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History of The Siena School

The Siena School® was established in 2006 to provide students with learning differences, such as dyslexia, a rich and meaningful education that would prepare them for college, and for success in life. As the program took shape, a larger opportunity and its mission became clear: create one of the nation’s finest schools for bright students who learn differently.

The school takes its name from the town Siena, Italy, in part to emphasize its strong focus on the arts. In addition, Siena’s patron saint, St. Catherine, was a highly regarded Renaissance scholar who only learned to read later in life. Much of her work was accomplished through accommodations such as dictation. Siena’s logo, two Italian cypress trees, represents the school’s focus on the personal dialogue between each teacher and student that helps inspire learning and motivation.

Siena quickly established itself as both a local and national presence. In 2007, Siena founded the Siena Educational Workshop Series, offering workshops to area parents, teachers, tutors and other professionals on many aspects of educating students with language-based learning differences. In 2008, Siena became fully accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. Siena staff members have presented at national and international conferences including the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) and the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), and Siena is a member of both those organizations, in addition to ThinkNation, a national cohort of private schools dedicated to best practices in teaching students with learning differences. In 2023, Siena became a founding school of the Association of LD Schools, a nonprofit, private school organization including over 50 founding schools across the United States and Canada that serve students with dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and executive dysfunction.

In 2009, a group of parents established The Siena School Scholarship Fund to further and support Siena's mission by providing scholarship funding. In the spring of 2010, Siena graduated its first senior class. In January 2013, the school moved to its current location, located conveniently at the Capital Beltway and a short distance from the Forest Glen Metro station. 

Siena’s numerous traditions include the Siena Celebration each October, during Dyslexia Awareness month. At this celebration, the school recognizes key supporters and presents the annual Siena Cypress Leadership Award to a local or national leader who has made a difference in the lives of students with learning differences. Past winners include Dr. William Stixrud, a prominent local neuropsychologist, and best-selling author Rick Riordan, whose series Percy Jackson and the Olympians features the main character with dyslexia and ADHD.

Siena’s cross-curricular emphasis, its signature program in the arts, and its interscholastic sports program, internship program, parents association, and close connections to the community combine to give students a wide variety of experiences in preparing them for college. With the addition of our Northern Virginia campus in 2021, Siena has grown to over 180 students and looks forward to continued growth as it serves more bright, creative students who thrive in a multisensory, experiential learning environment.

In December 2023, Siena announced that it successfully earned reaccreditation from Middle States. Read the press release here.


