It’s not every elementary school that has access to world-class college facilities, regular interaction with college students and a faculty engaged in deep-level scholarship and pedagogical research.
The Smith College Campus School is not like most elementary schools.
The Campus School, which is located on campus, is an independent elementary lab school with 270 students in grades kindergarten through sixth, at which the endeavors of teaching and learning are always at the forefront of discussion.
“Here we try to create a vision of what’s possible,” says Sam Intrator, who was recently appointed Head of the Campus School. “We have a dual mission of engaging children in exploration, inquiry and ideas, and serving as a launching pad for the next generation of teachers.”
Intrator, who is also a professor of education and child study on the Smith faculty, accepted a two-year term at the Campus School, succeeding Cathy Reid, who served in the position for 18 years.
For Intrator, the move to head of the Campus School is somewhat of a return to familiar ground. Having spent more than 10 years as a public school teacher and administrator—in Brooklyn, Vermont and California—before coming to Smith in 1999, Intrator’s research focuses on urban education and youth.
As he learns the ropes in his new job, Intrator is aware of the strong educational foundation he inherited at the school from his predecessor.
“Cathy Reid did a great job of making this a strong school and being a steward of that,” he says, “and I honor that. It’s a wonderful place. I’m just trying to keep it going. Fortunately, I have a dynamic team of teachers and staff to work with, such as Maureen Litwin, the associate head of the school.”
One of Intrator’s early strategies is building relationships among faculty, administration, students and parents in the school community. “I try to come in here with learners’ eyes,” he explains, “and to speak to parents and classrooms as much as possible.”
He established a Faculty Advisory Group to help anticipate challenges and facilitate collective problem-solving. He also established a Parent Advisory Group to address issues from their perspective.
And perhaps most importantly, one of Intrator’s first steps was to create a weekly communication with parents and others in the school community in the form of an e-newsletter, Observations from the Head of School, written by him.
“I want to tell the story of what’s happening here,” he says. “What makes us distinctive? I want to share that with the community.”
Intrator’s background, as a teacher both at Smith and in public schools, and as a researcher of pedagogy and learning practices, position him ideally for the top administrative post at the Campus School. As a “laboratory school”—a school that prepares future teachers using the most current pedagogical research—the Smith Campus School seeks to remain at the forefront of effective teaching and learning innovation.
“As a lab school we constantly think about what it means to develop new pedagogy and the craft and art of teaching,” he says. “We can be innovative here, engaging kids in high-level math and literature discourse.”
For the school’s student teachers—Smith undergraduates and graduate students studying education and child development—that environment of innovation and pedagogical creativity sets a high standard for their own classrooms in the future.
“Our model translates into creating really good teachers,” says Intrator. “Student teachers come out of here knowing that teaching is incredibly challenging, intellectual work.”
Intrator admits that he misses teaching and running his own classroom. For now he has suspended his teaching load, at least for one semester, considering the demands of his new job. He continues working with Project Coach, a program he launched 10 years ago with Don Siegel, professor of exercise and sport studies, in which teenagers in Holyoke and Springfield learn to coach basketball and soccer with teams of elementary-aged kids in the two cities.
“I love teaching, that’s part of who I am,” says Intrator. But for now, he has his hands full learning the job of head administrator. And it’s not as if he doesn’t spend time with students.
“I’m in the classrooms as much as possible. I love being with kids, it’s very energizing to me, I enjoy them. That is the part of the job that is most gratifying, by far.”