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CHARTER SCHOOLS TODAY

Fall/Winter

www.charterschoolstoday.com

Connecting Communities Through Technology Benjamin Banneker Charter Academy of Technology

Training Minds for Continued Success

Pinellas Preparatory Academy

An Advanced Realm of Education

Rimrock Expeditionary Alternative Learning THE MAG A ZINE FO R CH ARTER SCH O O L E X ECU TIVES


Editorial Production Editor Lindsay Howell Managing Editor Tony Ware Production Director Hayley Gold Project Directors Eric Gunn Hanim Samara Correspondents: Kellie Ducharme, Staff Writer Molly Cohen, Staff Writer Rebecca Czarnecki Brittany E. DeVries Kelly Matlock Shelley Seyler

Letter from the Editor — As a nation we have barely had time to get used to writing “2010” on forms and forecasts and it is already a memorable year for educators. As we enter the second decade of the new millennium we also enter the second year in office for Arne Duncan, the U.S. secretary of education, a man who seems to walk a thin line between lobbying for increased aid to charter schools and increased focus on standardized testing. He has used American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (a.k.a. stimulus) monies to prompt the raising of some state caps on charter schools, while inspiring a spate of as of yet unanswered questions about the future ramifications of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. As recently announced by President Obama during an address held at Graham Road Elementary in Falls Church, Va., a request is being made to expand the Race to the Top grant competition in a way that could both benefit and potentially hamper the charter schools system. The impact of reforms is hard to forecast at this time, coming in a whirlwind of talks that bandy about words such as “investment” and “innovation.” While that dust settles, Charter Schools Today presents a look at several schools already making the best of resources to promote inventive means of interactive, targeted education. At Rimrock Expeditionary Alternative Learning Middle School, otherwise known as REALMS, every learning endeavor is a fun activity that engages students with their surrounding environment, set east of Oregon’s Cascade Mountains. The school, which educates sixth to eighth graders, often uses outdoor platforms to convey academic lessons, and strives to help each student grow personally through a high focus on perseverance, rigor and revision. At REALMS, students are active participants in leaning, and not just recipients of learning. As such, REALMS values academic lessons that are relevant to real-world situations. Florida-based charter school Pinellas Preparatory Academy (PPA) began from the musings of longtime educator Terry Schlesinger, who pondered what it would be like to create a school that would encourage creativity and hands-on learning in emotionally mature children. In August of 2002 students first entered the doors. Today, the school is under the leadership of Curtis Fuller, who has acted as its principal since August of 2005, and the school uses creativity-based teaching methods to help each student develop individually, with respect to their specific personality traits and gifts. PPA’s learning environment is additionally heavily project-based, because hands-on projects are one of the best ways for maturing students to display their unique creativity. Chartered in 1999, the Benjamin Banneker Charter Academy of Technology (BBCAT) opened in Kansas City, Mo., through the efforts of many including Dr. Marian Brown. BBCAT continues to grow and modernize. As an academy of technology, it advocates the importance of computer knowledge and works to ensure that each of its students’ families has a desktop computer. Students are taught the importance of computer safety and knowledge, and a majority of their assignments are required to be completed online. The school sees technological expertise as a bridge for urban kids to reach higher realms of education. To facilitate children’s success, BBCAT also weaves music into classroom lectures, tries to involve parents in their children’s education as much in possible, and encourages pupils to be active in the local community outside of school. As an examination of state charter laws and additional factors furthers the debate on key indicators and accountability, and the billion-plus in stimulus funding finds its allotment, we will continue to profile working models of educational advancement.

- Charter School Today www.charterschoolstoday.com

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Cover Story An Advanced Realm of Education Rimrock Expeditionary Alternative Learning Middle School At Rimrock Expeditionary Alternative Learning Middle School, otherwise known as REALMS, every learning endeavor is a fun activity that engages each student with their surrounding environment, set east of Oregon’s Cascade Mountains. The school, which educates sixth to eighth graders, has a physically and academically challenging curriculum, often using outdoor platforms to convey academic lessons.

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Spotlights 26

Number of Charter Schools Increasing Over Traditional Tampa Schools, FL

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Michigan Schools Maxed Out on Charters, But Parents Want More, MI

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Chicago Schools Open First Virtual Elementary School, IL

In 1996, then governor Jeb Bush co-founded the first charter school within the state of Florida, when most educators across the nation thought of charter schools as nothing more than a fad. Now, there are more than 350 charter schools within the state of Florida; there are 38 across the Tampa Bay area with several in the Tampa Schools area — private and public. The movement has mushroomed across Florida with charter school enrollment expected to top 100,000 students this year.

