Q&A with DC Wildflower PCS
What has been the most exciting part [of the journey] since being conditionally approved by the DC PCSB last year and why?
The most exciting part of the journey is two-fold: moving from visioning and dreaming into planning and implementation; and expanding the Founding Team to bring in the expertise and lived experience to grow the team.
Another exciting piece of the experience is securing residential property that will be converted into a home aligned to the vision of the Founding Teacher Leaders Zani Dalili-Ortique and Ebony Marshman who are residents of Ward 7. The residential home is on a triple lot and will accommodate [DC Wildflower PCS’] desire to center nature and give children regular access to the outdoors.
What challenges has DC Wildflower PCS experienced while planning to open in SY 2022-23? How do you plan on overcoming these challenges?
Some of our [DC Wildflower PCS] challenges include:
- Creating infrastructure and [balancing the] many demands of a startup environment.
- Documenting the wisdom and lessons we are learning since we will expect to open at least one new microschool every year in Wards 4, 5, and 8 (Our first school will open in Ward 7).
- Engaging continuously with a range of different communities as Teacher Leaders designing in various neighborhoods across the city.
DC PCSB has 23 public charter school campuses in Ward 7. Why did you all decide to open your first school there?
Choosing to be East of the River was a priority for our [DC Wildflower PCS] Founding Teacher Leaders, who wanted to work and live in the same community.
Our location stood out because it has abundant outdoor space that will support easy flow between indoor and outdoor learning on the covered porch and lawn, as well as ample space for a small garden and plantings. It resonates with us to be in a home because the first Montessori school was called Casa dei Bambini (or Children’s House).
Founding Teacher Leaders began designing their school in January 2020 and led with dreaming and reimagining the purpose and potential of the school. They believe that school design can only be done in community. With a focus on deep relationship building for the long haul, Zani and Ebony had to be strategic about this goal. We have actively sought out the support and advice of community organizers, experienced educators, community leaders and partners to guide us on this journey. In addition to having a diverse group of advisors during the school design process, we sought advice from community organizers at Washington Interfaith Network (W.I.N) to learn their methods for activating communities around housing issues and effective practices for talking to community member.
What makes your school model unique?
Over the next five years, DC Wildflower PCS will open four to six unique microschools that are teacher-led and community embedded. As schools affiliate with The Wildflower Foundation, they will live into the principles and values in ways that best meet the needs of that individual neighborhood and school community.
Teacher Leaders are both the Montessori Guide (Teacher) and School Leader of their locations. The back office team provides an array of support services to each individual microschool and together they will develop systems to ensure transparency and empower leadership and ownership.
Our scale and desire to create intimate school communities will allow Teacher Leaders to be in deep relationships with students and families. Each site will ensure that it serves no more than 50 students and we expect most sites to be the size of a one classroom school. Our small scale allows us to meet students and families where they are and adapt to their needs over time through deep, meaningful relationships.
On your website, the mission of DC Wildflower Public Charter School (DCWPCS) is to serve a larger, universal purpose in eliminating racial and social discrimination and hierarchy – and offer an intimate liberatory educational experience. We believe intentionally small, community embedded, teacher-led Montessori learning environments will accelerate the journey for students of the global majority to be and feel safe, seen and heard. DCWPCS is where students’ identities are affirmed and their genius unleashed! In what ways do you plan on fulfilling this purpose with your students and families?
Fulfilling the mission of DC Wildflower PCS starts with the Teacher Leaders who will design the microschools over a 12-18 month timeframe. DC Wildflower PCS will prioritize centering educators of color with a track record of serving students in the District. Through this lens, we will support educators in becoming social entrepreneurs and community organizers providing them with the tools and coaching support to design a school that will serve students and families in the community where they live.
The charter pathway provides an avenue for more Black and Brown children to access Montessori [schools] and we are thrilled to be among the 11 schools using the equitable access preference this year. This provides DC Wildflower PCS with another way to prioritize families who haven’t traditionally had access to Montessori programs.