TMS Heroes: An interview with a TMS Founder– Sasha Webb

By Emily Halevy

It’s hard to be a parent at The Museum School and not hear the name Sasha Webb. From what I’d heard from other parents, TMS would not exist if not for Sasha’s involvement. I wanted to meet her. Only problem was – she no longer lived in Georgia. Three and half years ago, only a short time after opening the school, Sasha and her family moved to Texas. Her family’s impression on the school, however, has had a lasting effect.

Tell me about your kids- how old, names, what grade?

I have two kids: Andrew, 14, 8th grade and Nicholas, 10, 4th grade.

How long was your family at the school before you moved?

Andrew was at the school for 2 ¼ years, from 2nd grade through the beginning of 4th grade. Nicholas went to The Museum School for the first half of Kindergarten. In fact, he and Anthony, my husband, stayed in Georgia for 3 months after Andrew and I moved so he could have the chance to spend a little more time at The Museum School.

What was the impetus for starting a brand new school?

Anthony and I have always been passionate about public education, as are our families. When Andrew was an infant (2003), we became involved in the Avondale Education Association, led by Jill Joyner and Sondra Elek. When the AEA held a meeting in the summer of 2008 to announce a new direction, Anthony and I were there. Laura Leckband had the vision to propose the idea to start a charter school and had begun to assemble a team to make it happen. The vision was to harness the energy of our community to create a school that would have close community ties. We were so excited and inspired by the prospect of forming a brand new school, made possible by recently passed legislation. This would allow us to design a school from the ground up that would be innovative and would use educational research to design a model that put this knowledge into practice.

Share with us some of the challenges you faced during that process.

First, there was a tremendous amount of work involved to design and plan every aspect of a school.  Almost all of this work was accomplished by volunteers, who put in countless hours to research and present the curriculum, HR structure, budget and finances, facility, and many more components.  When we lacked the expertise in a critical area, we hired consultants to help fill in the gaps. We had to do door-to-door fundraising to support this.

Next, there is a tremendous amount of organization needed to develop a complex project. In order to have a school name, we needed a curriculum. In order to develop a budget, we needed to know the number of students and teachers, and so on. It was essential, but very difficult for the group to make some of those early decisions without as much information as we would have liked, but our team was so committed to the goal, which allowed us to dig deep and make those difficult decisions.

We also had to convince the State Charter Commission and the State Board of Education that we had the capacity to operate and govern a school through a series of applications, negotiations, and interviews. Finally, we had to convince families to trust a new organization and enroll their children at The Museum School.

We had such a strong team and we just put our heads together and worked as a team to meet each of these challenges.

We had such a strong team and we just put our heads together and worked as a team to meet each of these challenges.

Share with us the emotions you had when you realized TMS was a reality.

It seemed surreal. We were a part of the first group of charter schools authorized by the state charter commission. After many years of effort from so many committed community members, we had accomplished what many thought was impossible.  We had a community-wide celebration, sponsored by Ed Rieker, who had always been tremendously supportive of our efforts. I remember taping all the words generated at our first community brainstorming session around the tent – words expressing the hopes and dreams of our community – and feeling overwhelmed and excited for what was to come.

After many years of effort from so many committed community members, we had accomplished what many thought was impossible.

Assuming you had a hand in selecting leadership, how was Katherine Kelbaugh selected as the TMS Principal?

I can categorically state, without a doubt, that without Katherine Kelbaugh, there would be no Museum School.

The Personnel Committee, led by Adela Yelton, had designed a multi-step process to perform a nationwide search for the first Principal of The Museum School. We initiated this process in August of 2009, after submitting our petition to the state charter commission, but before the interview or approval of our charter.  We advertised nationally and received numerous applications. First, there was a resume screen, then a phone interview. Then, the final 4 candidates were brought to Avondale Estates for a two-day interview process. These interviews were conducted by community members with experience and expertise in HR and education (Jeff Rutel, Carole McCullough, Mark Joyner, Mary Lamb, Adela Yelton, and me).