— Excerpt from Number of Charter Schools Increasing Over Traditional Tampa Schools

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Case Studies West 6 8

Advocates for Freedom of Education Five Keys Charter School, Calif. Rewarding Industrious Educational Techniques Academy of Building Industries, Ariz.

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Cultivating Gems of Knowledge Sandpoint Charter School, Idaho

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An Advanced Realm of Education Rimrock Expeditionary Alternative Learning Middle School (REALMS), OR

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Developing a Legacy of Success Panorama High School's Charter Program, Iowa

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Building Futures Academy of Excellence, Ariz.

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Catering to Each Child's Potential Connections Public Charter School, Hawaii

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Helping Students Receive Competitve Education Amigos Por Vida Charter, TX

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Building Bridges for Future Latino Leaders Ezequiel Tafoya Alvarado Academy, Calif.

Midwest 21

Connecting Communities Through Technology Benjamin Banneker Charter Academy of Technology, MO

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Training Minds for Continued Success Pinellas Preparatory Academy, FL

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Helping Students Shoot for the Stars Bright Futures Academy, FL

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Preparing Future Leaders for the Present Benjamin Franklin High School, LA

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Northeast 28

Teaching to the Beat of a Different Drum Adelaide L. Sanford Charter, NJ

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Giving Hope to Education Urban Choice Charter School, NY

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Five Keys Charter School Advocates for Freedom of Education Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Kellie Ducharme Each year, hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on educating the incarcerated, and debate on the issue is widespread and heated. Schools such as Five Keys Charter School operate for the incarcerated, funded by 3.5 million government dollars each year. But Steve Good, Five Keys’ executive director, says that educating prisoners can drastically reduce the cyclic neighborhood and family nature of the urban criminal culture. The idea behind Five Keys is to improve the education and skill sets of prisoners, so that when they are released from prison they are empowered and equipped to enter the workforce and become

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better parents. Five Keys offers a GED program, high school diploma program, a literacy program, plus workforce development. The school’s goal is for each inmate to receive a diploma, but the limited education before incarceration of many inmates makes this objective very difficult, so it is often considered a success to promote just basic participation in the GED or literacy program. The average elapsed time between incarceration and schooling for inmates enrolled in Five Keys is 11 years. For many, education stopped before high school or in the ninth grade. And for some older convicts, simply reading or doing plain arithmetic is a difficult, slow process.


Five Keys educates approximately 500 students at any one time, but can serve over 3,000 students in one year because of the high turnover rates in prisons. Though three-fourths of Five Keys’ students are incarcerated the entire period during which they attend the school, those who are released prior to completion of the program can chose to continue their education at one of the school’s seven post-release sites. Beyond Books Five Keys goes beyond typical academic subjects – such as biology, zoology, computer science and mathematics – and instills life skills in its students. From 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., California-approved academic curriculums are the focus; but afterwards, Five Keys hosts violence prevention, anger management, substance abuse, case management and parenting classes. Good says that the life-skills programs are immeasurably important, and provide many prisoners the skills they need to have a successful life outside of prison. “The most important class we teach is a parenting class,” Good explains. “That parenting class teaches parents how to deal with their anger, how to discipline kids in appropriate ways, how to be affectionate towards kids, how to talk to them, how to do homework with them.”

When an inmate participates in school work and engages in a learning environment where teachers can invest in him, that person has a healthy outlet for his time, frustrations and energy. “Everybody that’s in jail right now is going to eventually get out; they’re going to be released in your community and my community,” says Good. “I’d rather have somebody that’s been in jail and spent some time improving themselves and improving their lives than somebody who’s been sitting around in the pod all day, talking to each other and telling other inmates about how to become a better criminal.” Recently, Five Keys had a graduate of its high school diploma program graduate from community college. Good says that humble accomplishments like an associate’s degree (might not seem like such a big deal to most people), but that can alter the course of a former criminal’s life. As Good explains, “Ultimately what happens inside the jail is going to have a huge impact on what that person’s life is going to be like when they get out of jail.” And Five Keys continues to be proof positive. Whether by graduating from community college or being prepared to help a child with homework, many students’ lives have recognizably been changed by Five Keys. For the incarcerated, having an entity that believes in them, teaches them to overcome low knowledge levels, and gives them the skills to live a better life - despite what they have done in the past - is truly a saving grace, and one of many keys to success.