Key Moments in Siena's History

  • The first full year of the school included 30 students (grades 5–9) and a handful of teachers at the Montgomery Hills Baptist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland.
  • The Siena School Scholarship Fund created to support the financial aid program
  • Civic leaders including the local Congressman and several State officials gather to honor Siena’s opening
  • Advisory board of national leaders formed
  • Siena grows to 45 students, adds 10th grade
  • 17 faculty and staff
  • Elementary program begins with the addition of 4th grade
  • Siena Parents Association established
  • Siena Cypress Leadership Award established. The first award given to William Stixrud, Ph.D., a prominent local neuropsychologist.
  • 62 students, 17 faculty and staff
  • 11th grade added
  • First competitive athletic teams: soccer, basketball, track, softball
  • High school internship program begins
  • Guest Speakers include Ernest Green, one of the Little Rock 9
  • Middle States Accreditation
  • Siena Cypress Leadership Award: Rick Riordan (best-selling author whose series Percy Jackson and the Olympians features a main character with dyslexia and ADHD)
  • 72 students, 19 faculty and staff
  • Established 12th grade curriculum, first graduating class, college counseling program established
  • Siena joins NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools)
  • Siena Cypress Leadership Award: Claire Nissenbaum
  • Commencement Speaker: Erik Heyer
  • Siena's 5th anniversary!
  • 75 students, 19 faculty and staff
  • Siena presents with Dr. Bill Stixrud at NAIS Annual convention, accepted to present at IDA international conference in Fall 2011
  • Inaugural Evening Fundraiser for The Siena School Scholarship Foundation
  • Siena Cypress Leadership Award: Tom West
  • Commencement Speaker: Dr. William Stixrud
  • 78 students, 21 faculty and staff
  • Siena receives Special Exception to operate at 1300 Forest Glen Road
  • Siena presents at NAIS Annual Conference in Seattle and at IDA conference in Chicago
  • Siena introduces House system
  • Guest speakers include Seth Goldman, CEO of Honest Tea, Mike McCurry, former press secretary for President Clinton
  • Siena acknowledged in Take Control of Dyslexia and Other Reading Difficulties by Jennifer Engel Fisher
  • Siena Cypress Leadership Award: Dr. Martha Denckla
  • Commencement Speaker: Abigail Weibenson
  • 80 students, 21 faculty and staff
  • Siena moves to a new campus at 1300 Forest Glen Rd, January 2013
  • First ever Band Night and Spanish Play
  • Siena becomes a Certified Maryland Green School
  • Siena listed as a featured school in Rich Weinfeld’s second edition, Smart Kids with Learning Difficulties, Overcoming Obstacles and Realizing Potential
  • Siena Cypress Leadership Award: Dr. Gordon Sherman
  • Commencement Speaker: Henry Allen
  • House Winner: Leocorno
  • Enrollment 88 students, 27 faculty and staff 
  • First full year in the new building 
  • Record number of snow days (10)
  • Media coverage in Washington Post Magazine (November 2013) and ASCD’s Education Update (December 2013)
  • Significant growth of Siena’s athletics programs: 
    • Softball team finished in 1st place; 
    • Girls’ basketball reached the playoffs; 
    • Boys’ soccer inaugural season; 
    • First-ever Siena basketball tournament.
  • Performance of Romeo and Juliet in Spanish
  • First all-school field trip (to Gettysburg, PA)
  • Three students' photography selected for DC Foto-Week
  • Siena certified as a Maryland Green School 
  • Siena Cypress Leadership Award: Dr. Larry Silver
  • Commencement Speaker: Dr. Guinevere Eden
  • House Winner: Drago
  • 100 students, 27 faculty and staff
  • Siena presents Oliver!, its first full Broadway musical production
  • Casey Trees donated cedar trees to the grounds
  • Spanish classes wrote and performed their version of A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • “Ice Bucket Challenge” bravely endured by Ms. Darefsky
  • Bridge Club held its first tournament
  • Girls Varsity Basketball team won its division and reached the tournament championship game
  • Faculty won the Students vs. Faculty Basketball game
  • Girls' Volleyball made ISSAC playoffs
  • Coed Softball had an undefeated season and were ISSAC Champions
  • Siena Presented at the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Annual Conference
  • Siena Cypress Leadership Award: Dr. Kathleen Nadeau
  • Commencement Speaker: John Lawrence
  • House Winner: Leocorno
  • Siena's 10th Anniversary!
  • 114 students, 29 faculty and staff
  • First students to graduate who have spent full nine years at Siena grades 4-12
  • Girl's Varsity Basketball won ISSAC Division
  • Presented Anything Goes musical
  • Best in Show winner — Washington School of Photography's All Montgomery Exhibition
  • Honorable mention — Van Hollen Congressional Art Competition
  • Glen Echo Photoworks — winner
  • Launched 5-Year Strategic Plan
  • Released first Annual Report
  • Siena Cypress Leadership Award: Quinn Bradlee
  • Commencement Speaker: Robert Burke
  • House Winner: Aquila
  • 114 students, 33 faculty and staff
