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The Search

Posted by on July 21, 2017 at 6:25 PM Comments comments (29)

The Search

July 21st, 2017

The search for a home for the Jefferson Sudbury School began in January, 2017. Seven months later, we have stopped keeping track of the countless properties we’ve researched and visited. At first we started small, looking for rooms to rent from churches based on advice we received that churches would already have the correct zoning for a private school. So many churches, even a Sikh Foundation and Buddhist Temple. Of the dozens we researched, only three had space for us, all with the restrictions that come with sharing space that belongs to the people who are using it along with us, the interlopers. We found the restrictions too confining. How could students truly be free to learn, grow, and play in their school if they couldn’t have their own books on the shelves, stations for art, science, and technology supplies, or walls to hang their pictures? So we abandoned the churches and went big. A gorgeous Victorian office building in Old Town Alexandria? How about a historic farmhouse in Clifton? A mid century modern home in Alexandria City? No problem! Until we learned that private school zoning in these jurisdictions (and yes, they were all different jurisdictions) still needed special use permits, a process that, at best, takes up to three months and thousands of dollars in lawyers’ fees. And that was just for the special use permit. Getting the certificate of occupancy was another process entirely, with its own months-long timeline and unknown renovation and upgrade costs. Ok, fine. Let’s just go with commercial real estate rentals. Office spaces seemed like a good place to start, with marked fire exits, proper climate control, correct amount of toilets and water fountains per child, and all of the other Fairfax County private school code requirements, but they lacked the outdoor space our students would need to play, not just for how we envisioned the school, but for Fairfax County’s specific requirement of one hundred square feet of outside play area per child. Then we tried dentists’ offices, hair salons, even a fast food restaurant, figuring we could fence off part of the parking lot or the tiny amount of green space these properties came with. But then we learned that even though these properties were zoned for private schools, they still needed special use permits. All of the properties in Fairfax needed the special use permit, with its price tag of $1500 and lengthy application period. After the permit was granted (IF it was granted), the location would still need to be inspected by the fire, building, and health inspectors before the Office of Children’s Services would come to make the final inspection for Jefferson Sudbury School to finally obtain a certificate of occupancy and open its doors. Phew. While we of course strive to have the safest school possible for our students, the many and strict requirements of Fairfax County proved to be prohibitive. At this point we turned our hopeful gaze just a few miles south to Prince William County.

At first Prince William looked deceptively easy. Almost all of the commercially zoned areas boasted “right by use” for a private school. We were in! All we had to do was find a building that met our needs of several rooms with an outdoor area. We even sacrificed having a kitchen for the time being. We found a ten room house on half an acre within walking distance to many amenities, including a pet store, restaurants, the public library, and a bowling alley. It even had a supportive landlord who used to work for the Office of Planning and Development. And that’s when I found out about “change of use,” so even the property meets all zoning and code requirements, because it was once a pediatrician’s office, it may have to go through extensive architectural renovations to open as a school. Even if it doesn’t need any renovations, the new inspections it will need push our start date back several months once again. We thought about buying land and building a straw bale school, or putting up an educational modular, but once again these costs quickly exhausted our startup funds.

These are just some of our trials and tribulations. Our original goal was to open our doors in 2017, and we still strive to do so. At this point we are restructuring so that we can at least open part time. Our hopes are that by temporarily restructuring as a Sudbury-style organization where students register as homeschoolers we will give ourselves more time to build community support and find a home. Please visit the homepage to learn more about our new structure and news about where we are in the startup process.


Surprise Coincidence!

Posted by on February 2, 2017 at 12:15 AM Comments comments (0)
Surprise Coincidence!

As part of the start-up process, we purchased a start-up kit from Sudbury Valley in Massachusetts. The kit has a wealth of information, and I have been listening to CDs, reading books and packets, and watching videos in order to prepare for our first community meeting which is this Sunday, February 5th,2017, from 2-4 at the Chinn Park Library (13065 Chinn Park Dr.) in Woodbridge, VA. Imagine my joyful surprise that while listening to a CD featuring talks with Sudbury Valley alumni, the very first speaker was a man that my husband and I have worked with before as musicians! Mark was the first four-year graduate from Sudbury Valley in the early '70s, but I know him as an excellent oboe player and friend. My husband and I had no idea that he had gone to a Sudbury School! Mark and I had fantastic phone conversation this morning, and he is very supportive and enthusiastic about our school coming to Fairfax County. What a small world!
Mark is the oboe player standing behind me, the clarinetist, on the right.

Newsletter #1 January, 2017

Posted by on January 2, 2017 at 2:45 PM Comments comments (0)

January, 2017

Hello Prospective Sudbury School Families,


It is with great excitement that I am writing this first email to all of you, and I thank you very much for all of your interest and support.


What is the Jefferson Sudbury School:

The Jefferson Sudbury School is a democratic school based on the Sudbury School model of education. Students have complete responsibility over their own education, and the role of staff is to serve as role-models, help students gain access to resources, keep the school running, and embody the philosophy of the school. There are no teachers, curricula, grades, or classrooms, and students of all ages mix together. Students are free to learn what, how and when they want, and they can create committees to vote in the School Meeting to go on field trips, add resources, and create classes. The students make and vote on their own rules, and enforce them as necessary with the judicial committee comprised of students and staff. The school is run as a direct democracy, with each student and staff member having one vote, regardless of age; everyone is treated equally.