When released, Five Keys often funnels its students to organizations that can ease their reinstatement into society. “We partner with community-based organizations that provide services that we don’t,” says Good, who mentions Walden House, a residential program managed by case workers that check up with students and makes sure they are in school; it provides all the wraparound management support that some students need to assure program completion. Answering Opponents Because of the demographic that Five Keys teaches, the school encounters a substantive amount of opposition. Good answers these opponents with statistics that make it clear teaching the incarcerated is not only better for the student, but for the community as a whole. “About 60 percent of all young black men who drop out of high school will eventually end up incarcerated at some point, which is a horribly frightening statistic,” explains Good. “A child that has parents that are incarcerated has a seven times greater chance of ending up in jail. So we really believe that the way to keep people out of jail is to get them an education and get them job skills and to help them find a job.” Students that graduate from Five Keys are less likely to return to jail. In fact, the recidivism rate drops by15 percent, from 70 percent to 55 percent. Good also notes that there’s a reduction in violent acts with those enrolled. Of the 29 fights in January 2009 that broke out in the men’s jail Five Keys services, only two of them involved a pupil.

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Academy of Building Industries Rewarding Industrious Educational Techniques Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Rebecca Czarnecki

As the familiar adage claims, life is about the journey not the destination. When the Academy of Building Industries opened in 2004 it not only provided a new direction for the 120 students it would serve, but also for Principal Jean Thomas. The Academy was the brainchild of the Mohave Valley Contractors Association (MVCA). Taking stock of its community, the Association

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noted the high drop-out rate and significant crime amongst youth in the area. The MVCA also noted the lack of vocational training in the traditional high schools, which led to an unskilled labor force not entering college but rather trying to work in the construction industry without training. Searching for a solution, the members decided to create a vocational school; this campus now sprawls across six acres and seeks to reach youngsters looking for a new lease on life.


Looking for someone to help guide this bold endeavor, the MVCA approached Jean Thomas. At the time Thomas worked for a charter school with an arts emphasis in Lake Havasu City. She possessed a genuine passion for teaching in a school setting with alternative choices for students. The MVCA targeted her as a principal for the Academy not only for her charter school background, but because Thomas’ husband owned a roofing business so she was no stranger to what the school was looking to teach: building. But Thomas realized the charter had the future to construct more than just physical accomplishments; it could establish an infrastructure from which children could realize their potential. Thomas is candid about her initial thoughts: “I guess at first, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of creating laborers ... I wasn’t thrilled at [the idea of ] kids not furthering [their] education.” However, as she continued to ruminate on the idea, Jean recognized great potential for her role with the charter school, stating, “ The thing I could add was to [help] create business owners and entrepreneurs … [and to] keep kids going further … to inspire them to go on to higher industries such as architecture, or engineering.”

“They used their CAD (Computer Aided Design) program and framing skills to design a playhouse … and they got donations of furniture and books then gave it to the local women’s shelter for kids to play in,” Thomas says. Additionally, “The welding shop just designed and built a giant metal and canvas shade structure for the elementary school.” This complex project was possible because the Academy is equipped with all types of trade equipment; plus they have a big metal lathe and the CAD software necessary for architecture and machining. Using the software, students can develop a plan for a metal part and then execute it on the lathe. The school also possesses an extensive woodshop outfitted with table saws, routers and band saws to teach carpentry, furniture building and framing. To help unify the school, projects are developed specifically to have departments work together. Thomas says, “Right now the ecology department and the heavy equipment department are working to use bobcat skills to make a garden, then erect a shade for the garden, then the vegetables will be used to make lunches marketed by the kids in the business department.”

Laying a Foundation

No Avenue Left Unexplored

The Academy sought to recruit students who were already out of school and on the street. While admirable, Thomas admits that they faced distinct challenges. Some of their students were on probation, while others were simply not used to the structure and discipline found in a school setting. In order to help these students acclimate to their new surroundings, Thomas and the team designed programs geared toward giving back to the community.

