What Makes North Star Academy So Special?

The school, part of the Redwood City School District, serves grades 3 through 8 and consistently receives top marks for test scores and an enriching curriculum.

While most schools are cutting back on arts, theatre and other non-core subjects, students at Redwood City’s are enriching their studies with subjects from Medieval Weaponry to French Cooking .

The school teaches following the philosophy of Professor Joseph Renzulli, who stresses the potential of gifted students to learn without repeating material, thus providing greater opportunity for a diverse range of subjects to be covered.

The process of getting into North Star Academy is difficult, according to Wendy Kelly, a former Principal and Director of Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment at the .

Ninety-three students are selected annually entering third grade, based on a 7 point rubric that includes report cards from previous years as well as a reasoning test.

Gaining acceptance after third grade is difficult, given that there are very few drop outs. Applicants attempting to gain acceptance after that point will join a long waitlist.

According to Kelly, these rigorous standards make it possible to provide a higher quality of education to students, because material does not have to be repeated to the same extent as in typical elementary and middle school classes. As a result, gifted students have the opportunity to expand their knowledge.

North Star received an Academic Performance Index Score of 992 out of 1000 in 2011, ranking it as one of the top performing schools in the state.

North Star does not, however, simply teach to the test.

Students are constantly encouraged to seek out alternative activities if the class is covering material they are already familiar with.

This approach works very well for gifted children, according to Subartha Ramanathan, a parent of two children at North Star and an active PTA member.

Ramanathan explained how her son, now a high school junior at , was constantly bored throughout kindergarden.

“I was trying to find a way to keep him interested and engaged,” said Ramanathan.

Instead of focusing entirely on core material throughout the day and proceeding to extracurricular activities in the afternoon, North Star emphasizes exploring a diverse range of subjects throughout the day.

“One thing that makes it so unique and different is that we are able to offer deep and unique enrichment programs throughout the school day not just after school,” said Kelly.

Perhaps the most significant metric used by parents to judge an elementary or middle school is the extent to which the school prepares students for future education.

According to Kelly, a high percentage of students at North Star proceed to private high schools or to honors programs at the public high schools, while over 99% go on to pass the California High School Exit Exam.

“You don’t realize the value of North Star until your kid leaves North Star,” said Ramanathan.

What's special about your school? Tell us by emailing stacie@patch.com.