Who I am:

I am an unschool/homeschool Mom who has worked part time teaching clarinet lessons privately and in group classes in the public school system. To say there was a dichotomy in my philosophy that all children have the unalienable right and natural desire to lead their own education, which I practiced with my own children, and then work professionally in an environment where students were forced to follow prescribed curriculum that they had no say in being a part of, is an understatement. Through the years I have painfully watched students struggle in the system with no other option for them. In 2014 I went to my first Art of Mentoring workshop, where I finally experienced affirmation that all children can and should be able to follow their own passions. Once I learned about the Sudbury Model of education, it has been harder and harder for me to teach in the public school arena (and I am only a very limited part-time specialist working with band kids who want to be there), and it is now time for me to leave. On a personal level, unschooling has worked well for my family, but my son is older now, and wants a more consistent community in his life than classes and park days can offer. These are the reasons why I am committed to bringing a Sudbury School to Northern Virginia. In addition to my experience as a professional clarinetist and clarinet teacher, I also volunteer for the Wildlife Rescue League and am a Minecraft Certified Educator.

Here's where we are now:

My husband Karl and I are working our way through the huge Sudbury School starter kit that Dirk and Anette have lent to us. There is an enormous amount of information, and it will take some time for us to read and listen to it all.

I will be setting up the website and blogging about why I am driven to start a Sudbury School in Northern Virginia instead of just moving to Upper Marlboro where we could attend Fairhaven. I will also be posting our bios and updates about the school on the website so that you can learn more about us. I will also start our Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Our first community meeting is on the books! Please join us in the community room of the Chinn Park Library, 13065 Chinn Park Dr., Woodbridge, VA, on February 5th from 2-4. Please RSVP either by emailing me back, or via the Facebook event page:

I will be furthering my training and visiting other Sudbury Schools so that I can be on staff and so that we can have a successful school. I already have completed Art of Mentoring training, which is very similar to the Sudbury model, and have over twenty years experience working with young people, but I am always desiring to learn more, especially from successful Sudbury Schools. I am passionately dedicated to the Sudbury model where staff serve as guides and mentors, never coercing students or imposing agendas on them.

We are looking for another staff member.

We are looking for a location with educational zoning that we can rent for our first year or two. Our ultimate goal is to purchase our own building (or purchase land and build our own school), but we will need capital in order to do so. Financially at this point it is safer to rent. This is one of the areas we need help with.

We will be starting as a part time co-op and building a strong core of students and staff before we officially open our doors as a private school. If we have enough students ready to commit now and we find a location, we can start as early as April.

Many of you have asked how you can help, so here is what you can do at this point:

Educate yourself about the Sudbury Model. This Wikipedia article is a good place to start:, as is this video from the Sudbury Valley School: Lastly, this article about what a Sudbury School is compared to other schools is very helpful: Do your own research too! Please feel free to send me or post to Facebook any articles or videos that you find helpful and interesting.

Reach out on social media. Please "Like" the Facebook page,, and join the group,, if you haven't done so already. Share information about the school with anyone you think of who may be interested.

Attend an open house at either Fairhaven or Arts and Ideas Sudbury Schools in Maryland on January 28th at 1 PM and 10 AM respectiviely. and

Attend our community meeting on February 5th, and share the event with as many families as you think may be interested. Please let me know if you would like a pdf for some flyers. Please share and invite people to the Facebook event page:

Help us look for a location that we can rent. It must be zoned for education. After that, we would love anything that has safe access to nature and a playground and is a comfortable environment inside for the students to be together. Churches have worked well for other Sudbury Schools in their beginning stages, and may work for us too. If we can find partial weekly rental (Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday), we may be able to start as a co-op as early as April. We are flexible with locations; it doesn't have to be a church. Be creative!

If you are well-versed in the Sudbury School Philosophy and willing to attend weekly meetings, able to contribute financially (we will agree on how much altogether. It doesn't have to be a lot of money, but starting a school is difficult, and we do have start-up costs.), and know that this is the right choice for your family, you are invited to join us in making the big decisions on location, staff hires, and any additional resources. If you want to be a part of this core group of founders, please let me know soon. We will begin meeting weekly or biweekly before the February 5th community meeting.

Please let me know any gifts or talents that you have that I have missed that you would be willing to share to start this school!

This is a grassroots event, and I am very grateful to have you on board.

Tentative Timeline:

February 5th, 2017, Community Meeting, Chinn Park Library, 13065 Chinn Park Dr., Woodbridge, VA, 2-4.

April 5th, 2017 Tentative Start Date for the Jefferson Sudbury School Co-op (three days a week, if there are enough committed families and we find a location)

September 5th, 2017, First Day of Jefferson Sudbury School!

Thank you very much for reading this far! If the Sudbury Model is what you want for your child please don't hesitate to contact me with any further questions (or offers of help!). If this isn't the right fit for your family, and you want to be taken off of the newsletter list, please let me know.

Thank you once again and all the very best,


Catina Franklin Sweedy