Common Principles for Uncommon Schools

Lehman Alternative Community School

Lehman Alternative Community School Contact Information:

111 Chestnut Street
Ithaca, NY 14850

Phone: 607-274-2183

CES Affiliate for 15-20 Years

Visit Website


We are a small, democratic, alternative public school, grades 6-12. The school was founded in 1974 by Dave Lehman and a group of parents who wanted an education for their children that would be empowering, relevant and democratic. We are a long-time member of the Coalition of Essential Schools and the New York Performance Standards consortium. Our students graduate by exhibition by demonstrating mastery in 10 Essential Areas that includes core subjects as well as other essential knowledge and skills. They formally reflect on their work in each area two times a year and receive quarterly narrative evaluations from their teachers rather than grades.

Our non-traditional approach to learning includes a strong emphasis on critical citizenship skills which students practice daily, in classes, committees, family group and All School Meetings. We extend learning into the community through service learning and career explorations. Each year we leave campus in the fall for a two-day retreat and in the spring students choose from a variety of options such as canoeing, biking, hiking, Katrina Relief, and many others for a week-long trip.

Our school was instrumental in having the 10th principle, Democracy and Equity, added to the Common Principles.

Our 2016 Essential Question:

How can we develop a program for our middle school, parallel to our high school graduation by exhibition, where younger students demonstrate their readiness for high school through competencies and performance assessment tasks rather than by passing classes?

How can we sustain the culture of the school over time, particularly as long-time teachers retire?

Our Competencies and Strengths:

Building community is our strength. Students have a strong voice at LACS and take part in the day-to-day running of the school. As a 6-12th grade school, our students participate in multi-age classes, committees and family groups where younger students learn from their older mentors.

Our Challenges:

We are currently working on reinvigorating Graduation by Exhibition to make sure it continues with fidelity. We are also working with newer staff to develop a deeper understanding of the Ten Common Principles.

In spite of having a very developed portfolio system where high school students graduate by exhibition for more than 20 years, our middle school students still complete courses by seat time. We are in our third year of developing "promotion by exhibition" whereby middle schoolers will be able to demonstrate their readiness to move on to high school.

We are also developing a very complex online system that will be a portal for portfolios and other demonstrations by students, narrative evaluations and other communications between teachers, students and their families. This portal will become the way we share student transcripts with colleges, programs and employers.

Many long-time teachers have retired over the past several years and we are working on how to sustain the culture and philosophy of the school.

We are somewhat isolated in upstate New York and welcome visitors!