Thornton Creek Elementary

Thornton Creek
Thornton Creek Elementary School


About Thornton Creek Elementary School

Founded by teachers in close collaboration with families, Thornton Creek started almost fifty years ago as one of the first “alternative schools” in Seattle. Known first as AE-II (Alternative Education Two), Thornton Creek grew for decades in the Decatur building, where we developed a strong learning community using the integrated, child-centered principles of Expeditionary Learning.

In 2016, we moved into our new building on the same site in Northeast Seattle and have continued with the same commitment to great teaching, deeper learning, and anti-racist, loving community.

Gerrit Kischner – Principal

An SPS graduate and parent of SPS graduates, Gerrit Kischner has been the principal of Thornton Creek Elementary since 2021. Prior to joining the Thornton Creek team, Gerrit had the privilege of completing thirteen full years as principal of Genesee Hill/Schmitz Park Elementary in West Seattle, where he managed rapid growth from 316 students to 720 students and watched his first Kindergarten class graduate from West Seattle High School; at Genesee Hill, he became known for strong aligned curriculum, inclusion practices deeply embedded in general education, and positive community building, Gerrit served for four years as the assistant principal at TOPS K-8 School in Seattle.

His first love is teaching, beginning with community education projects in Salvador, Brazil, and including joyful experiences at Turner Middle School in Philadelphia Public Schools, RJ Grey Jr. High in Acton, Massachusetts, and the International School Manila. In 1996, he returned to his hometown Seattle to teach 9th grade Pacific Rim Studies and founded a nationally-awarded culminating project program (CAPstone: Citizen Action Project) at Kamiakin Jr. High in the Lake Washington School District.

As a district leader, Gerrit has served as President of the Principals Association of Seattle Schools and as the founding principal co-chair of the Peer Assistance and Review Panel of Seattle Schools (2016-2021). He is a graduate of Garfield High School (Seattle), Swarthmore College, and the Danforth Program for Educational Leadership at the University of Washington. In 2013, he completed work as a participant in the pilot of a National Board Principal Certification, and he is currently enrolled in the Educational Leadership doctoral program at Washington State University.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will there be a school tour?

Yes! Open House and Enrollment information

How do you know if Thornton Creek is right for your child and your family?

Thornton Creek Elementary school is a PreK-5 Option school in the Seattle Public School system, located in the View Ridge/Wedgwood neighborhood in northeast Seattle. At Thornton Creek, our learning environment engages students in academically rigorous exploration and discovery through expeditionary learning.

What does Thornton Creek have to offer my child?

The learning environment at Thornton Creek engages students in academically rigorous exploration and discovery. Our program offers a partnership between teachers, students, and parents that emphasizes best effort, high expectations, high-quality work, and collaboration. Our curriculum encourages creativity and promotes academic growth and critical thinking. Students learn to take responsibility for their classwork as they work with their ideas through multiple drafts and participate in peer critique. Thornton Creek is a leader among the national coalition of Expeditionary Learning Schools, a federally designated New American Schools reform design. More about our learning environment.

What does “alternative” mean at Thornton Creek?

Thornton Creek School uses a project- and theme-based curriculum that emphasizes the development of both knowledge and character. Expedition projects culminate in a combination of exhibits, performances, publications, and community service projects that highlight student work. Collaboration and teamwork are taught as learning strategies that help students see events from multiple perspectives. Community is developed throughout the school with multiyear classrooms, class partners, daily class meetings, and parents as partners in the classrooms. Portfolios, conferences, student self-evaluations, and teachers’ written comments provide a comprehensive, developmental assessment of student work and achievement.

How do you define “expedition” and “expeditionary learning?”

Expeditionary learning is a proven model for comprehensive school reform for elementary, middle, and high schools. It emphasizes learning by doing, with a particular focus on character growth, teamwork, reflection, and literacy. Teachers connect high-quality academic learning to adventure, service, and character development through a variety of student experiences including interdisciplinary, project-based learning expeditions. Each year, teachers choose a discovery project, governed by guiding questions. We believe expeditionary learning harnesses a child’s natural passion to learn and is a powerful method for developing the curiosity, skills, knowledge, and courage needed to imagine a better world and work toward realizing it. More about expeditionary learning.

Are all subjects at Thornton Creek School taught with the expeditionary framework?

Drawing on the classroom’s expedition theme can enrich many academic subjects (such as math, literacy, art, and science), but instruction at Thornton Creek School is not limited to the expedition framework. Expanded curricula in math, spelling, science, and writing are also used in our classrooms.

Is Thornton Creek School a cooperative (“co-op”) program? How much time will I be expected to volunteer in the classroom?

Although many of the parents who helped design the program in the 1970s were involved in cooperative preschools, Thornton Creek School is not a co-op program. There is no requirement to volunteer in the classroom. However, parents are requested to enrich and support our school community, and many parents give a great deal of time to our school (time flies when you’re having fun!). Volunteer activities can be performed at school or from home. More about volunteering at Thornton Creek.

Will my child be ready for middle school?

At Thornton Creek, peer critique, individual reflection, and collaborative assessment support students in setting high expectations for themselves and enable them to work independently. Feedback from parents, middle school teachers, and former students makes it clear that our graduates are academically and socially some of the best-prepared students entering local public and private middle schools.

Does Thornton Creek have onsite before and after school childcare?

There is not a before care program at Thornton Creek. Kids Time, a Seattle Parks and Recreation program sponsored by Ravenna-Eckstein Community Center, offers onsite extended daycare. Currently, the Kids Time program is full. Please contact the community center at 206-684-7534 to be placed on the wait-list. New students will automatically be placed from the wait-list. Hall of Fame After School care is currently offered on site. We have not yet solidified our 2023-2024 contract with Hall of Fame. Additionally, the District offers school bus transportation to the Magnuson Park YMCA.

Is bus transportation available?

Yes, for some students. Students residing within the Eckstein Middle School Service Area are eligible for district-provided bus transportation. Other restrictions may apply. More about Seattle Public School’s transportation program on the district website.

How many classes are there per grade?

For the 2022-2023 school year, there are 3 classes for each grade, kindergarten through fifth grade.