Why parents line up for this school

More than a hundred families visited ICS last month, for the school's annual open house for prospective parents and kids.

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    Prospective parents and students gathered in the ICS media center to meet principal Laurent Ditmann at the school's open house last month.
    Mary Wiltenburg
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More than a hundred families visited ICS last month, for the school's annual open house for prospective parents and kids.

The entire ICS staff came to work on a Saturday, dressed up and ready to impress. In their classrooms, they flirted with visiting babies, reassured nervous parents, and met their potential students. Up in the school media center, principal Laurent Ditmann introduced the school with a New York Times video clip about a pair of boys, Burmese- and US-born friends, who met at ICS.

"There are other schools out there that refugees attend. There are other schools out there that talk about diversity," he said. "There is no other school like ICS in the United States."

Toddlers frisked on the library carpet while their US- and overseas-born parents asked probing questions about the school's fundraising prospects and whether it had a program of "moral education."

"What don't you do well?" one prospective father wanted to know.

Laurent said the school had struggled to harness parental involvement. While it's working on structuring that better, it doesn't currently have a PTA or a volunteer coordinator.

Then, while the littlest kids packed a kindergarten classroom and explored the unfamiliar toys, parents toured the school, talking with teachers and assistants and listening to presentations about the International Baccalaureate Program and the class lottery. In a neighborhood where traditional public elementary schools are closing for lack of enrollment, this public charter school has to use lottery admissions applications. Many interested families are turned away.

Prospective parent Laura Alish is hoping her daughter, a rising second grader, and her son, a rising kindergartener, will be some of the lucky ones. Laura, a former first-grade teacher herself, is prepared to homeschool her kids if they can't attend a school where they get recess time, a rarity in the county for liability reasons.

What appeals to her about ICS, she says, is that while the school teaches within the IB curriculum framework (basically a philosophy of education, coupled with ideas about how to break it down for each year of a child's development) teachers didn't have the kind of "set curriculum" (single-subject textbooks with dittos and the mandate to teach particular activities in a rigid order and manner corresponding to the end-of-year tests) that bedevil most public school teachers today. "It's teaching a love of learning, not just driving in the facts," she says. "I'm very excited."

If you're excited too, join Little Bill Clinton on Twitter for all the latest updates.

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