The Coalition of Essential Schools

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a conference to celebrate the work of Ted Sizer. Ted, along with his wife Nancy, and a few others like Deborah Meier and Dennis Littky, started the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES). This school reform movement began in the mid-80s and Crefeld became the 55th Essential School in the country in 1988. The 10 Common Principles of CES have guided The Crefeld School for 30 years. Deborah Meier was the opening keynote and she was as insightful and provocative as always. Here are two quotes from her speech that I want you to think about:

“When children are not heard, they have two options. They can believe that they do not deserve to be heard, or they can make you hear them.”

“Children spend 12 years in a school system that is thoroughly disrespectful to democracy.”

The conference ended by a moving address by Nancy Sizer, who spoke about the impact of her husband’s legacy. I was honored to be present.

The 10 Common Principles of The Coalition of Essential Schools:

  1. Learning to use one’s mind well

  2. Less is more: depth over coverage

  3. Goals apply to all students

  4. Personalization

  5. Student-as-worker, teacher-as-coach

  6. Demonstration of mastery

  7. A tone of decency and trust

  8. Commitment to the entire school

  9. Resources dedicated to teaching and learning

  10. Democracy and equity

If you ever want to stop by my office to talk about CES, the 10 Common Principles, or progressive education, my door is always open.


We're in Philly Magazine!

Philly Magazine just published an article titled: 19 Philly-Area Schools Rethinking Education in Big Ways and Small. Well, Crefeld is one of the 19 schools in the piece. Here’s what they wrote about us.

The Crefeld School

Location: Chestnut Hill | The Twist: Having altruism as a core value

We know the world could use some TLC. And at Crefeld — a private, progressive secondary school — community service isn’t just ingrained in the school’s ethos; it’s carved into the calendar. Every Wednesday at 1 p.m., every student dedicates the afternoon to making a difference. Some go into the Wissahickon to rebuild trails; others make stuffed animals for children in foster care; some play music for residents of a mental health facility. “There can be a sense of ‘I am just one person. I can’t change anything,’” says Crefeld head of school George Zeleznik. “Giving back lets kids know that they are powerful agents of change — they can help.” Grades: 7–12.


Team Building

What do you worry about when you are starting a new job, going to a new school, or even just going back to school after a summer break? Are you excited, perhaps even a little nervous? These are the feelings that we all experience: teachers too. So, this year, Crefeld addressed the transition back to Crefeld for a new school year head on. Using both inside and outside resources, we spent several days in intentional team building activities so we could become stronger as a community, get to know one another a little better, and help lessen those first days jitters.

It started on the first inservice day when the faculty and staff reported back to work. We put aside student scheduling and setting up classrooms for the day and after a quick, get to know you exercise in the theater, we headed to Plymouth Meeting Mall, divided into three teams, and spent the morning rotating through three different “escape rooms.” Then we headed to lunch. This was a perfect way to have all the new and returning faculty and staff to become better acquainted with each other.

Then, on the Tuesday before the first day of school, we hosted a new family orientation on campus. New students had an opportunity to meet each other, meet their teachers, and get to know their way around the campus. While the students were having some fun, the parents were in “Crefeld 101” with me.

Each academic team (7/8, 9/10, 11/12), working with elective teachers, spent the first three days of school doing fun, team building exercises. Some students participated in a scavenger hunt at the Philadelphia Art Museum, others hiked in the Pine Barrens, another group worked on campus with an art therapist, and some built Adirondack chairs. The goal of this initiative is to build a stronger school culture. We celebrated our first week of school with the traditional whole school BBQ on Friday.

With our first day jitters out of the way, we are ready for the challenge of the new school year!


National Small Schools Conference

Over the last three days, Crefeld hosted the National Small Schools Conference (NSSC)! Educators and school leaders from all over the United States came to our campus for three days of amazing speakers and thought provoking workshops (not to mention some delicious meals together). The speakers included opening keynote Alfie Kohn, closing keynote Andre Lee, and featured speaker Leslie Gomez, who provided valuable information on how to protect children against abuse.

So why a conference for small schools? Because small schools are nurturing, caring, communities that function very differently than our larger counterparts. In small schools, often budgets are limited and everyone wears many hats. Crefeld hosts NSSC to bring people together who are committed to small schools, who accept this challenge, and who make a big impact on our world.

Please check out our conference website and plan to attend next year!


Well, we made it! Another class of Crefeld graduates headed out to to change the world. As I sit here and reflect on the class of 2018, I not only think about how much they have changed as young people, but how much they have impacted our community. They are a group of singers, artists, scholars, poets, and, most importantly, they are agents of change. The understand their inherent worth and their duty and obligation to powerfully impact society. I am very proud of each of them, and they are proud of themselves. The Crefeld class of 2018 will forever be woven into the fabric of our community and our lives.

Tonight, we have Senior Dinner, a special evening to honor the graduates and celebrate with their families. Tomorrow, we finish the school year with a whole school BBQ, as we spend the last few hours of the year eating, playing games, and signing yearbooks. Then, on Friday, is our commencement ceremony.

Once again, I am so proud of the Crefeld class of 2018.