Paradigm shift in public education : Ridge and Valley Charter School 2000-2014.

Date of Award


Document Type



Caspersen School of Graduate Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Letters


The dissertation examines the founding and first ten years of operation of Ridge and Valley Charter School, Blairstown, New Jersey, a kindergarten through eighth grade public charter school committed to ecological literacy and sustainability: "education for a hopeful sustainable future." Within the context of the establishment and purpose of charter schools in the United States and in New Jersey, the project asserts that Ridge and Valley Charter School is successful in offering public school choice to families, fostering innovation in public education, contributing to the establishment of new forms of accountability for schools, and providing new professional opportunities for teachers, goals of the New Jersey Charter School Program Act of 1995. Qualitative research methods of phenomenology, ethnography, and case study augment quantitative review of data to present a comprehensive view of the motivation and philosophy of the school's foundation, its practical manifestation from 2000 - 2014, and the effect of the Ridge and Valley experience on its founders, trustees, and graduates. A chronology of the school's development and analysis of its performance to date are based on information from public records including annual School Report Cards published by the NJ Department of Education, minutes from Ridge and Valley Charter School (RVCS) board of trustees meetings 2000 - 2014, local and RVCS publications, and RVCS official correspondence. Interviews with founders and alumni conducted for this project add personal perspectives to the public record and contribute to a holistic picture of the school's evolution and impact. The practice of non-hierarchical governance based on PeerSpirit circle practice employed throughout the school is presented in detail, reflecting its important role in the school's development. Review of internal and external assessment data demonstrates challenges of assessing unconventional practice with conventional assessment instruments. Suggestions for additional or alternative assessments appropriate to the mission of Ridge and Valley Charter School are presented.