An Interview with Melissa Bilash– Executive Director,The Grayson School

Jun 1, 2020 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy

1) Melissa, first tell us about yourself, your education and experience.

I have spent most of my adult life as a voice for gifted children.

For nearly 2 decades, I have worked to help families meet the needs of their gifted children through my private advocacy practice. As a federally-trained educational advocate, I have received special Congressional recognition for my work, and have co-authored chapters in both the University of Denver Perspective in Gifted Education: Legal Issues (Vol. 7), and the latest National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC) Guide to State Policies in Gifted Education. I am proud to be invited regularly to speak at international and national conferences for gifted children and have been honored twice by the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education (PAGE) for my work in the field.

From my personal and professional experience, I am driven to ensure that no gifted child with dreams and visions for their future should be told to wait, or that their questions are invalid or outside of the scope of what they are being taught. There should be no upper limit to what these extraordinary children can learn.

2) Now tell us about the Grayson School–who started it, and when and what population do you serve?

Through my work as an educational advocate I knew something was missing from the local educational landscape, and became frustrated with not being able to enact systematic change for gifted education in a state with a zero-funded mandate. Along with a team of incredibly dedicated volunteers—mostly women—who shared my vision, we worked tirelessly with researchers from the top universities in the country to create a research-based program with interdisciplinary rigor and complexity well beyond what a typical school can offer. We opened our doors to 12 students in September of 2015, and are very proud to have grown enrollment to over 100 students in our first 5 years.

3) Are there entrance tests or requirements?

We do require an IQ test, administered by a licensed professional,  although this is only one data point in our admissions process. Interviews with both prospective parents and students, as well as student visit days, a review of work samples, and recommendations from teachers are also key to our admissions decisions.

4) Currently, what is the school doing during this crisis?

Since moving to remote learning in mid-March we have been offering our full schedule of classes, electives, and clubs for our students. It was very important to us that our students were able to maintain a schedule of learning that met the unique needs of their own family during the pandemic. 

This includes live online classes, 1:1 sessions with students, pre-recorded assignments, electives, social and enrichment activities available across various formats to address student needs and to create balance and flexibility in daily screen time. We have been regularly mailing activities, lab equipment, and other resources for our students to use at home throughout the last quarter. A few examples from our teachers can be found in a recent blog post.

Grayson’s flexibility, creativity, and dedication to learning have been evident across our faculty and student body, with classroom and community-building activities crafted to reflect our values and strengthen our school culture. And we receive validation from our parents:

“I hear stories from so many other parents that are going through really challenging times with their kids at home trying to homeschool with systems that don’t work properly and no real interaction. You guys were on it right from the start and the teachers have all been amazing.” — Middle School Family. 

5) What age range do you serve?

We currently offer Pre-K (beginning at age 3) through grade 12.

6) How many faculty do you have

We have 30 highly-trained teachers who are passionate and creative about gifted education. This allows them to employ a flexible curriculum and to be highly responsive to our students’ rate of acquisition, their level, and areas of interest and intellectual curiosity to direct the appropriate manner of instruction. Classes are intentionally small, both to allow intensive study at an accelerated rate and to encourage strong faculty-student relationships.

7) Is this a residential school or an online school or hybrid?

We are an independent day school, currently conducting all classes online.

8) Where exactly are you located?

We are located in Radnor, Pennsylvania on the Philadelphia Main Line. With our continued growth, we just moved to this facility last fall to afford us room for expansion, new wet and dry lab facilities, gyms, outdoor fields, and a full-size theatre.

9) Do you have a website where parents can get more information?

Thank you for asking! It is:

10) In your mind, how satisfied are the parents and students with the Grayson School?

While our attrition rate is less than 10% for two years now, and our annual parent surveys consistently provide us with very high overall satisfaction scores, the unsolicited comments we have received from our families during this crisis have been so authentic and meaningful. This is just one example of the many similar notes we are receiving:

“We are consistently impressed by the way the Grayson team has transitioned to a new way of teaching and learning.  I see such adaptability, creativity, passion and understanding from our daughter’s teachers, and I love that all day long I can hear her enthusiastically engaging with her classmates and teachers. Grayson has taken the remote learning approach to a whole new level—with [alternate reality game] scavenger hunts, science labs, clubs and Les Mis all executed from home—we are so thankful that she is still having a high school experience.” — Upper School Family

And we know parents are speaking to each other favorably in the community; since March—during remote learning—we have welcomed 4 new students to our school who have already committed to return in the fall.

11) What have I neglected to ask?

Our mission is to also be a resource to the greater gifted community. We offer workshops and seminars throughout the year with experts in the field of gifted education and enrichment activities for children in the greater Philadelphia region. As our summer programming has been transitioned to over 30 remote online sessions, we are receiving registrations from all over the country. We are very excited to offer quality programming where students can learn at a pace consistent with their abilities, collaborate with like-minded peers, and explore topics of interest that may not otherwise be available to them. 

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