It was the fourth day of school at Sela Public Charter School in Washington when the lights went out. “They were out for 10 minutes. The children were fine,” said Natalie Arthurs, the new head of the Hebrew-language immersion school, at the end of a long day that also included a practice fire drill. Now beginning its second year, Sela is open to students from 4-year-old prekindergarten kids through second grade.
Enrollment is 95, up from 70 at the end of last year, Arthurs said. As a charter school, Sela, in Northeast Washington, receives public funds to serve the community at large.
To conform to its charter, which prohibits the teaching of religion, the school is free of Hebrew’s Jewish religious and ethnic associations, and instead focuses on the secular Hebrew culture of Israel. New this year is what Arthurs calls an emphasis on communications. She has issued a school handbook for families and has made face-to-face contact with students and parents a priority.
“There’s now a person greeting people each morning,” she said. She spends part of each day observing classes. “If a parent asks, ‘Did my child eat lunch?’ I can say, ‘I told him to have three extra bites.’ ” Sela also has expanded its after-school program from aftercare to include tutoring and enrichment.
And there is some physical expansion in the works.On Aug. 24, the day before school began, 35 parents joined Arthurs for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark construction on a new playground, garden and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) room.
Arthurs came to Sela from Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy in Washington, where she was resident principal. She also was a teacher and an instructional coach in the Prince George’s County Public Schools. She earned a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from the University of Maryland, College Park, and has a national board certification.
“I’m not just an operational leader. I’m an instructional leader,” she said. Becoming head of Sela offers Arthurs a chance to immerse herself in Hebrew. “I’m picking it up,” she said. “When I go into a classroom, I can learn along with the students.”