Frequently Asked Questions

Is Muscota New School a public school or a charter school?

Muscota New School, PS 314 is a District 6, public elementary school. It is not a charter school. We are co-located with Amistad Dual Language School. Our school is “unzoned” which means that students are not assigned to us solely by their address. Families prioritize school and are admitted, space permitting. Priority is given to siblings and District 6 applicants.

How does Muscota New School choose its students?

Interested families are strongly encouraged to come on a tour. While our progressive philosophy supports all children well, we invite families to get to know us so they can make an informed choice. After the tour and getting to know our philosophy, families can apply to enroll in our school via Kindergarten Connect. Students are selected for Muscota through the Kindergarten Connect process which is a lottery. Priority is given to siblings and residents of district 6. Attending a Kindergarten Connect workshop is highly encouraged. Our mission is to be a diverse community. We accomplish this through outreach, word-of-mouth, and by virtue of our diverse district. We do not select students on the basis of race, ethnicity, academic ability, personality, etc.

What is the educational philosophy at Muscota?

  • Learning is a natural part of a child’s development.
  • Each student is important; individual feelings and ideas are considered and inquiries are given thoughtful response.
  • Each student needs to experience success in order to prosper.
  • Children learn best through discovery and inquiry.
  • It is the teacher’s responsibility to encourage students to question, discuss, and investigate the world around them.
  • Education should strive to maintain the uniqueness of learners and respect the differences between individuals.
  • Students learn best in an academically diverse environment to reflect the multitude of learners.
  • “Authentic assessment" tools, such as close examination of a child's performance and observing a child at work, are used to evaluate and follow the growth of each child.
  • We are all citizens in a community that meets and works in groups and at least once a week as a whole at Town Meeting.

What is Progressive Education?

We are not alone in our progressive philosophy. And many people define progressive education differently. But we employ these guidelines when shaping our progressive approach to education -- attending to the whole child, community, collaboration, social justice, intrinsic motivation, deep understanding, active learning and taking children seriously. Many top public and private schools believe that children learn best when education is active, attuned to the child’s developmental stage, and purposeful. Lively topics, project-based assignments, and connections to the real world are some ways that progressive educators make the curriculum engaging for students. While every child is taught the basic life skills, we value a range of learning areas including physical education, social-emotional learning, Earth literacy, and the arts. Teachers provide regular opportunities for children to follow their interests. Taking an active role helps children develop the skills needed to be informed citizens and responsible community members.

Does Progressive Education mean that classes are unstructured?

  • No. Progressive classrooms do look different than traditional ones. Children are often seated in groups and have regular opportunities to talk and move about the room. The teacher may be working with a small group or listening as a student leads a class meeting. However, there is a great deal of structure built into the children’s day to support independent work habits and to build strong communities. Rules and routines are taught diligently so the children learn to conduct themselves independently. The first six weeks of school is the time that most routines are discussed and practiced. Social skills are an important part of the learning that happens at school. This is a great article to read about progressive education by Alfie Kohn. Progressive Education: Why It's Hard to Beat, But Also Hard to Find .

Muscota also employs the Responsive Classroom techniques of

The Seven Guiding Principles:

1. The social curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum.

2. How children learn is as important as what they learn: Process and content go hand in hand.

3. The greatest cognitive growth occurs through social interaction.

4. To be successful academically and socially, children need a set of social skills: cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, and self-control.

5. Knowing the children we teach -- individually, culturally, and developmentally -- is as important as knowing the content we teach.

6. Knowing the families of the children we teach and working with them as partners is essential to children's education.

7. How the adults at school work together is as important as their individual competence: Lasting change begins with the adult community.

How do we assess students and approach standardized testing?

Muscota New School is committed to accurately assessing student learning and knowing children well. We believe that this is best accomplished using a variety of techniques over the course of the year. The best assessments inform teachers about how to focus instruction to help a particular child. The worst ones give little or no direction for working with students, are stressful and discouraging to children, or do not generate accurate information. Muscota New School teachers assess student progress using a variety of tools and techniques, such as running records, surveys, performance assessments, quizzes, and classroom observations. These ongoing records inform daily decisions and are communicated to families during conferences and in written reports 4 times a year.

Teachers in testing grades offer review and test-taking strategy lessons to prepare students who are taking the standardized tests. We believe that our interdisciplinary standards based curriculum that promotes critical thinking and problem solving skills is the best preparation.

Muscota New School seeks to respect all opinions and perspectives on the matter of standardized testing by encouraging dialogue and by providing support for all of its students. Standardized tests are not used for promotion decisions.

How big are Muscota New School’s classes?

Muscota New School prioritizes keeping class sizes smaller than average. K classes have about 25 students with one teacher. Grades 1 – 5 have about 25-28 students. Additional teachers support students during part of the reading and math blocks reducing the teacher student ratio to 12:1.

What is looping?

Muscota practices looping, which means that teachers progress with a class through a two-year cycle. Therefore Muscota students are taught by the same teacher for two successive grades for Kindergarten/First Grade and also for Third/Fourth Grade. Second grade and fifth grade are standalone grades, the configuration looks like this: K-1, 2, 3-4, 5. Looping allows for deeper relationships between the family and teacher. In the second year of the loop, classes can begin working on curriculum right away, since expectations and rules have been established the previous year.

Does Muscota New School give homework?

Homework expectations vary by grade although it is recommended that all students spend time reading or being read to each day. Homework should never be overwhelmingly burdensome to our students and families. When the homework experience is overly stressful, the negative impact will outreach the benefit. In general, the amount of homework increases each year as students become more able to complete independent assignments. Since students are actively engaged during the school day, many are exhausted afterwards. Teachers take into consideration other important activities that happen after school. Since research and parent opinion vary on the benefits of homework in the elementary years, it is a topic that continues to surface in community forums. (Link to homework policy)

How does Muscota address the needs of all learners?

Muscota New School teachers consider the level of each child in order to tailor assignments to the individual. Many topics are naturally geared to a range of learners. Readers’ and Writers’ Workshops, research projects, and hands-on investigations allow learners to move at their own pace. In line with progressive philosophy - teaching to the individual and using their strengths, interests and the tools that work for them. Students who show readiness have extended assignment/depth that allow for delving more deeply. They are guided to apply their learning to new situations, to make connections between subject areas, and to “prove” their work. Since we believe that children learn best when they explore multiple facets of a concept, we avoid introducing new content too quickly. Pushing rapidly through a series of new topics gives the appearance of rigorous learning, but does not build a solid conceptual foundation nor set the stage for synthesizing understandings.

Does Muscota provide special education or intervention services?

At Muscota, we are dedicated to teaching all of our children in the way that each one learns the best. Sometimes, students need additional or varied academic supports to fully reach their academic potential. As such, academic intervention at Muscota is aligned with Response to Intervention (RtI), a structure and framework that allows for maximization in student growth across each of our grades. Students can receive services either at-risk or through a formal Individualized Education Plan(IEP). Students receive services through the following providers: Special Education teacher, Guidance Counselor, Physical Therapist, Occupational Therapist, Speech/Language and Hearing teacher. We encourage all incoming families of students with an IEP to set up an appointment with Lisa Brunner, special education liaison.

For more information about intervention services at Muscota, please contact Lisa Brunner at