Tucked into the foothills along a beautiful stretch of Figueroa Mountain Road, Family School stands as a living symbol of every parent’s desire to provide quality education for his or her children, even if it means taking matters into one’s own hands.
Started in 1974 by a group of local moms and dads, the school continues to thrive by offering an effective alternative to crowded classrooms and test-driven curricula.
Family School grade levels span pre-school through fifth grade, and classes boast a student-teacher ratio low enough to guarantee that each child receives individual attention.
The faculty includes eight classroom teachers, in addition to teaching specialists who share the joys of science, art, music, drama and sports with students.
“We have developed an age-appropriate curriculum,” says Miki Holden, Head of School at Family School, “and our classes are suited to the age and ability of each child.
“Our faculty is highly qualified,” she continues. “I think among them they have about 200 years of experience, and we have a very low turnover because, once teachers get here, they stay.”
The school fosters a non-competitive learning environment in which teachers do not grade, but rather judge and support classroom efforts according to individual student aptitudes.
“There’s quite a bit of teamwork and cooperative projects,” Holden explains. “The children learn because they find the material interesting and fun.”
The student body numbers about 100 children, and though a few of them come from Lompoc and Los Alamos, most make their homes in the Santa Ynez Valley. They are a varied group, representing a range of talents, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds.
In addition to solid academics presented in a lively learning environment, Family School offers scholarship and tuition assistance programs; and about a third of its students receive some kind of financial aid.
Each spring, incoming students and their families fill out applications and schedule interviews for admission the following fall.
“We don’t do academic tests for entry,” Holden explains, “because we feel there are too many different kinds of talents and we don’t want to focus on a narrow range of abilities.”
After completing the fifth grade, about half the students go on to Dunn Middle School, while others enroll in local public schools or are home-schooled.
Family School alumni consistently achieve remarkable success in their personal lives and in careers spanning the spectrum, from attorneys to doctors to organic farmers. “Generally, they’re energetic, very positive people,” says Holden, whose own three children attended the school in the 1980s, “and many have traveled the world more than the average. We get very positive feedback from the schools they go into, like West Point, Brown, Yale, Stanford and Berkeley.”
Family School began 35 years ago, when a group of parents, including the beloved Lou and Helen Netzer, decided to found a cooperative school. They settled on the model provided by Pasadena-based Pacific Oaks Children’s School, hired a teacher and founded their institution as a preschool. Later, they added kindergarten through fifth grade.
“It started off in the Los Olivos Grange,” Holden laughs, “where they had to get the school out every morning and put it back in a cupboard every afternoon. It moved to a room at Midland School, which was sort of the same deal, and then we were offered a lease by Midland. We’ve been here ever since.
“The buildings were initially built by the parents,” she adds. “Now we’re official, we conform to code, but then it was essentially a bunch of amateurs who spent their weekends out here, brought picnic lunches, hammered their thumbs and got it done.”
Today, parents still are encouraged to get involved with the school, whether helping with the annual auction, assisting in class, driving on field trips or dishing out hot lunches. Working together, parents, teachers and the children have created Family School, an independent school where the love of learning comes first.
Photos by Connie Cody.