The four finalists were an impressive group. All had charter school experience. Three had experience as charter school principals. One had a doctorate in Education from Harvard. In an impressive field with exemplary credentials, Katherine distinguished herself immediately. We were all impressed with Katherine’s vision and quiet confidence. She was clearly passionate about education and had deep command of educational best practices. In addition, she communicated well and was ready to roll up her sleeves and get to work. Katherine had signed up to help man the Museum School booth at Avondale Estates’ Autumnfest that year and had to cancel, because her shift was at the same time as her interview for principal!

The committee and board were unanimous in selecting Katherine Kelbaugh as Principal. I can say, without a doubt, that this was the best decision we ever made.

The committee and board were unanimous in selecting Katherine Kelbaugh as Principal. I can say, without a doubt, that this was the best decision we ever made.

How do you feel now, looking back at the accomplishments the school and foundation has made?

Looking back now at the accomplishments of The Museum School and Museum School Foundation, I am so proud of our team and what we have accomplished. Already, hundreds of students have benefited from this school. We have beaten the odds time and again to turn our dream into reality.

I am most proud of the outstanding academic record of The Museum School. Time and again, by any measure, Museum School students are learning at rates faster than their peers. Museum School students are mastering critical curricular concepts at one of the highest levels in the state.

It is inspiring to see the community that surrounds The Museum School. Parents and community members are engaged and involved to create a vibrant school culture. I am proud to see the diversity and inclusiveness that is evident at The Museum School.  Our list of partnerships with local businesses, organizations, and museums continues to expand, and today includes just about every major museum or attraction in North Georgia.

The Museum School has established a solid reputation at the county and state level for outstanding academics, responsible management, and innovation. Teacher training programs across the state send their student teachers to learn our model and our methods. The Museum in a Box program has reached over 13,000 students across Georgia.  The National Association of Museum Schools, founded by our school, has provided resources and inspiration to schools across the nation. It is exciting to see this expansion of our reach and impact.

The foundation has just concluded a successful capital campaign, raising over $4 million to renovate the facility, allowing our school to continue growing. We have come such a long way in a very short time – from 138 students in modular units in a church parking lot to 535 students in the beautiful facility we are in today!

What do you want to see for TMS in the future?

I would like to see continued growth in The Museum School. It is clear from the long waiting lists each year that there are many other families who desire this type of education for their children.  While we have limited capacity for further expansion at our facility,

I would like to see the influence of The Museum School continue to expand, including our role in the education of teachers, the Museum in a Box program, and the National Association of Museum Schools. As we continue to refine our model, I would like to see The Museum School continue to have a seat at the table and a role in important discussions about education strategy at a state and national level.

Despite not living here anymore, you are still involved in the school. In fact, you came back just recently for the ribbon-cutting ceremony and auction night. What keeps you tied to the school?

The Museum School will always be a part of my life and a part of my family’s life. I read the newsletter each week and serve on the Advisory Board. It is such a special place, with a tremendous spirit and energy. I love the feeling I get when I walk through the door. The artwork is always different, but the feeling is always the same. This is a place where kids are the priority.  I love to see the enthusiasm, confidence, and pride on the faces of Museum School students!

What would you like new parents to know about the school that they may not know?

The Museum School only exists because a group of parents gave generously of their time and talent to build the school. Parents and community members fought for our existence after our first year in operation, when the state charter commission was declared unconstitutional. Despite this and other challenges along the way, it is parents and community members who contributed to allow us to overcome them.

I would like new Museum School parents to know that the team that founded The Museum School was just like them. We were a group of parents who wanted the best for our kids.  What made this founding team extraordinary was the dedication and commitment to our goal. We need this commitment from you to allow our school to continue to successfully meet challenges and to continue to reach new levels of excellence.

The Museum School only exists because a group of parents gave generously of their time and talent to build the school.

Why is giving so important for continued success?

Without contributions, many of the most exciting programs at The Museum School won’t be able to continue. The Museum School is funded at a similar rate to other public schools in Georgia.  The funding received is widely acknowledged to be inadequate and is constantly at risk for further reduction. The Museum School has a strong financial record and works hard to use funds as efficiently as possible. Every contribution makes a difference. Although it may seem like The Museum School has always been here and always will be, we are a new school. We need to continue to work to build the foundations for long-term success.

You can carry on the tradition of giving at The Museum School, and help build the future for our Explorers. Click here to contribute to the 2016-2017 Curator Circle.




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