At-risk youth is not the only population benefitting from the holistic approach to curriculum; Thomas mentions that the school also

“The kids learned that they had a lot to give, there were things they could do to help themselves and others in the community,” Thomas shares. Through philanthropy, “They learn that if you can give of yourself it’s the most important thing.” The school fulfills all of the Arizona state requirements – such as math, English, social studies and science – but its delivery methods are atypical. History can come to life by having students create a medieval tool. Another example is seen in the methods of the school’s ecology class (a science-based class that integrates building trades). Thomas states that they are seeking funding for windmill and solar energy projects, as well, to further students’ knowledge of contemporary trends toward green building in the 21st century. While there are some concepts promoted school-wide, the Academy does its best to individualize programs to each student. When a student expresses an area of interest, administration gives them the opportunity for a well-rounded view on the subject; sometimes even pairing the student with a local business for an apprenticeship or entry-level position. Students can also ride along with contractors, and these experiences make sure that students are well-versed in interview skills. Aside from the practical lessons offered, the students’ have the opportunity for some exceptionally unique hands-on projects, one of which Thomas is proud to share:

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West challenge is to meet the demands of [the Act’s] test scores from our Special Ed kids who are great welders, etc.” Another sphere that the school has had to tackle is in forming an effective disciplinary process, and to that end the school has instituted an extensive student court program. Shying away from standard methods such as detention, which Thomas said drove students away, the student-run court instead puts power in the hands of the students.

attracts students with different learning capabilities. The Academy is able to cater to different strengths; as Thomas notes, for some children if you give them an engine to construct, instead of a test, they can be brilliant. Being able to maintain a charter school does not come without its balancing acts, however. “Society has tried to force children through set programs, especially with [the] No Child Left Behind [Act],” says Thomas. “So our

“We give kids more power and control by allowing them to be their own judge, bailiff, jury, etc. We also do a lot of intervention, which is the whole philosophy of helping these kids. Get them help before a [negative] behavior course comes out. Student court shows [that] we can use peer pressure in a positive way.” Operating to Further Educating Charter schools actually receive less funding per pupil in the state of Arizona due to the fact that charters do not have access to facilities and transportation funds that districts do. This reality, coupled with the need to fund larger equipment acquisitions and maintenance, requires the Academy to explore additional funding options. The school is eligible for various federal grants, but in some ways it is run more like a business than a school, and also relies heavily on the MVCA. As Thomas states, “The founders are like a godsend.” The Academy clearly strives to get to the heart of each student, to find their passion and allow them to explore it. Thomas attributes the ability to do this to her staff, “We hire community experts as teachers … I’m very fortunate to have an amazing staff of people who are highly qualified, caring, loving and [also] parents themselves - who teach the kids as they would want their own treated.” Supportive staff makes for nurtured students who can assert their individuality; Thomas smiles as she describes a “Pimp My Ride” project the kids are currently working on. The school purchased a 15-person van to use as their community-service vehicle and the students are putting on all the trimming - including rims. “We have to figure out what little golden key will unlock each kid,” Thomas concludes, summing up the passionate mission of the school to customize learning to benefit the children, not approach it as square pegs and round holes. “Music, art, taking apart a carbonator; if we find that [way to connect], we can use it to create success across the curriculum.”

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Sandpoint Charter School Cultivating Gems of Knowledge Produced by Hanim Samara & Written by Kellie Ducharme Over a decade ago, Idaho made the decision to allow alternate forms of education for its youth; lawmakers passed charter school legislation in 1998, making the state charter school movement possible. At the time, the debate on charter schools was abuzz and Alan Millar, with two decades of school teaching and administration experience, was in favor. Millar was excited at the prospect of alternative venues for education; he hoped to create a unique, competitive learning environment in the Gem State. “It was founded on the desire to create choice, and on some levels it was perceived as an alternative to the existing public middle school,” says Millar, explaining the impetus for starting Sandpoint Charter School (SCS), which was lobbied for by educators, parents and active community members. It took only two years to build, staff and open, making Sandpoint a reality by 2001.

“Over time it gradually became more of a separate philosophy,” Millar remarks about the mindset at Sandpoint. “The driving force behind the whole thing was this idea of a different style of learning, that we could do a more hands-on, project-based style that would be more suitable for a lot of children.” Alternative Learning Sandpoint’s signature learning method is very similar to the project based learning espoused by renowned educator George Lucas. His foundation, Edutopia, espouses project-based learning as a tool that “can invigorate your learning environment, energizing the curriculum with real-world relevance and sparking students’ desires to explore, investigate and understand their world.” The project-based learning method requires teachers to simulate real-world situations that

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facilitates several field trips, including an annual trip to the Idaho state legislature for the eighth grade class and a trip to Yellowstone National Park for all classes to experience diverse topics first-hand, such as geological science and fish spawning.

