School Design for Success


History of Bellevue International School

Bellevue International School was the sole creation of six visionary teachers, and has consistently ranked in the top tier of schools nationwide...Read more

History of Kirkland International Community School (ICS)

Kirkland International Community School had no computers the first year, and our students were housed in portables with little shelter from the rain...Yet, by the second year we achieved the highest writing scores on statewide exams...Read more

Humanities Curriculum at Bellevue International School and Kirkland ICS

Quarterly grading periods, winter breaks and summer recesses were mere interruptions in one continuous curriculum...Read more

How Social Promotion Gives a "Pass" to Schools that Fail

Ask any teacher whether social promotion "works", and you will receive a clear answer: It doesn't...Read more

First Test Scores from Bellevue International School and Kirkland International School

These scores were achieved by schools that were untried, built on promises, and which had yet to acquire a reputation for rigor and success...Read more

Creating A Powerful Teaching Culture

If the teaching culture is not transformed, then "school renewal" will be an empty promise...Read more

Making it Better vs. Making it New

"Better" and "different" may sometimes be confused as charter schools describe their mission...Read more

How Marysville Arts & Technology H.S. Began

"We don't have tennis courts. We don't have a gym. We don't have a lot of things," Principal Bruce Saari said. "We do have a small school culture."Read more

History of Kirkland International Community School (ICS)

For the first three years, our Kirkland International School students were housed in portables and had no shelter from the rain. Teachers and students had to walk across a parking lot to get to the bathrooms and cafeteria of the host high school. We had no student computers during the first year; just one for the secretary and one that had been loaned to me by a founding parent. Yet, by the conclusion of the second year, our Kirkland International Community School students had achieved the highest writing scores on statewide standard exams.

-Bruce Saari, Founder

How the International Community School of Kirkland Began:

As founding parents requested, I was hired to design Lake Washington International Community School to be a clone of Bellevue International, where I had been a Program Developer the previous six years.

Work on this second in a series of small public schools began in March (1997), and the founding parents and I held our first public information meeting that month at the Lake Washington HS auditorium. We had only six months to create and open a new school where none had existed before.

I recruited our first two classes of 150 7th and 8th graders, developed an instructional and program philosophy that extended and improved upon the original Bellevue International School model*, and then, working with Kirkland founding parents, selected the inaugural content area staff.

For its first three years Kirkland International Community School was housed in portables located behind Redmond High School. On free time our students had no shelter from the rain, and bathroom facilities were located on the far side of a large parking lot. Life in the portables was a challenge for us, and during that first year there were no student computers available--only the secretary's and mine, which had been loaned to me by one of the founding parents.

Yet, by the conclusion of the second year, our Kirkland International Community School students had achieved the highest writing scores on statewide standard exams--and for several years thereafter notched higher scores than Bellevue International School across the majority of skill and content areas.

Why are these results worth noting? In an era which sees school spending and student performance as directly correlated, we stood alone as an example of a materially deprived school where, because of staff commitment and school instructional culture, our students reached the highest levels of achievement.

There are many to thank for the opening of Lake Washington International Community School. First would be the energetic founding parents who blazed the way for its creation. Second, and most directly responsible for the success of the school, would be the inaugural staff** who pulled the program together during those challenging first several years.

Lake Washington's Kirkland International Community School is now entering its twentieth year of operation, and is a leading public school program in Washington State.

So what is the recipe for a school's success?

The transition to student centering, to big picture thinking, to connected learning experiences, to creating classrooms where students have the confidence to think, to challenge, to be thoughtful, to share and to grow: These are the the Alpha and Omega for successful schools and student learning epiphanies.

When learning activities are connected from class to class and from year to year, and when what "has been done" is a platform that can be applied to "what needs to be done--a curriculum becomes a set of experiences that make sense and that can be clearly understood and...mastered.

Think of a journey through a public school's curriculum from a typical student's perspective: "Now we study 'this' and take a test. Now we study 'that'." If the information and insight gained during a particular study--whether it is in the humanities, the sciences or mathematics--cannot be carried forward and used meaningfully by the student, then what is the point of studying any of these?

To use an example from the humanities content area: A work such as Beowulf wouldn't be taught merely because it was an early work, or because it was one of the teacher's personal favorites, or because it was on a college reading list.

Instead it would be taught because it was an advanced commentary on previous learning experiences, and because it developed anew key ideas that have been carried upward from previous works, as well as carried forward to future years.

It would occupy a niche in a learning sequence because it was essential for it to be there--exactly there. To arbitrarily remove it from this location and place it somewhere else would be analogous to removing a species from an ecosystem or a food chain. This is the premise behind the Humanities Curriculum that I taught at both Bellevue and Lake Washington International Community School (Kirkland).

*As the last of the remaining original founders on the Bellevue staff, I had the privilege of graduating with our first 17 member class before departing for Lake Washington school district in order to develop Kirkland International Community School.

**Inaugural teaching staff at Lake Washington International Community School: John Heil (Science), Damaris Bartlett (Spanish), Andrew Ivy (International Studies), Sophia Hindley (Fine Arts), Ella Johnston (Math), and Bruce Saari (Humanities).

Sr. Project Student Video: The Story of ICS