History of Creative Minds
Creative Minds International Public Charter School opened in the fall of 2012 with 103 students in preschool through second grade. Dr. Golnar Abedin founded CMI with support from a small group of founders, including Jake Greenspan, director of the Floortime Center. Dr. Abedin served as our first executive director, from CMI’s founding through the 2018–19 school year.
Today, we serve 510 students in grades preschool through 8 with an inclusive, international, arts-integrated program.
The Beginnings of a School
In 2011, Dr. Abedin, who had just completed her PhD program in education leadership and policy studies, was working on a charter school leadership team and as a special-education consultant.
As a parent, she struggled to find a rigorous and high-quality public-education option for her own son, who was gifted but needed a supportive school environment and an engaging curriculum from an early age. She, and a group of community members worked together to assemble and submit a charter-school application. Dr. Abedin wrote the education plan and designed the CMI model. Their application was approved by the DC Public Charter School Board, one of four charters granted, from among 20 applications, that year.
The Education Plan
The plan for CMI grew out of Dr. Abedin’s childhood, her time as an educator and an academic, and her experiences as a mother.
She had spent her childhood traveling and living in different countries, learning several languages and developing a broad cultural perspective that she wanted to help develop in students at CMI to prepare them for participation in a 21st-century globalized society.
Her time as a special-education teacher in New York City schools had shown her how a differentiated, multidisciplinary approach could meet students’ needs but also that there was often a gap between what were known as best practices and what took place in most public schools. Her vision for CMI was a truly inclusive program.
Dr. Abedin’s doctoral dissertation research had focused on how an arts-based education impacts student engagement. She had seen how arts integration engaged students with learning challenges when she taught at the Gateway School in Manhattan and the Lab School of Washington. She intended to integrate the arts into the CMI program, both to enhance engagement and to support the inclusion of students whose talents and interests were in the arts.
In 2008, Dr. Abedin had met the developmental psychologist Dr. Stanley Greenspan. She was deeply inspired by his work, in particular his understanding of how individual sensory-processing systems influence learning.
She worked with Dr. Greenspan and his son, Jake Greenspan, at their practice, the Floortime Center, learning interactive and play strategies to tap into her son’s interests and optimize his development. When it came time to start Creative Minds, Jake Greenspan joined as a founding member. She wanted every parent to have access to the Greenspans’ approach and techniques.
The Early Years
In 2012, CMI opened in a building on 16th Street NW, in the Washington, DC, neighborhood of Mt. Pleasant, where the school remained for three years.
Our first year, we had two classrooms for students in preschool and prekindergarten and one classroom each for kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade. With each school year, we added a grade. Over the last seven years, 25 to 30 percent of our student population has had special needs.
In those first years, our team was small. Dr. Abedin was executive director and principal. James Lafferty-Furphy was director of operations. Both had been the only staff working during the planning year, preparing to open CMI.
In total, we had twelve teachers, assistants in every classroom, and an administrative staff of five employees. Nayamka Long was a founding teacher and the first member of the Instructional Leadership Team. Today, she is CMI’s chief academic officer.
Our founding group included Soumya Bhat, Jake Greenspan, Bob LaVallee, Brett Orlove, Sarah Spreitzer, Patricia Steele, Philippa Tarrant, and Justin van Fleet. They supported the school’s application and approval process, and some became the first members of our Board of Trustees.
A Move to the AFRH
In 2015, we moved to the Sherman building on the campus of the Armed Forces Retirement Home. It was a bigger campus, one that offered opportunities for students to safely explore the outdoors, and a historical building.
Our move was also a significant achievement in that it required approval from Congress. We held a ribbon-cutting ceremony, with DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton; the head of the DC Public Charter School Board, Scott Pearson; and other DC leaders in attendance.
Growing Our Program
By this time, we wanted to extend our education program for the early and primary grades and add a middle school. Dr. Abedin wrote a middle school application in 2015–16, and we received approval.
In 2016–17, our first class of 6th-grade students started at CMI; some had been with us in the years before, while most were new to our school. Those students became our first 7th-graders in 2017–18 and our first graduating class of 8th-graders in 2018–19.
The year 2017 was a big year for CMI. We became the first public school in the US to achieve accreditation in the International Primary Curriculum, from Fieldwork Education. That year, we also won the TASH Inclusive Education Award, which recognized our unique program for serving students who are typically segregated in separate schools or classrooms. We’re proud that CMI has consistently outperformed other DC schools in academic achievement of special-education students, and we have witnessed these students’ significant developmental and social-emotional growth throughout the years.
Another hallmark of 2017 was having our charter unconditionally approved, for another five years, by the DC Public Charter School Board. We believe this approval was well earned: since our founding, we had successfully implemented our mission, while achieving our academic and financial goals. After closing out a period of ambitious growth (and addressing its challenges), we maintained our high academic-achievement standing while including larger percentages of students with special needs
This past year, 2018–19, has seen achievements as well: we secured a 30-year lease extension for our home, developed a strategic plan for long-term financial health and sustainability, verified our feasibility to maintain a commitment to smaller class sizes with additional staff, and built a strong leadership team to guide CMI for many years into the future.
What this means is that we’re well positioned to continue serving the academic, developmental, and social-emotional needs of our students. As we often say, our students are the reason we are here.