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Lisa B August 01, 2012 at 05:30 PM
I comment North Star for all of the work they are doing. I can only dream of the possibilities my "normally developing" boys could have if the children struggling in their class could receive the help they need. If "Gifted Students" can have their own school, allowing them to progress further in their education (without the distraction of meeting the needs of all others), why can't the district find a way to do this for all students?
SabrinaC August 01, 2012 at 05:49 PM
I have had two children go through North Star and two children who were not accepted. One of my kids who wasn't accepted scored 90% on the reasoning test. While this school was founded to meet the needs of gifted students, it is now really serving kids who are highly motivated - some are gifted but others just really work hard. That's not a bad thing, but it does leave behind kids who are gifted and talented AND not very motivated. Also, of course they do well on the API - these kids are the cream skimmed from the top of the district and most of them have VERY involved parents (something that helps kids do better in school and on tests).
Stacie Chan (Editor) August 02, 2012 at 02:13 AM
Thanks for your comment, Lisa. This particularly always piques my interest.. So are you suggesting that students be assigned to schools based on their academic performance so teachers/faculty can address any issues or challenges that are similar amongst all of them?
Tia Creighton Knuedler August 07, 2012 at 12:13 AM
I'm sorry but why is this school getting any praise???? It is NOT for "gifted" students, which is a legally defined distinction. It is--in the school's own words--for "talented and high-achieving" students, whatever that means. The school likes to ride on the term “gifted,” but North Star is not a GATE (gifted and talented education) program. What it IS is a school that practices skimming and elitism. Since when do children have to take a test to get into public school? I question whether North Star’s model is even legal under the Equal Education Opportunities Act. It’s not difficult to be a high-performing school when a school stacks the deck in its favor. I look forward to North Star being changed dramatically in the next few years.
Tia Creighton Knuedler August 07, 2012 at 12:17 AM
And while you're at it with this article, Patch should start talking about how parents cheat to get into this school and pressure teachers to change their children's grades so their children will be eligible to enroll. Really, let's have a real conversation about North Star Academy.
rcrapes August 08, 2012 at 05:25 PM
Teachers are pressured at many schools to change grades and I suspect it's not just in RCSD. Parents try to protect their little offsprings from failure or a dent to their self-esteem, but what they don't realize is that enhanced self-esteem is based on genuine success, not false triumph. In addition, is it better to learn from mistakes early on where it is easier to pick oneself up and move on, or be confronted with a larger failure that may not be so easily resolved?
John Foley August 08, 2012 at 11:20 PM
What passes for "gifted" in RCSD really is NOT in many cases. At a middle school, many pushy helicopter mommies with very uncreative and average kids, pressured the admin to get their kids into "GATE" under all kinds of threats at the teachers and office. Tia is exactly right. Parents would not believe the horrid behavior issues in the regular classes. HORRID.
rcrapes August 10, 2012 at 02:45 PM
Years ago RCSD was looking for a way to increase revenue and prevent "white flight" so they came up with the idea to have a "schools of choice"(magnet schools funded by the government) including a "gifted" alternative. This brought in $$ for awhile, but when the money went away, for the most part, so did the programs. The problem is that gifted is the top 5%, I think, but they didn't have enough students, so they had to drop the requirement to top 20%, thus draining and enticing the top from each school in the district. What was left at the other schools were students who had few student roll models and abysmal test scores as a result. Despite lack of funding, test scores have gradually come up, so we know that it isn't money that is needed in education, it's proper leadership and good teachers. RCSD has many dedicated and talented teachers, but lack good leadership in many cases has been a problem. The "Peter Principle" is alive and flourishing along with the "good old boys"network that harasses good teachers because they do not go along with the "status quo" The teacher turnover rate for new teacher should be examined. The "union" is in collusion with the administration as many "experienced" teachers are also harassed until they retire or leave the district. I once worked with 2 excellent and capable bilingual teachers who didn't stay five years, one left teaching and the other just left the district out of frustration with the administration.
Judi Mahoney August 10, 2012 at 06:32 PM
Rcrapes is correct. The union breaks the law every year by NOT informing captive members that they can opt out as members. We still have the VP who "forgets" why and who was sent to his office!! Hunting expensive teachers has become an art---why no news about the mold health issue at a middle school? Another regularly has cockroaches run across her shoes in the quad. Great working conditions, RCTA
Robert Clark September 09, 2012 at 01:21 AM
Tia would like to have a conversation about North Star, so why not? It's not Northstar's goal to do well on standardized tests, and parents everywhere will do what they can for their children, sometimes even things they shouldn't do. I don't think one can lay the blame for test scores or parents' behavior on North Star. Incidentally, there is plenty of precedent for selective admission in public education. Selective public high schools in most states, including CA, are common. Public school talented and high-achieving pullout programs and accelerated math, science, and English tracks exist for students at all ages, and those are certainly selective. California and Federal statues encourage these programs, recognizing that high-performing students benefit from these just as other special needs students benefit from appropriate assistance. The main difference is that on a funding per student basis, the emphasis has historically been on helping those having difficulty keeping up academically. I hope Northstar can continue to provide an opportunity for children who are bright and hardworking to come closer to realizing their full potential. The perhaps unpalatable truth is that different students need different pacing and different amounts of review to really understand subject matter, and we need to acknowledge that in our public schools.
