Journal Entry

Resiliency and confidence: Parent community unites at Fort Mason

Leadership team at Guidepost Montessori school in San Francisco bonds with families

Walking into Guidepost Montessori at Fort Mason is like visiting Mom and Dad’s. The faces at the door greet you excitedly and warmly. There is color and light and pictures that make you smile, and the people within are so happy to see you that you are immediately grateful for making the decision to come.

That enthusiasm doesn’t abate. From the students to the teachers to even the vivaciousness of each room, you feel a strong desire to stay a bit longer, learn a bit more, and feel a part of something special. Because you are.

The dynamic energy of Fort Mason, which is nestled idyllically near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, is six years in the making. Although the Guidepost name is new to families, the families are old friends. The parents bring gifts to the teachers, and they call each other often. They’re close, and you can feel it.

‘The parents were all in’

Fort Mason used to be an AltSchool, a San Francisco-based series of startup schools that focused on technology and project-based learning. When Fort Mason opened its doors, everyone was eager to try something new.

“We were really developing experiences that were immersive, relevant, and project-based that elevated whole-child learning,” says David Dobson-Smith, Fort Mason’s Head of School. “And what drew parents in was that not only were we focused on knowledge, we were focused on the skills needed to develop and grow into adulthood along with character habits that really represent who we are and who we can be.”   

AltSchool grew quickly, and because it was a startup, parents were willing to iterate and adjust to a curriculum built from scratch. Everyone was in it together.

“The parents really loved what we were doing,” says Kate Moriarty, Fort Mason’s Assistant Head of School. “They saw that we were loving their kids, understanding their kids, and providing and environment where the kids feel safe, seen, heard, and active in their learning, and all that is still happening today.”

Last January, Fort Mason had two choices: to either start a nonprofit or to become acquired by Higher Ground Education, who appreciated AltSchool’s upper elementary and middle school programs. They wanted to be helpful, but because of the close community at Fort Mason, the parents first wanted to assemble.

“Our parents were driving so hard for an independent school,” David says. “Out of our 70 families, we had at least 30 of them who were heavily involved in creating an interim board and committees that would meet weekly and help to fund the school. They were involved, passionate, and had a voice in making our decision.”

Relationships build sustainability

As a school united, Fort Mason decided to begin a partnership with Guidepost Montessori, and Kate says it’s because of the inclusion, transparency, and dedication to the success of the school that nearly all families are still with the school today.

“This path is going to provide us with the most stability and consistency, and it was a decision made by all of us,” Kate says. “We were not told what to do, and having that time to talk it through as a team brought our community together even more.”

David says Kate has built such a strong relationship with all of the kids and the families. “She’s been a pillar of this community from the very beginning.” And as the school transitions to the Guidepost family, parents look to both David and Kate — as well as all the educators at Fort Mason — for continued guidance and support.

“Our parents have been navigating this world that they don’t really know, so they were looking to Kate and I, saying, ‘We will do whatever you think is best for our school,’ which meant we knew they were with us on this journey,” David says. “We spend a lot of time on parent coaching, parent relationships, and parent training, because it’s fundamental that what we do here in the school is embedded in the home. That’s what will add value to their child’s experience and more deeply embed the learning our students have here.”

And their new community at Guidepost has been supportive, too.

“Guidepost has been so awesome,” David says. “All of our teachers are now in their trainings, focusing simply on awesome experiences in the classroom and supporting our students and families. And Guidepost continues to provide guidance, support, and thought partnership while being empathetic and understanding of our community during this transition. At the end of the day, they trust we know our families best.”

It’s a committed relationship that means a lot to both David and Kate.

“These families have become such a part of who I am,” Kate says. “I feel so connected to this school, and I know we are a part of something greater. I love it here. I really do.”

David agrees that because educators play such a vital role in a child’s life, they tend to base their decisions on the service of others before themselves, but, to him, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’ve been working in education for 18-plus years, and I still wake up every single day loving what I do,” he says. “These families and our students are at the heart of everything for us.”

Click here to learn more about the staff and students at Fort Mason.

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