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November 2, 2012
Some charter schools in private space restarted classes today
Students and teachers arrived at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in Windsor Terrace early this morning for their first day back since Hurricane Sandy. Not all city schools lost a full week of classes because of Hurricane Sandy. Because of storm damage to hundreds of city school buildings, students who attend school in one of the Department of Education's buildings were told to stay home this week and not return until Monday at the earliest. But in privately owned buildings, some charter schools were up and running today with regularly scheduled classes, tutoring, and college prep courses. At Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in Windsor Terrace, which was relatively unscathed by Hurricane Sandy, school resumed Friday and settled back into an almost regular schedule. Classes started later than normal and teachers planned to assign students classwork related to the ongoing crisis that hundreds of thousands of residents are dealing with in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. But Executive Director Daniel Rubenstein said he wanted to open the school as soon as possible to restore a sense of normalcy. "After a time of trauma, what students need is to get back to routines," Rubenstein said. Many students at the District 15 school live in Red Hook, the riverfront neighborhood where some residents are still without electricity and some residents are still bailing water out of their basements. But Rubenstein said none of his students or their families experienced severe upheaval.
October 11, 2012
Growth assured, Democracy Prep plans for a founder-less future
Superintendent Seth Andrew answers questions after the Democracy Prep admissions lottery event earlier this year. When the first crop of seniors at Democracy Prep Charter High School graduates next June, they won't be alone. The founder of the school's network of charter schools will be exiting alongside them. Seth Andrew, the founder and superintendent of the six-school network, has spent the last week making hundreds of phone calls to friends and professional contacts to let them know that he will be stepping down in June, seven years after launching a middle school steeped in civic values. Andrew's decision comes weeks after the U.S. Department of Education announced that Democracy Prep Public Schools would be one of two charter school networks to get federal funding to expand. Democracy Prep will get $9.1 million over five years to open 15 new schools in Harlem; Camden, N.J.; and potentially beyond. Andrew said the award made him confident that he could depart without destabilizing Democracy Prep — and relieved that the network would be able to grow using only public funds, a value to the network. "The organization is incredibly healthy," he said today, speaking by phone from Boston, where he had been meeting with Building Excellent Schools, the nonprofit that helped him start up his first school a decade ago. "This is the time to do a transition." Andrew opened his flagship middle school, Democracy Prep Charter School, in 2006 with a $30,000 grant from the city’s Center for Charter School Excellence (now named the New York City Charter School Center). He expanded to a high school in 2009 to accommodate his graduating eighth-graders and has since opened three more middle schools.
August 23, 2012
Some city schools look for support to boost teacher leadership
For many of the city's strongest teachers, moving up professionally means moving out of the classroom and on to jobs in school management, consulting, policy, or academia. That was the conclusion of a recent survey from the New Teacher Project on the challenges districts face retaining teachers who have hit their stride. The Department of Education is in the early stages of several experiments to encourage those teachers to stay in schools, offering higher-level professional development and sometimes higher pay. But some school leaders don't want to wait to give their teachers opportunities to improve their leadership practices. Enter the National Academy of Advanced Teacher Education, a fledgling training program for teachers who have already demonstrated strength and commitment to the profession, but want to improve even more. For the past two years they have offered teachers around the country an intensive leadership training workshop tailored to the experiences of classroom instructors. This year, six city teachers joined a cohort of 50 in Chicago, for a two week long summer seminar series. The curriculum is split between teaching skills and leadership skills like public speaking and improvisation, and peppered with business school-style case study reading assignments, according to Deborah Levitsky, the program director. The idea is to help them to think deeper about non-supervisory leadership roles, such as grade-level team leaders and department chairs. The program runs for two years, with a winter weekend-long meetup and at-home reading and writing assignments.