  • First student-athlete to reach 1,000 points scored in basketball: Hunter Fagan 
  • Girl's Varsity Basketball won ISSAC Conference and Division Champions
  • Student Artwork juried into Drexel University — High School Photography Competition (120 images selected)
  • Raskin Congressional Art Competition — image selected to show at the U.S. Capitol
  • Voted Best for Families — Family Magazine
  • Bethesda Magazine — Runner-Up Best Private School for Non-traditional Learners
  • Published Here to be Heard, audiobook with Learning Ally
  • First all school Variety Show
  • First school-wide “Day of Silence”
  • Siena Cypress Leadership Award: Marilyn Zecher
  • Commencement Speaker: Erik Heyer
  • House Winner: Leocorno
  • 125 students, 36 faculty and staff
  • Opened 16,000 square foot addition
  • First student musical in new Teatro space: The Fantasticks
  • Siena Wildcat Mascot costume introduced
  • First international school travel to Costa Rica
  • Girls' Varsity Basketball won ISSAC Division Champions
  • Boys' Varsity Basketball won ISSAC Division Champions — First time in the history of the program
  • Raskin Congressional Art Competition- three winners the 4th highest number of any schools in our district including large public and private schools!
  • First school dance — Snow Ball
  • Winner- Best for Families Two Years in a Row, Washington Family Magazine
  • Featured in Bethesda Magazine: Faces of Dyslexia Education
  • Siena Teachers Published in Independent School Magazine — “Finding the Right Words”
  • Seniors Awarded $1.4 Million in Scholarships
  • Siena Cypress Leadership Award: Learning Ally
  • Commencement Speaker: Seth Goldman
  • House Winner: Leocorno
  • 135 students, 41 faculty and staff
  • Second school musical in Teatro space — Pippin
  • Siena Wildcat Mascot named “Wiley”
  • Boys Basketball made ISSAC Finals
  • Only school in ISSAC to send six students to the ISSAC All-Star Game
  • Two students juried into Drexel University — High School Photography Competition out of 3400+ entries
  • Winner — Best for Families Three Years in a Row, Washington Family Magazine
  • Featured in Bethesda Magazine: Faces of Dyslexia Education
  • Siena's Educational Blog created
  • Eli scored his 1,000th point in basketball, making him the second Siena student to achieve this accomplishment and the first sophomore to score 1,000 points in ISSAC 
  • Student Voice and Rising Leaders formed
  • New Robotics, Performing Arts, Engineering, and Theatre electives added
  • Siena's Dance Team established and performed twice
  • Siena Cypress Leadership Award: Weinfeld Education Group
  • Commencement Speaker: Mike McCurry
  • House Winner: Aquila
  • 135 students, 46 faculty and staff
  • 15th Anniversary commemoration with events, community activities, and more
  • Pumpkin Carving and Painting Contest 
  • Food Drive Challenge (228 lbs. of food donated to Nourish Now)
  • Virtual Game night with trivia, drawing, and more
  • Virtual musical, Dear Edwina 
  • Dare a Teacher was very popular and successful during Homecoming 2020 
  • Siena’s Northern Virginia Campus site selected; Jennifer Betts chosen as Head of School
  • Virtual cooking class, Dishing with Chef Franson 
  • Inaugural Virtual Art Show 
  • Featured again in Bethesda Magazine: Faces of Dyslexia Education
  • Students competed in the Head of School Challenge all year (15 challenges around the arts, athletics, reading, social and emotional health, and more)
  • Nora School Photography Awards for 2 high school students
  • 15 Days of Giving, Siena's first-ever virtual fundraiser for the scholarship fund, ran from March 1-15
  • Won Best for Families from Washington Family Magazine for the 5th year in a row
  • Math and Science Department Chair Jennifer Chambers nominated for a national STEM Teaching Award 
  • Siena community contributed to a Time Capsule to be sealed until 2031 (Siena’s 25th anniversary)
  • Siena Cypress Leadership Award: Drs. Brock and Fernette Eide
  • Commencement Speaker: David Flink  
  • House Winner: Pantera
  • 175 students, 59 faculty and staff across both Siena campuses
  • Official opening of Siena Northern Virginia on September 8, 2021 (read the press release)
  • Four theatre performances across both Siena campuses:
    • Almost, Maine and High School Musical, Jr. at Silver Spring
    • The Tell-Tale Heart and Newsies, Jr. at Northern Virginia
  • Dare a Teacher was again very popular and successful during Homecoming 2021 
  • Siena Northern Virginia High School announced (Grades 9-10 beginning Fall 2022)
  • Varsity Girls basketball won their 2nd straight ISSAC Title (and 3rd overall since 2017)
  • Second Annual Virtual Art Show, featuring work from Northern Virginia and Silver Spring campuses
  • Featured again in Bethesda Magazine: Faces of Dyslexia Education
  • Siena Cypress Leadership Award: Noah Lyles (read the press release)
  • Commencement Speaker: Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock  
  • House Winners (see House Programs page for more)
    • Silver Spring Campus: Drago
    • Northern Virginia Campus: Leocorno
    • Overall Winner: Aquila 

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