Spruce Street School was founded in 1982 as a primary (K-3) school by Harvey Sadis as an outgrowth of his Neighborhood Educational Workshop summer camps. Originally located on Spruce Street in Seattle’s Central District, the curriculum integrated academic skills with experiential learning in the arts and sciences in a diverse, urban community. Two printing presses and an active theater program provided opportunities for students to publish, produce, and perform creative works.
In 1984 Spruce Street School relocated to Yale Avenue North in the Cascade district south of Lake Union. The location – with nearby Cascade Park – offered a diverse community, central location, and access to downtown Seattle. Theater – including a student performance of Wagner’s Ring cycle in 1990 – continued to play a large part in the curriculum activities. Author and teacher Robert Fulgham attended one of the Ring performances, leading to an article in Newsweek featuring Spruce Street School.
“The members of the cast are students in kindergarten and first grade. They did indeed perform ‘Die Walkure’ – words, music, dance, costumes, scenery, the works. Next year they will do ‘Siegfried’ – already in production – as part of a run through the entire ‘Ring’ cycle. And no, this in not a special school of the performing arts for gifted children. It’s the Spruce Street School in Seattle, Washington.”
– Robert Fulghum, Newsweek
The school’s teaching philosophy and core values are illustrated in a letter written by Paul Bauck.
“In an increasingly diverse society it is imperative that children learn to understand and respect others’ ideas and feelings. Children must learn how to deal with conflict and differences constructively and to work together in groups to accomplish goals. Social skills may be more important to adult success than any other single quality or skill. We owe it to our children to ensure that school curriculum includes learning and practice of positive, constructive methods for working together, problem solving and conflict resolution.”
-Paul Bauck, Former Director of Spruce Street School, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Through unwavering dedication of families, the Board of Trustees, and long-term staff, the school persevered after the departure of Sadis and the school director in 1995. The Board hired our current director, Briel Schmitz, in 2002 to balance solid administration with educational leadership. The Board recruited current and alumni parents along with community leaders to harness necessary skills for large issues facing the school. Parent volunteers led our fundraising activities to record setting success. Administration enhanced community by increasing the frequency and quality of communications. Teachers strengthened education through collaboration, professional development, improved curricula, and thorough assessment.
In 2002, the school’s 20-year home was slated for development. The Board spent two years intensively scouting locations and successfully secured a new home at the end of 2004. In the summer of 2005, Spruce Street School moved eight blocks south to a new home in a three-story building at 914 Virginia in the Denny Triangle neighborhood. This transition maintained the school’s urban setting and central location.
From 2005-2009 the school grew from 4 to 6 classrooms. Since 2009 the school has maintained a full enrollment of at least 98 students. The classrooms, common areas, and rooftop playground have exceeded initial expectations.
The school has formed relationships with neighborhood businesses, and the civic and governmental institutions in the area. Students walk to Cascade Park, the waterfront, Seattle Center, the main branch library, and South Lake Union. The marimba ensemble continues to perform at Folklife Festival, as well as joining city officials at park and new building dedication ceremonies. Students use a courtroom in the Federal Building for their mock trial unit. Another group has built an on-going relationship with Mirabella, the retirement center, and invites their residents to attend play performances in the spring. And yet another group visits the Washington Braille Center just around the corner to learn about issues related to visual impairment. The building and location form a rich environment for growth and learning for all students.