top of page


​School Within A School (SWS) is a participatory democratic alternative program for approximately 120 sophomores, juniors, and seniors. It is located on the fourth floor of Brookline High School. SWS students take courses both in SWS and in the “main” high school.


In the spring of 1970, a small group of students, teachers, and parents began organizing an alternative school in Brookline where students would have a larger voice in their own education and a more personal, equal relationship with teachers. In the early years of SWS, students wanted to be as separate as possible from the main high school. This attitude has changed. Students became interested in benefiting from the variety and scope of courses and activities in the high school. SWS became an alternative for all students who sought to participate in a democratic classroom and community.


SWS is a separate administrative unit for approximately 120 students, rather than a Dean’s office set up for each grade level as in the main high school. SWS is a voluntary program. Permission from a parent is required in order to enter. There is a lottery based on requirements set by SWS Town Meeting. Not all students can enter due to space considerations.

It is the goal of the staff in SWS to help students become responsible for their own education. To this end, the SWS Town Meeting serves as the major forum for shared decision-making in the areas of educational administration and educational policy. The weekly Town Meeting is mandatory for students and staff. Town Meeting serves as a forum for discussion and debate and for changes which are inevitable in a growing dynamic community. SWS gives students more freedom and more responsibility in directing their own education than is generally possible in the main school. Students have the chance to make their own education meaningful on their own terms, as long as they fulfill responsibilities to the SWS community. Students are responsible for their own attendance. They, not their parents, call in to report and explain an absence.

Six students and one staff member each quarter form The Agenda Committee which plans and runs SWS Town Meeting. Every student is eligible to serve on Agenda Committee which is chosen from a pool of volunteers.

The eight members of The Review Committee are responsible for reviewing the academic progress and well-being of students. The Committee meets with students referred by either staff or other students to discuss academic, social, and attendance problems. The Committee helps support students and ultimately decides whether or not a student should remain in SWS.

The heterogeneous semester-long English classes have students from all three grades. They function as writing seminars. Biology and Chemistry courses are traditional in content, cooperative and individualized in style, Social Studies courses include alternative perspectives in history. Students take all non-SWS courses in the main school.


Many people research and visit SWS for a variety of reasons. For example, in the past, researchers and educators across the world have visited SWS because of an interest in democratic schooling, investigating student-run town meetings, social-emotional support in the classroom, moral development at school, value-based education, or looking at multi-grade classrooms that are not leveled or tracked and learning about our processed based collaborative writing instruction. 

We welcome partnerships with other schools and educators. The best day to visit is Friday because we have our program’s Town Meeting. You can do a half-day or whole-day visit. Both of the options should involve seeing a class or two and our program’s Town Meeting but can also involve student or staff interviews.  We are lucky to be located in the heart of Brookline Village where you can take a lunch break and try out a number of exceptional restaurants or you can spend lunch with staff and students to hear their perspectives on whatever topic you are researching.


If you are interested in visiting SWS please contact our administrative assistant, Chrissy Carruthers ( with the following information:

  • Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you are hoping to get out of your visit.

  • Let us know if you would like to stay for a half-day or whole-day visit.

  • Let us know if you would like to be able to meet with students and staff for interviews.

  • Provide some dates that you can visit (keep in mind we host visitors on Fridays).

bottom of page