July 18, 2012
For some charters, 2012 reading test gains began with a struggle
Two years ago, just one in three students at Achievement First Bushwick were rated "proficient" on the state's reading tests. It wasn't exactly the kind of result promised from a high-performing charter school in a "no excuses" network. But the school has nearly doubled that rate in the two years since, according to state test scores released Tuesday. On the 2012 English language arts test, nearly 60 percent of students at the school were rated proficient, compared to 47 percent of students citywide. Bushwick's gains on the reading tests were among the largest made in the charter sector, which improved as a whole by seven percentage points, from 44.5 percent to 51.5 percent. The improvement — from matching the citywide average to scoring well above it — has provided fodder for charter school advocates and the Bloomberg administration to push back against critics who oppose the expansion of charter schools across the state. "Policy makers and legislators should take note" of the gains, said Bill Phillips, president of the New York Charter Schools Association."It’s not only a tougher measure than the host district comparison, it suggests that districts across the state should consider charters as another tool to better educate children." "We can't possibly handle the demand from parents for the charter schools," Mayor Bloomberg said during a press conference Tuesday. "They're just off the charts." Several charter operators announced their schools' test scores in celebratory press releases Tuesday. Deborah Kenny touted the eighth-grade math and reading scores at her schools, the Harlem Village Academies. The Success Academy network announced a 7-point gain in reading proficiency across its four schools with testing grades, more than twice the citywide improvement rate. And Democracy Prep said the low-performing charter school it took over last year had posted the largest reading proficiency gains of any school in the state, with third-grade reading proficiency hurtling from 28 percent in 2011 to 63 percent this year. The charter school sector wasn't nearly as enthusiastic to promote its gains two years ago, when reading scores slumped. Struggles to boost literacy were not unique to Achievement First Bushwick.
June 22, 2012
Harlem impresario enters fraught charter school political scene
Lopez-Pierre, center, and his family, in a photo sent out in the new PAC's introductory emails. A Harlem realtor known for founding a controversial social club and playing a role in a high-profile loan dispute is now entering the world of charter school politics. Thomas Lopez-Pierre, a charter school parent, thinks Harlem's political leaders don't sufficiently support the charter schools that dot their districts. So he has formed a political action committee to help finance candidates who would. The committee, called the Harlem Charter School Parents PAC, made its debut this week in a letter to charter school advocates outlining its political goals: to raise $250,000 over the next year to support candidates in Harlem's three 2012 City Council races and local Democratic Party district leader races. The group also said it would find volunteers to help those candidates get out the vote. Lopez-Pierre, whose son is finishing first grade at Harlem's New York French American Charter School, said he and two other parents aim to create a new unified voice for parents in a community that has served as the front line of the political wars over charter school expansion. (Lopez-Pierre declined to name the other parents but said their children attend Harlem Children's Zone's Promise Academy and one of the Harlem Success Academy charter schools.) "Elected officials only respond to two things: votes and money. Our goal is to elect officials that support charter schools," he said. "My son is in first grade, and he's going to be in a charter school for at least 10 years. This is not about an election cycle. It's about transforming Harlem and expanding school choice."
May 4, 2012
At Democracy Prep, counting words adds up to literacy growth
When Democracy Prep students stroll into school wearing t-shirts that read “I’m kind of a big deal” and “Don’t act like you’re not impressed,” they don’t get in trouble for not wearing their uniforms. Instead, they get applauded for winning the right to wear the celebratory shirts by hitting a major milestone on their journey towards reading 1.2 million words. Requiring students to log the pages or books they read is common practice in city schools. But the expectation is a bit different at Democracy Prep. Schools in the network regularly see students' math scores shoot up. But reading scores proved harder to budge. The network's founder and superintendent, Seth Andrew, chalked the phenomenon up to differences between the two subjects. In math, a student can be strong in geometry but weak in algebra, but literacy is built on more cumulative knowledge, he explained: In order to raise students' reading scores, they mostly needed to read more. In 2010, when Democracy Prep Harlem opened, literacy specialist Ajaka Roth and principal Emmanuel George thought about ways to make this happen. It wasn't by requiring students to read more books, they decided.
the odds be ever in their favor
April 20, 2012
Everyone’s a winner in one charter network’s admissions lottery
What do you call a lottery when everyone wins? An “Oprah moment,” according to operators of the Democracy Prep charter school network.
