A Sonoma mother of four is hoping to open a new private school in fall 2019 offering kindergarten and first-grade classes at a Sonoma farm, combining project-based education with Sonoma’s rural roots.
Holly Sorkin’s children attended Crescent Montessori in Sonoma until the school shut down its K-8 classes, retaining only the preschool for the 2018-19 school year. Now, Sorkin, a computer scientist, hopes to create an alternative for her children and others in the area with $100,000 in seed money for the new school.
“You can launch a school on a shoestring with rent and a teacher and an aide’s salary for $100,000 in Sonoma,” said Sorkin, who would not divulge the name of the private donor who contributed the seed money. She has dubbed the school New School Sonoma, www.newschoolsonoma.org.
“We are not satisfied with the options for our children,” said Sorkin, referring to herself and her husband Stephen. She said the school would offer project-based learning, an element of STEM, the science, technology, engineering and math-based teaching approach currently in use in many districts, including the Sonoma Valley Unified School District.
Sorkin said her goal is to establish a school that uses a “progressive” learning approach, which she defined, among other things, as rejecting the idea of homework and testing for children younger than the fifth grade, instead allowing students to learn on their own timelines.
Britta Johnson, the head of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District board, and Socorro Shiels, superintendent of the district, said they were unaware of Sorkin’s plans.
“I had not heard anything until you mentioned it,” Shiels said in an email. “Of course, I think our schools meet the needs of our community and prepare all students for incredible opportunities.”
Regarding the proposed farm location, “When we moved from San Francisco to Sonoma five years ago, we planted a garden, and my kids were out there in the garden every day,” Sorkin said. “Look at the math, the science, the biology, the art you can take from that natural experience that Sonoma makes it so easy to have.”
Sorkin would not divulge the proposed location, saying, “I want to talk to as many people as I can” to gauge interest in the new school before signing a lease. She is holding a meeting for interested parents Dec. 5 at 6:30 p.m. at the Sonoma Community Center. To RSVP, email holly@NewSchoolSonoma.org.
Sorkin served on the board of Crescent Montessori for two years, but other than that, she has no training or experience in education. She has consulted with Ken and Cynthia Wornick, Sonoma residents who launched a religious school, the Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School, in San Mateo County in 1985.
Ken Wornick said he has been advising Sorkin on such things as how to obtain funding and a building. Sorkin said she also is consulting with the Sonoma County Moms group on Facebook.
Sorkin said about a dozen families have expressed an interest in the school, and she estimated that New School Sonoma might launch with around 10 to 12 students. She expects for the annual tuition to be $10,000.
The new school is unlikely to have much of an effect on the school district, because of its initial small size and the nature of the funding received by the district.
New School Sonoma public meeting
December 5 at 6:30 p.m. at the Sonoma Community Center. Email holly@NewSchoolSonoma.org.