Tia Creighton Knuedler September 11, 2012 at 06:38 PM
Robert (Clark), please list the public ELEMENTARY schools in California that use selective admission (I'm talking grades and test scores)--even if you only know one or two names, I would like that information. And name one public high school other than Lowell High School in S.F. that does the same. I am truly interested in knowing more about these schools.
Robert Clark September 12, 2012 at 11:17 PM
Regarding selective public elementary schools in CA that specifically require test scores see this page http://echoices.lausd.net/Magnet/programinfo.aspx?Specialty=H&Grade=02 for a list of 15 Los Angeles gifted/high ability elementary schools. See also Whitney High in Cerritos, which actually starts in 7th grade. In other states, NY has at least 5 citywide public test-in elementary schools and Chicago 39. Miegs in TN, Capitol Hill in St Paul, Fuller and Pearson schools in NC, Urbana in MD, Polaris in CO are other test-in public elementary schools. Most start in K or grade 1. You also might want to read "Exam Schools:Inside America's Most Selective Public High Schools" Chester E. Finn, Jr. & Jessica A. Hockett, Princeton Univ. Press, which lists 165 high schools in 30 states.
Tia Creighton Knuedler September 14, 2012 at 11:47 PM
Robert:t Those schools in LAUSD are all for children testing "gifted" -- a term that is legally defined. North Star does not test for gifted and is not a school for the gifted. You will note North Star is very careful to say it is for "talented and high achieving students." The school never uses the term gifted. California districts can--in fact must--provide education for "gifted and talented" students via GATE programs. Children must reach certain thresholds and/or pass GATE tests to be deemed gifted. North Star is not a GATE school, therefore, it has no reason or rationale to test kids to get it.
Robert Clark September 17, 2012 at 08:23 PM
Tia, I believe there are some errors in your last post. First, there is no specific test for giftedness: Each district can define the selection criteria. LAUSD admits about the top 15%, as does North Star. See CA Ed Code: 52201. (a) "Gifted and talented pupil," as used in this chapter, means a pupil .. who is identified as possessing demonstrated or potential abilities ... as defined pursuant to Section 52202. 52202. For the purposes of this chapter, the demonstrated or potential abilities that give evidence of high performance capability shall be defined by each school district governing board... 2nd, CA districts are not required to provide GATE services. See http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/gt/gt/gateprogfaq.asp , the first FAQ. 3rd, why do you say North Star is not a GATE school? Does it say that in District documentation? Are they required to use the term "gifted" ? 4th, whether the district considers it a GATE school or not, North Star's "reason or rationale" for selective admission is clearly expressed in CA Ed Code secs 33080, 58400, and 58900 as well as the GATE provisions of 52200. The Code clearly encourages experimentation in providing for the differing needs of different students at the district level, including academically advanced students. About a third of all magnet schools use selection criteria. Not all of them are even academic magnets. See http://www.dps61.org/domain/920. Since you repeatedly use "legal", please provide sources.
Sheila Neufeld October 04, 2012 at 03:45 PM
The parents who whine and complain about North Star appear as spoiled children throwing tantrums because their child/children didn't get in. The children who do go to North Star are served very well by the school and the teachers. It is a wonderful learning environment. The kids love it and thrive there. They also learn and excel. It seems to me that is what should be important. It's 'illegal'??? Parents 'cheat' to get their kids in???? Seriously? Get a life and get a grip. Do something productive to help your child achieve better instead of moaning and groaning about a great school that quite possibly your child couldn't get in to.
Parenting by Adoption February 27, 2013 at 01:21 AM
My daughter is a 3rd grader at North Star currently. Previously she attended Henry Ford Elementary School. She had great teachers there BUT it was clear all three years that it was necessary to teach to the tests as the school was trying to get out of PI (program improvement) status. My daughter loved her teachers but was frequently bored and in some cases was helping her classmates. I do not send my child to 1st and 2nd grade to teach, I send her there to learn! North Star has a rigorous curriculum and this first year after coasting for three years at Henry Ford has been a bit of a academic shock to my child and her parents as well. Additionally Henry Ford is currently a K-5 school, we as parents preferred our child to attend a K-8 school. North Star is a 3rd grade through 8th grade school taking her to the point of readiness for high school. Look I don't feel like either option we have participated in is "perfect" and on some days I wish there was a middle ground school available. Where the pressure is not so high, she is in after all THIRD GRADE! But as parents who know what lies ahead in high school and college - we had to make the right decisions for our child. I was a very active volunteer at Henry Ford - PTA, Site Council, classroom volunteer, Art in Action docent, etc. I tried to make it work for my daughter but in the end a change was needed and North Star was the best option for our academically bright child.
Tia Creighton Knuedler March 03, 2013 at 05:03 PM
You clearly need to educate yourself to the back story about and the recent scandals regarding your child's school. Not all parents who "whine and complain" about North Star are those who couldn't get in. Many, if not most, are parents fighting the existence of this school based on principle. I will put my productivity up against anyone anytime. Y'all just let me know when you want to compare notes.


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