In 1975, about 20 Cambridge parents met to figure out how to
have their kids attend an open-classroom style school, where both
parents and staff took an active part in the education process. Their
children had been denied places at the Cambridge Alternative Public
School (CAPS, now Graham & Parks) because there weren’t enough
places to meet demand. The parents called themselves The Committee to
Extend Alternative Education, arguing that once the City of Cambridge
undertook to provide alternative education by establishing CAPS in 1972,
it had a responsibility to provide that education for all who desired
They enlisted the help of School Committee member Alice Wolf, and
with her guidance met with School Committee members and School
Department staff and visited possible sites for the new school. Their
efforts coincided with a new school superintendent, Bill Lannon, who
also gave his support. On August 5, 1975, the Cambridge School Committee
accepted a proposal for two kindergarten/first grade classrooms for the
1975/76 school year. By the end of that summer it was decided that
space would be made available at the King School. The parents named
their school The Open School at the King School and hoped for the best.
The Open School was part of the fairly new federal “Magnet Schools”
experiment, which brought kids from all over the city to one school to
end racial imbalance. Our parents were strongly committed to integrated
education by race and economic class.
The Open School’s first years were pretty rough but filled with heady
idealism and lots of meetings. We couldn’t have done it without our
amazing staff, who were committed to parent involvement and
individualized education. But each year was a struggle for space to
expand, for the right to hire teachers interested in open education, and
for funding for teaching assistants. Many of us found ourselves at
endless School Committee meetings. Our architect parents drew up studies
of the King School to find unused space for more classrooms. Lawyer
parents studied the budget and busing rules. Activist parents spent
hours on curriculum committees and hiring committees. Even with these
efforts, in 1978 and 1979 our fourth and fifth graders were bused to the
Tobin School, while the rest of the Open School remained at King. Then,
finally, we were reunited, given an Administrator of our own, Sandra
Darling, and a feeling that we were finally permanent.
During the rough times and the smooth times, the Open School forged
ahead bringing a new kind of education to Cambridge. Parents, teachers,
and assistant teachers made policy together and worked side by side on
budget, space, testing, record keeping, mainstreaming, admissions,
curriculum, teacher evaluation, and racial balance committees.
Innovative programs, such as the Algebra Project, groundbreaking efforts
at mainstreaming disabled children, and Science Club for Girls started
at the Open School.
At the end of the Open School’s first year, parents and staff adopted the following principles:
- We believe in racially and economically integrated public education.
We believe that public education should offer parents a choice in
programs and educational styles. Half of our students live in the King
School district, and although we think of ourselves as a program with
its own existence within the larger school, our ties to the King School
and the surrounding community are strong.
- As the “openness” or quality of a classroom is largely determined by
the teachers, we think that it is important to hire people who
encourage and respect differences in personality and learning styles
among children. We feel that this is a good way to maintain high
academic standards for all our children.
- We want our children to have the experience of working and playing
within a strong community of people who support and care for each other.
While we respect differences, we don’t encourage competition. Two
traditional grade levels share each classroom, and children are
evaluated by informal conferences and written reports rather than by
tests, grades, and report cards.
- We believe that communication and the ability to use language well
are learned most easily in a situation where children are able to talk
to each other and move freely about the room for a good part of the
- We believe that our children's happiness and ability to get along
well with other people should develop right along with their skill in
“regular” school subjects. Open School classrooms respect the need for
both work and play and for self-expression as well as self-control.
The 2002-2003 school year was one of dramatic change for Cambridge
Public Schools. "Consolidation" resulted in the list of CPS elementary
schools shrinking from 15 to 12. As the King Open, Harrington, and Ola
communities prepared to come together as King Open in the Harrington
building, the challenges seemed enormous--the new population would be
almost double what anyone was used to, class size would grow, new staff
members would have to be hired and trained in the King Open curriculum
and teaching method and enlarged staff teams would have to learn to work
together, and all children and families would find some aspects of the
"new" school unfamiliar, and yet all knew they had to make it work.
As the new school year started in September 2003, we knew that no one
had chosen to make this change. And yet, the children came ready to
learn and the teachers ready to teach. Of course, there were hiccups
along the way. We all learned the hard way at music recitals, Mayflower
boardings, grade-level pot-lucks, and the Cape Cod and Washington, DC,
trips that it's not as easy to organize any event for 120 kids and their
families as it is for 60. But we're all learning. And the King Open
model, established more than a quarter of a century ago in very
different times, continues to prove itself. We continue to look at each
child as an individual, to see each child's strengths and needs, to push
to make sure that each child reaches his or her potential and then
looks even farther, and to ask the question that sparked the Algebra
Project, "If I want something for my child, will I try to get it for all
In 2012 King Open became a K-5 as part of a citywide initiative that
converted all elementary schools to K-5 and created four new upper
schools serving grades 6-8. The school’s essential mission and
philosophy remains a motivating and unifying force as we now focus on
grades K through 5th.
Parts of this history were written by Janice Campbell (alumni
parent) and Susan Freireich (former family liaison) on the occasion of
King Open's 25th anniversary in 2000 and additions were made by members
of the current King Open Community to bring it up to 2006.