Good News – a STEM Alternative
by Kate Dalby
Last fall several of my TJ prep parents asked me what I knew about Basis; at the time absolutely nothing. Ignorance is not my favorite state of mind, so I did some research which included meeting with Sean Aiken, Basis Independent school principal, to find out more about his K-12 school opening up in McLean (Tysons), Virginia.
Basis is a consortium of schools: some charter public schools, such as the school in Washington DC, and others independent private schools, both national and international. All of these school specialize in science, technology, engineering, and math, that is, STEM.
As an independent educator, I was especially interested in how Mr. Aiken staffs the school; he explained that all of the teachers have degrees in the subject that they teach. Furthermore, many of the teachers who will be joining the inaugural class in the fall of 2016 have PhDs, have worked at a college level, and see the need for quality STEM education earlier in the educational experience.
One of the ways Basis vets staff is to have the teacher come teach a class of students and get the students comments about the instructor’s teaching style and effectiveness. When I asked Mr. Aiken if Basis takes these assessments seriously, he explained that his instincts and experience in hiring rule the day for staff selection, but student evaluations are critical information for staff selection.
The News Gets Better and Better
To underscore this stellar selection process, I found out that the McLean Basis has hired Vern Williams as part of its math department. For those who don’t know, Mr. Williams, of Longfellow Middle School, has been instrumental in promoting excellence in math instruction in Fairfax County. When he was coaching my son’s Math Counts team, those middle schoolers regularly beat out high schoolers at TJHSST. My adult son declared to me years later, that the best math teacher he ever had was Mr. Williams. When I heard this news, I knew that Basis was a school worthy of consideration.
Understandably, there is concern that the curriculum is too heavily weighted to STEM, but not at the expense of the arts. In addition to required classes in the humanities, there are clubs in art, dance, improv, and theatre (to name a few) to satisfy the desire for extracurricular activities.
The school is under construction right now (May 2016) and so the possibilities for sports are limited until they can construct the pool and other athletic facilities. And while they don’t have a football team yet, the school will have classes in swimming, basketball, fencing, and golf. (Click here for a full list.)
Basis also has an extensive teacher orientation that gives the faculty an opportunity to discuss best practices for dealing with difficulties in the classroom. It is good to know the faculty is on the same page and not at cross purposes. As a tutor, I was heartened to know that if a student is have difficulty in a subject there is a support structure in place to bridge the gap. And, if a student is ahead of his or her peers that student is not held back but allowed to progress at his or her own accelerated rate.
If you are considering placing your son or daughter in a private school, I strongly recommend you visit Basis
to see if it is a good fit for your child.