller class sizes are encouraged, although this may not be possible for all courses. A cap of 25 students per 1 teacher in a class is imposed, and larger classes are split into multiple classes or team taught. Most upper level classes are only a semester long. Introductory and preparatory classes last the entire year. Additionally, each year students takes a year long discussion and reflection based small group class with students in their year. This class only meets twice a week and is more about personal growth than traditional textbook learning.

Although logistics about number of teachers and building space had to influence our choices, we have a firm commitment to smaller class sizes. While our curriculum has been modified to conform with recent standards such as No Child Left Behind (Rury, 2013, p. 218), we still try to make learning a personal experience for both our students and our teachers. While we agree with the Committee of Ten on some issues, our most important departure from them is our emphasis on vocational and other real world skills. While assuming every student will go on to college is noble (Rury, 2013, p. 157-8), it is simply no longer true. So while we believe students should receive some traditional schooling in common subjects, this cannot be all the schooling they receive.

What does Smith prepare students to do?

Besides state standards to which we must conform, Smith adds more standards requiring a mixture of traditional academic classes and classes focused on more practical life skills students should develop. We offer AP and dual-credit opportunities where our standards overlap with the standards of those institutions. Besides just being requirements, standards are often necessary to judge student competence. As Rose says, “Standards that are employed fairly facilitate learning and show students that teachers believe in their ability to meet academic expectations” (Rose 2014, p. 122). We use standards to help students realize their potential and be ready for advanced classes and complex situations later in life. Standards are more than just a list of requirements; they are a set of skills necessary for life.

Some Examples:

Besides state standards, here are some examples of our standards:

Practical Science: Students should understand scientifically how objects they encounter on a day-to-day basis work, and should be able to explain this to others, fix problems with these objects, or create safe functional substitutes of their own.

Practical Politics: Students should be informed on current events and be confident researching, critiquing, and voting for candidates in current elections.

Theoretical Literature: Students should be able to critically read fiction and nonfiction works of many different levels and identify bias, symbolism, and other literary techniques. Students are expected to able to argue a distinct point of view using passages from the text to support their positions.

Theoretical Arts: Students are expected to understand the origins of specific movements and ideas in the visual and/or performing arts. Students should be able to classify pieces within their period and understand the changes and continuities between movements and periods, both over time and place.

What is our curriculum like?

Smith High School proudly features a unique curriculum. Students spend their 8th and 9th grade years on broad introductory liberal arts courses. These courses serve a double purpose preparation for standardized tests and the broad knowledge needed for further exploration in specific topics. These topics can cover any main subject area or multiple subject areas. The school requires introductory courses in history, math, science, economics, politics, arts, reading/literature, and technology. At least two full years of a foreign language or the equivalent is required as well. In their first two years students will take at least one introductory course in each subject area. This leaves students time to take more advanced classes right away if they wish, or explore other electives and introductory classes. To graduate, students need to complete at least one “practical” and one “theoretical” course in each subject area after taking introductory courses. Theoretical classes are traditional academic classes, often focused on specific areas of interest. Some also double as AP classes. Practical classes focus life skills. For example, a practical science class could involve the chemistry of cooking or electronic circuit building. Upper level classes can be interdisciplinary on both the practical and theoretical side. Students also have plenty of time to explore elective opportunities in the system, and they are encouraged to do so in order to fill the minimum credit requirement, equal to about 60 one semester classes over five years. This breaks down to:

Introductory classes (including language requirements): 20 semester hours

Practical classes: 12 semester hours

Theoretical classes: 12 semester hours

Elective classes: 16 semester hours

60 total semester hours

Students need at least one practical and one theoretical class in each subject area. Interdisciplinary classes can fulfill multiple subject area requirements, but students are still expected to take 12 theoretical and 12 practical classes.

The work of the Committee of Ten had a huge influence on our curriculum. While we agreed with their commitment to a liberal arts education for all, we were concerned by the disdain they showed vocational and nontraditional forms of education. This helped us develop our practical curriculum. Not everyone learns the same way. In fact, some people claim that Albert Einstein struggled in school until he went to one that used Pestalozzi-like techniques, similar to ours. As Nel Noddings says, "...we may wonder how many budding Einsteins experience failure in today's schools because the prevailing methods do not meet their needs" (Noddings, 2012, p. 19). That is our philosophy in a microcosm. Everyone can be an Einstein in their own way, and it's our job to help them realize how.

How does Smith tackle diversity issues?

Diversity in education, as in all society, is a serious issue we need to confront. Inequalities can go unnoticed or be so routine we think they are normal. Education is often one of the best places to talk about these issues. At Smith, we are proudly an Affirmative Action employer. We seek candidates from diverse backgrounds, in terms of race, gender, socioeconomic status, and other factors. We believe that having a diverse faculty can help our diverse student body. Diversity is important, but the ability to work with diverse populations is just as important. To this end, we also seek out staff with "demonstrated experience working with multicultural populations" (Tatum, 1997, p. 125). This experience is valuable for teaching a multicultural group of students. Additionally, many history, politics, literature, and arts course are encouraged to focus on marginalized groups and narratives students would not traditionally hear. This is important in giving students an understanding of why things are the way they are and setting them up with the knowledge to make a difference.