March 7, 2012
Eight months in, Bloomberg calls charter takeover a success
Seth Andrew, Democracy Prep's founder and superintendent, speaks at a fundraiser for Harlem Prep, a new school run by his network. Who's more important to New York City than Jeremy Lin, the city's sudden basketball sensation? According to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one answer is charter school operator Seth Andrew, who runs the Democracy Prep network of schools. Bloomberg made the comparison at an Upper East Side fundraiser for Andrew's latest project: turning around one of the city's worst elementary schools, Harlem Day Charter School, which his network adopted last year in the state's first—and so far only—charter school takeover. In 2011, Harlem Day was arguably the worst elementary school in the city, Bloomberg and Andrew told their audience as servers floated around the darkened, East 60th Street restaurant offering dumplings and sushi rolls. Last spring, the State University of New York charter school authorizer granted Democracy Prep permission to take over Harlem Day, now called Harlem Prep. The Wall Street Journal reported last June that 40 percent of students were held back, including two-thirds of fifth-graders. Teachers at the benefit put that number even higher, with some saying they thought as many as 70 percent of students had repeated a grade after Democracy Prep took over.
February 22, 2012
Closure spurs talk of new strategy for struggling charter schools
Parents from Peninsula Preparatory Academy rallied against the city's closure decision outside Department of Education headquarters in January. Last month, as parents from Peninsula Preparatory Academy vocally protested the city's decision to close their charter school, Principal Ericka Wala quietly pursued an alternative. Wala discovered that a charter school in Harlem that had faced closure last year was saved when a different operator was allowed to take over its charter and management. Harlem Day lost virtually all of its teachers and got a new name and curriculum when Democracy Prep took over in 2011, but the students were allowed to stay. For Wala, the last point was the biggest draw: Peninsula Prep’s students are set to be sent back to neighborhood schools that mostly post lower test scores. "I was like, this is something we should explore," Wala said, even though it meant she'd almost certainly lose her job in the process. Both Wala and the school's board, led by Chair Betty Leon, told Recy Dunn of the Department of Education's Charter Office that they would resign if that's what it took to keep the school open. "We were willing to do whatever that would allow the school to continue to exist, in whatever capacity, so that there would be less disruption to the children," Wala said. Wala reached out to Seth Andrew, the founder and head of the Democracy Prep charter network, and asked him to consider taking over Peninsula Prep. Wala set up a time for Andrew to visit the school, but when he floated the idea to top city and state education officials they rejected it, according to a source who was briefed on the proposal.
December 21, 2011
After Kim Jong Il's death, a Korean language class shifts format
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-fW6kGV5uE&feature=youtu.be Students in Democracy Prep High School's Korean classes typically learn words that boost their vocabulary and develop basic grammar — standard fare for introductory foreign language instruction. But this week the lessons took a turn for the geopolitical. Youngjae Hur greeted his students yesterday with an unusual pop quiz in English and asked them to define words such as "despotism," "denuclearize," and "repressive." For Hur, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il's abrupt death over the weekend offered the school a unique opportunity to infuse what students learn about the South Korean language and culture every day with the politics that have shaped life on the Korean Peninsula for decades. "It's important to let them know not just the skills to understand the language, but also the culture, the history, the politics," said Hur, a first-year teacher who moved to the United States from South Korea three years ago. "Especially at this special moment."