No matter how alternative Sandpoint remains in its learning methods, however, the school is still required to encompass stateapproved circulars. “We work with the local board of education, we report to them, and deliver an annual report,” explains Millar. “Just like any other public school in Idaho, we are responsible for teaching an approved Idaho curriculum, but we put our own twist on it and we find different ways to meet standards.”

In the near future, Sandpoint will open a high school with the same educational philosophy as the current middle school. Sandpoint High will cater to the same students that attend Sandpoint, though students unaffiliated to the middle school can still matriculate. The new building will be completed in 2010, compromise 20,000 square feet, be LEED-certified (saving 37-percent more energy than conventional school buildings) and will feature a modern design that imitates a university atmosphere.

In addition to the unique style of education offered, Sandpoint keeps its classes small and intimate, averaging about 15 students per class and never more than 20. Millar believes that to maximize learning, “Any one school shouldn’t be bigger than 150 to 200 [students].” This small size facilitates more face time between educators and pupils. Sandpoint is a “small-family school [with] a rigorous projectbased philosophy,” says Millar; this means student projects will have adequate input from educators, resulting in the feedback necessary for students to grow. The intimate, close-knit student atmosphere Sandpoint creates is also felt by the school’s administration and staff. Millar is the school’s sole principal, and Sandpoint does not have any vice principals. “We’re a pretty flat organization, there’s not much of a hierarchy,” explains Millar, who is assisted by a business manager and office coordinator. Because of its size, Sandpoint does not offer sports programs for students. Instead, student athletes participate on the teams of larger public schools. Millar notes that many, if not a majority, of Sandpoint students take advantage of extracurricular activities. “We realized as we went along that we have to keep a pretty narrowed focus on our mission,” he explains, adding that because of the school’s limited staff and size, Sandpoint focuses its outside efforts mainly on field-trip experiences for students. “As a part of our project-based philosophy we’re real big on field trips,” continues Millar. For example, the school annually takes each grade on biking, hiking and skiing trips, among others. In the realm of academics, Sandpoint

Expansion and Debate

Yet, not all of Idaho thinks the state’s charter school community should expand. Many in the education sector see charter schools as a threat to the public school system. “There are definitely some elements of competition,” says Millar. “We have a pretty positive working relationship with our chartering body, but that isn’t true in all of Idaho; there’s quite a perception in the larger school community that charters ‘take away from public schools,’ so we work against that. “I tell them, the students go where choices go; the students like choices,” Millar continues, adding that Sandpoint conversely does not have the built-in stability of other schools. If pupils don’t like Sandpoint Charter School and don’t attend, the school shuts down; the success of the school relies on voluntary enrollment. This awareness creates a deeply felt understanding of the fact that teacher performance really does matter in determining the success, both as an institution and a business, of Sandpoint. Also, the existence of Sandpoint Charter keeps other schools acutely aware of the competition, thus leading those schools to strive harder for academic success. “I think that it introduces a healthy element of choice and competition and makes every school better,” says Millar. Sandpoint is funded through state foundation dollars based on enrollment (with some additional, but minimal, funding from federal special education programs) and does not receive money from state or local bond funds, to continue to receive funding Sandpoint must participate in state and federal testing to assess student knowledge and advancement. Meeting Idaho’s guidelines is just one of Sandpoint’s goals. Along with its atypical methods, the school strives for above-average success for its students - something Sandpoint believes comes more from project-based learning than academic memorization and test-taking. The heart of the school is in creating an environment where children are learning with passion, focusing on responsibility and community - lessons that they can apply to life beyond the classroom.

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Rimrock Expeditionary Alternative Learning Middle School An Advanced Realm of Education Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Kellie Ducharme At Rimrock Expeditionary Alternative Learning Middle School, otherwise known as REALMS, every learning endeavor is a fun activity that engages each student with their surrounding environment, set east of Oregon’s Cascade Mountains. The school, which educates sixth to eighth graders, has a physically and academically challenging curriculum, often using outdoor platforms to convey academic lessons.

