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.
Although many parents are quite happy with this school, it was not optimal for our child. Class size is larger than many Seattle schools because TOPS has a good reputation and people are clamoring to get in. My child did not thrive in this environment. She is highly academically motivated and needs to be challenged but that is not a priority for this school. There is a moderate degree of ethnic diversity (which I like), and a commitment to understanding and maintaining that diversity. Unfortunately, that commitment overshadows the obligation to meet the educational needs of all children - including gifted children. My daughter was in a chaotic environment at this school and I was concerned for her safety. Teacher quality is quite variable with a high turnover. Some were excellent, but others were poor.
This school used to be great, and it's still living off its previous reputation, and pretty soo it's going to be obvious to more people. You know how a fire will keep burning even when you haven't added any new fuel for a while? They're just about out of fuel. Or, to mix metaphors, what you've got here is the Emperor's New Alternative School. It's good because everyone says 'It's great, it's great.' But it ended up being a toxic, chaotic environment for my child. It's all gimmicks and silliness, and the only reason their test scores are excellent is because it is 100% interested parents -- as an alternative school, nobody is there by default. Many parents are virtually homeschooling their children in actual academics in the evenings, and TOPS is basically Political Correctness Daycare Center. (Not as nutsy as new-agey New School, though.) Want an education? Look someplace else.
TOPS is an excellent K-8 public school in the Seattle School District. It draws students from all over Seattle, so it has a more diverse population than the average neighborhood school. There is a strong emphasis on multiculturalism (one of the highlights of Kindergarten is a family history from every child) and involvement in the life of the city (many field trips). The school expects a high level of parental involvement. Perhaps because of this, student test scores are among the highest in the city (though not as high as those in the priciest neighborhoods). Science and art are integrated K-8 and the kids have P.E. every day (all sadly unusual in Seattle). It is a K-8 school, which is appealing for our family. Bad sides? Classes are large: 25 in K, 29 by 5th grade, and then maybe too small in middle school (1 language, no honors math). We love it.