Mr Lawrence especially and Marianne Clarke are the teachers the parents say are great.... Our experience is they are not great. There is a lot of bullying. There is zero attention to teaching kids how to be successful. Mr Lawrence is a bully and runs his classroom in same manner. It is no wonder that the kids are able to be the meanest during his classroom time. The staff turnover, the principal turnover.... The lack of a clear philosophy, the fact that teacher morale is at an all time low... The only thing this school has going for it are a few good extracurricular teachers and the parent community who seem to still want the school to be good.
A pretty good school overall. My complaints against TOPS have mostly to do with the inability to fire teachers that are burnt out or simply not there for the students. A certain teacher played favorites with students doing well in his class and refused to help struggling students. Spent way too much time on cars.com during the school day when he could have been helping the students he is being paid to teach. My daughter struggled in math until she entered high school (Garfield). Once she had someone who took the time to explain the lesson well, she took off. Meanwhile this teacher still teaches at TOPS. I still hear parents complaining.
We felt like we won the lottery when we got into TOPS, and we did. At TOPS we've found dedicated and talented teachers and staff and a wonderful diverse community that supports our children. There is high parent involvement and the kids are together from kindergarten through 8th grade so everyone really becomes a family, and invested in each other's success. It's a special place, we feel very lucky.
TOPS is a small caring community. There is an excellent art program, and PE is great. But it is rather average in terms of academics(although there is lots of talking about how great the programs are). I have been working with my child all those 'elementary' years at home to make sure that she stays advanced, particularly in math. So, if your child (or you) has academic ambitions, this school is not for you unless you are willing to supplement at home.
TOPS is a great school for my kids. Joan and Joby, the Kindergarten teachers, are absolutely amazing! A somewhat more traditional approach than some other alternative schools, although kids are given many choices. Those choices are good for kids who need freedom to explore; might seem chaotic to kids(and parents) who need a ton of structure. Alternative nature also based on emphasis on arts (esp. visual arts, theater, public speaking), and social justice. One other review panned the school as 'politically correct', to which the school would plead: 'guilty as charged'. How many other schools have a large and highly active 'Committee for Social Justice' and an anti-bullying program that runs from Kindergarten to 8th grade? Would only recommend this school if alternative school with these goals appeals to you.
This school has high standards. The staff has put a lot of effort into coordinating the curriculum across classes and grades. Students who struggle are given help by parent volunteers, small group instruction, and sometimes private tutors. The special education staff is very high quality. The downside to the school is that the classes are almost always at capacity, and once you reach the middle school level the students don't have have any options for their 'electives'. It can also be hard to get into.