June 8, 2011
NAACP's Dukes defends suit: "I'm not against charter schools"
Hazel Dukes, the president of the NAACP of New York, said last night on NY1 that she supports charter schools but wants equal conditions for children attending district schools. In a television interview last night, the president of the NAACP of New York insisted that she does not oppose the opening of charter schools or the closure of failing schools — even as she defended her organization's role in a lawsuit that would reverse planned school closures and slow charter school growth. Speaking to NY1 Inside City Hall host Errol Louis, Hazel Dukes said that she only wanted district schools to have the same conditions as charter schools, which she praised. "Let's make it an equal playing field," she said. "That's not hard to do. We can do that with the stroke of a pen." She added, "My motive is not to keep any failing schools open. My motive has never been to say that teachers who can't teach need to be in schools. My motive is two things: justice and equality." Hazel Dukes said she her goal wasn't to prevent charters from opening but that the process was hurried. The biggest effect, she said, was overcrowding in school buildings, which she said has a disproportionate — and negative — impact on district school students. "Mr. Louis, tell me why all children can’t have the same amount of library time. Tell me why all children can’t have access to a playground," she said. The lawsuit, which the NAACP co-filed with the United Federation of Teachers and a host of elected officials and parents, aims to halt the closure of 22 district schools and plans to co-locate 20 charter schools inside district space. City school officials have said that a victory could disturb high school admission plans for the fall, and charter school leaders have said that, without the city space that they were counting on, they would not be able to open schools that children already plan to attend.
March 22, 2011
In a first, a charter operator will try to turn around a failing charter
Big block letters announce the entrance to Harlem Day Charter School, but next year they'll spell Harlem Prep Charter School — a reflection of a charter school authorizer's decision today to put the school under new management. For the first time, a charter school network is trying to turn around an already-failing charter school. Last year, when the State University of New York's Charter School Institute decided to close Harlem Day Charter School due to its low test scores, it solicited applications from charter operators who could reform the school. But there was a catch: whoever agreed to this proposal had to keep all of Harlem Day's current students rather than starting from scratch with a fresh group of kindergarteners. The risk was great enough that in a city of charter leaders eager for building space, SUNY's search turned up only one applicant: the Democracy Prep Public Schools network. Today SUNY officially gave Democracy Prep the go-ahead to take over Harlem Day and reopen it in July with the same students and a different approach.
October 1, 2010
Inside the dropping charter school grades, a wide range
PHOTO: Brian CharlesKim Gittleson's report on charter schools' performance on the city's progress reports lets users sift through every school. We already know that charter…
September 8, 2009
Watching Obama in Harlem, middle schoolers agree to agree
Sixth-graders at Democracy Prep Charter School in Harlem discussed Obama's speech after watching it via WH.gov. Harlem students who watched President Obama's back-to-school speech today in their school auditorium could not detect anything to disagree with — except for one point. "I disagree with Obama's mom about waking him up at 4:30," Klara Arnold, a 10-year-old sixth-grader at Democracy Prep Charter School, told her principal, who had explained that the speech initially sparked controversy and asked if students had any differences of opinion with the president. The speech referred to Obama's mother's habit of giving him extra lessons to supplement his schooling while he lived in Indonesia. Since district public schools won't open until tomorrow, few New York City schools had to tackle the question of whether and how to air the president's speech today. Democracy Prep Charter School, which opened for full-day sessions today after half-day preparation last week, did, along with other charter schools around the city.
September 2, 2009
Principals use progress reports as playbook to plan school year
Sample progress report Principals around the city are celebrating their top grades on the city's annual school report cards today, and many say the system helped them plan and execute the progress that drove the slew of high scores. They can do that because the report card grades rise with test score gains — and they also provide an intricate breakdown of exactly what elements brought the overall grade up or down. Rowena Penn-Jackson, principal of P.S. 230 in the Bronx, realized that the school needed to place greater emphasis on teaching reading comprehension of non-fiction and poetry. Several principals at high-achieving schools said the reports showed them the school needed to devote more resources to English language learners. Survey data nudged Democracy Prep Charter School's Seth Andrew and Amber Charter School's Vasthi Acosta to modify their methods of communicating effectively with parents. Hellenic Classical Charter School principal Christina Tettonis instituted more professional development sessions to train teachers to use test scores to personalize instruction for individual students.
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