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Frequently Asked Questions

What is an 'open' school?

Washington Open has a philosophy of parents, teachers and students all working together in an open, supportive atmosphere. Parent involvement in Washington Open is an integral part of the Open program. Parents are active in the classroom every day.

What is an 'alternative' school?

An alternative school is one which accepts children from anywhere in the district, as opposed to a school which only allows students from a particular neighborhood within the district.

What is a 'magnet' school?

A magnet school is a public school with some program or curriculum that distinguishes it from a neighborhood school. They are called magnet schools because parents and students are 'drawn' to them like a magnet. The idea of magnet schools started in the late 1970s as a way of promoting desegregation by attracting students from a variety of neighborhoods, and as an incentive to parents to keep their children in public school. Magnet schools may provide special programs such as math, science or performing arts, or promote an alternative teaching methodology.

How do I enroll my child in Washington Open?

Santa Clara Unified School District accepts applications through their website during an open enrollment period in that begins January and lasts for approximately four(4) weeks. Families choosing Washington Open will also attend a scheduled classroom observation, and a Parent Information Night. See Enrollment Process for further details.

Do I need to be part of the Santa Clara Unified School District to enroll?


Are there other alternative elementary schools?

The Santa Clara Unified School District currently has two alternative elementary schools: Washington Open and Millikin Basics+. Both schools have different teaching philosophies. You may wish to visit both schools and your neighborhood school before deciding on your child's school.

How do families participate at Washington Open?

Our families volunteer four(4) hours each week in their child's classroom.  Families additionally support our program by signing up for classroom or community jobs, and driving on field trips. Families with two or more children may alternate between their children's classes from week to week.
Parents attend evening class meetings at least a couple times during the school year where class curriculum, issues and needs are communicated. Relevant parent training in curriculum and classroom skills are provided to prepare for working in the classroom, and may be held on your work day, or on occasion, in the evenings.

How are the parent participation guidelines organized?

The Washington Open culture provides a well organized structure to support parent participation.  The Washington Open Parent-Faculty Board follows parliamentary procedure to adopt Standing Rules of Order regarding parent participation. Upon registration, families receive a PARENT HANDBOOK, including these rules which have been approved by our community. Each Family (new and returning) signs a participation agreement annually acknowledging their understanding and acceptance of our philosophy and participation.
After 40 years of parent participation, teachers, staff and parents have a good idea about what works best for successful learning. While there are continual reviews and updates of our rules, our teachers plan daily learning activities around four hours parents volunteer each week in the classroom.

How is my participation scheduled?

Near the beginning of the school year, you are contacted regarding your work day preference. A typical weekly shift goes from 8:15 to 12:15 because that is when small group instruction takes place.  Some classrooms (upper grades) may need parents to work in the afternoon as well. A Class Coordinator will work with you to meet your scheduling needs as closely as possible, within the parameters set by your teacher.

What if I want to participate, but I'm not sure I can teach?

First, if you are a parent, you are already a teacher! Second, your child's teacher will plan the day's activities, and provide full guidance on what you will be doing. And third, the teacher is always available to answer your questions or provide immediate support when needed. There are usually plenty of 'veteran' parents nearby to lend a hand as well.  We also provide comprehensive training for the classroom in the first two weeks of school.

What if I'm not confident working with groups of children?

No one is at first. We all increase our skills by attending curriculum training and workshops to develop positive techniques for working with children. Attending certain training sessions is part of your participation commitment. As your experience grows, so does your confidence.

What about parents who work full-time?

Many of our parents work at full- or part-time, jobs. Some have flexible schedules, while others make arrangements with their employers to make time for their work day commitment. Our culture is that we work together to find the best possible way that all parents who have chosen a parent participation school can participate.

What about Washington Open's field trip program?

Washington Open classes go on many field trips, and over the years we have developed an organized and safe system for going out into the world. Compliance to our rules while on field trips is critical, whether you are a child or an adult!  For more information check out Our Field Trips page.
In Kindergarten, there may be 8-10 trips each year, lasting 2-3 hours. Field trips increase in number and scope as children progress through higher grade levels.  Upper grade attend overnight trips that are an integral part to teaching to the whole child, and community building.

What is the parents' role in field trips?

Parents are needed to drive, supervise and participate on field trips.  If a parent is not comfortable driving or cannot drive, they may be able attend the field trip as an adult rider or 'co-pilot', seats permitting.
NOTE: Driving on field trips requires proof of insurance at the 300,000/100,000/50,000 level.

How do you pay for field trips?

Field trip costs are paid for through two sources:

  1. Allocations from the Parent Board budget, which is money raised by our fundraising activities
  2. Donations from families to their own classroom.

No child is ever denied attendance on a field trip for financial reasons.

What are the fundraising activities at Washington Open?

Over many years we have developed a highly effective fundraising system. Our SCRIP program runs year-round, while our annual auction and Walk-a-thon are held in the Fall. We also have a couple Spring fundraisers as well.  We ask that each family participate to the best of their ability. There are ways to support our fundraising that suits everyone's budget and time schedule!  For details check out our Fundraising Activities page.

What is the Washington Open Auction?

Washington Open holds an auction once each year. Parents, teachers, students, local businesses and the community donate goods and services to be sold at auction. The auction is in two parts: a silent auction where you submit written bids on items and services on display, and a live auction where the audience bids against each other on a wide variety of merchandise and services. There is also a boutique where you can purchase items sold at market prices.  For more information check out our Annual Auction page.

Why do we have an auction?

Slim public school budgets have made it necessary to raise money for our programs through community-wide fund raisers like the Auction. The proceeds are used for educational materials and activities that would otherwise be impossible to provide. Donations to the auction are tax-deductible. Helping with the auction is a lot of fun!