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Movers & Shakers: Amy Hollinger provides a safe haven at Puget Sound Community School

Welcome to Movers & Shakers; a series where we look deep into PNW life for people who are making moves, doing big things, and who are just - in general - being rad. Seattle is full of multi-talented and multi-faceted people, many at the intersection of technology and the arts. How do they find the time? What's their secret? Well, friends, we're here to find out. Meet Movers & Shakers; aka Seattle Refined attempting to capture the not-so-secret lives of impressive locals. Have a recommendation for us? Email hello@seattlerefined.com.

Amy Hollinger, Head of Puget Sound Community School (PSCS), discovered her love for education in college —specifically the relationship side of schools. She had always admired the model of PSCS, an independent "micro-school" located in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District; when she learned of the founder stepping down, it seemed the perfect fit.

She’s now in her third year at the school, which promotes self-directed choice for students grades 6 through 12. Their mission statement?

PSCS exists to shape young people’s gifts to create an equitable world, through integrity, community engagement, and courage.

PSCS aims to foster a safe, compassionate environment for all its students and their families, while flipping the idea on its head that adult interference can be damaging.

“When you have engaged, caring teachers, we think the influence is good," she said. "Especially at critical periods in students’ lives."

These days the school has 44 students and 8 staff members. In pre-pandemic times, there were at 55 students and 5.5 teachers.

“All schools talk about community,” she said. “We actually lead with community.”

Hollinger's impressive resume shows 15 years of experience in administrative work, and a teacher for eight years. She's traveled the globe training teachers and school administrators in effective strategies for educating and leading in schools. While at the University of Florida’s Lab School P.K. Yonge where she served as a teacher and assistant principal, Hollinger discovered a reflective inquiry approach to education, was awarded permanent status at the University of Florida’s College of Teaching and Learning and had much success as a track coach.

Later, as the first Director of Professional Learning for Global Online Academy, she worked with an amazing team of educators to build a professional learning program, allowing her to create meaningful connections with educators around the world. When asked what draws students to PSCS, Hollinger points to the school's social justice and equity lens.

"Families are looking for a safe space of belonging,” she said, adding that many students and staff are trans or gender fluid.

The community also participates in race-based caucusing, which Hollinger says is a great tool for students, staff and parents. It is intended to move conversations in a productive, transparent direction, and she hopes it minimizes the harm of the white community on BIPOC students and staff.

"Race-based caucusing allows us a safe space to explore that aspect of our identities, while for white folks not perpetuating harm on our brown and black community members."

One BIPOC family told Hollinger that they decided to send their daughter to PSCS because they wanted their student to see herself through stories of BIPOC empowerment in the curriculum. She explained that the school staff wants to show that education can be done differently, as they teach to uplift marginalized voices. You will find more authors like Morrison here, versus Steinbeck and Fitzgerald.

Hollinger adds that the intimate size is another major advantage; bigger schools might be able to provide more resources, but not as rich of an experience.

"We’re small," she said. "People want students to be seen and heard and represented.”

For the third and final term of the 2020-2021 PSCS school year, classes will still be done remotely. However, there will be some opt-in, outdoor, in-person experiences on Friday mornings, as well as the option to come to campus for social reasons throughout the week. Hollinger admits that being flexible is one of the perks of an independent school. This past year, they have been able to give teachers a lighter load, while talking to individual families to make sure everyone feels OK with adapted arrangements.

“We can be nimble,” she said. At the outset of pandemic, the staff quickly saw that things wouldn’t go on pause for only a few months, so they quickly declared the first term remote, and then the second.

“We just called it,” Hollinger said. “It seemed better to choose and put our resources there.”

Thankfully, she already had some experience in the world of online schooling, and staff received training on how to create community in an online environment. In light of this past year, Hollinger and her family take the perspective of feeling fortunate on so many levels. She's felt the duality of "all these things we’re missing, and yet we're still privileged in the world,” expressing immense gratitude for her family's house, her job, their wonderful neighbors. Her own kids are ages 15,18 and 19.

She's mostly looking forward to being back in community.

"A strength of the school is that it reignites a love of learning," she said. "Self-empowerment through choice and agency."

She's excited to see this in action once again, since it's been tricky to witness via a virtual world. Hollinger's favorite part of the job?

“The people piece,” she said, without hesitation. "The staff, the students are amazing."

She appreciates having taken over for a founder who had been at the school for quite awhile.

"I'm enjoying helping the community figure out how to transform, [and] what comes next," she said. And in the end, she cherishes providing students with "a safe space, to go out and make the world a better place.“

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