Each Friday, REALMS students engage in service learning at places like the Bethlehem Inn Homeless Shelter, the Central Oregon Environmental Center, and the Humane Society, among others. During these experiences, students work under the mantra that “we are a crew,

Though REALMS is set up to be a charter with above-average academic goals, the school values more than the scientific method and long division. It also strives to help each student grow personally, and has a high focus on perseverance, rigor and revision. Also, the school emphasizes team-oriented projects for in-depth investigations of a single topic, with the idea that these projects will not only teach cooperation, but also reinforce a multi-faceted approach toward solving complex issues. Guidelines, But Never Sidelines At REALMS, students are active participants in leaning, and not just recipients of learning. To bring this philosophy to life, the charter offers its pupils frequent opportunities to learn outside of the classroom. Children participate on single and multi-day fieldwork explorations where they collect data, engage in activities that apply their classroom learning to real life situations, and experience outdoor adventure and team building. Also, the school encourages students to apply lessons to the greater community by involving students in service learning opportunities and engaging students in classroom projects that make a difference in the lives of those around them. REALMS works closely with Expeditionary Learning Schools, a national non-profit that offers participating schools a powerful framework for curricular design and classroom instruction, as well as methods for building stronger, more positive school communities. As such, REALMS values academic lessons that are relevant to real-world situations. For example, a science lesson on the environment, natural resources and global warming might translate to a service activity on Earth Day. Integrating this active learning throughout REALMS students’ middle school experience is meant to perpetuate discovery in every facet of their lives. According to the charter’s Web site, “Learning expeditions support critical literacy, promote character development, create a sense of adventure, spark curiosity and foster an ethic of service.”

we are not passengers.” This motto also incorporates itself everyday during Crew, a class in which multi-aged, pre-assigned groupings of students discuss character development, set academic goals, and build teamwork and leadership skills under the guidance of two teachers. For REALMS’ eighth graders, even math has adventurous applications. In October of 2009, students estimated the heights of trees by using

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West a clinometer to derive tangent angles and calculate trigonometric ratios — an activity that proved a lot more fun than a lecture on geometric proofs. Also, the class explored which species of plants most closely mirror the Fibonacci mathematic sequence. For students who are struggling despite these real-world applications, REALMS offers “Do Math Lunches” on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and an after-school homework club. This coming semester, the eighth grade math classes plan to hit the ski slopes to learn more about tangents and the power of incline. A few good tumbles should cement the lesson. For the charter’s sixth grade technology class, alternative learning is just as exciting inside the classroom, where students have been learning how to write, research and use computer applications to make final projects they will present. Recently, the class used computer programs to help determine their strengths (such as organization, empathy and responsibility) and their alternative intelligences (kinesthetic, visual, naturalist, musical, etc.) so they can incorporate these into their projects. Rockin’ and Rollin’ Out Above-Average Students Two times each year, students from each grade level leads their own conference, where they share with their teachers and families the academic and social growth they have made over the course of a trimester. Before the conference, students engage in structured reflection activities and leadership courses. Allowing the students to have ownership of the conference helps the students “build metacognition, organizational skills, clear communication skills and confidence,” the school touts in a letter to parents. Parents who attend the conference are asked to listen carefully, paraphrase key points, display sincere curiosity, and avoid talking over students’ points. A student’s three-year term at REALMS culminates with an extended travel study, which usually encompasses a two-week trip to a destination “rich in adventure, curriculum and community-based learning,” where the “travel portion of the experience is just one phase that is made richer by careful academic preparation prior to departure.” Since REALMS students scatter throughout many high schools in the region, the trips are also seen as a last-hurrah of bonding for the middle schoolers, and a transition into another tier of life. As REALMS continues to incorporate empowering, real-life lessons into its rigorous academic curriculum, the charter’s students will also continue to grow and flourish, understanding the three-dimensional aspect of key concepts instead of flatly memorizing them.

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Summer 2009


Panorama High School’s Charter Program Developing a Legacy of Success Produced by Hanim Samara & Written by Kellie Ducharme True to its name, Panorama High School in Panora, Iowa, tries to see the larger picture of its students’ lives. The charter facilitates parental involvement in childrens’ education and, likewise, the school works to benefit the community by producing leaders. Panorama’s goal is for each graduate to go to college or the armed services. In short, the school works to integrate education in every possible facet of each pupil’s life, from their families to their futures. Uniquely, the Panorama charter school does not operate as its own school, but rather a program within the greater Panorama High School. Panorama High School’s charter courses are available to any students in the school who have shown academic propensity and interest, regardless of overall track record. Instead of hand-picking the school’s brightest kids, it gives students who have a desire to excel the tools to do so. A Necessary Inception Panorama accomplishes this goal by encouraging students to take college courses their freshman through senior years of high school, plus promoting and rewarding academic achievement. Historically, the Panorama school district has performed less strongly in core high school subjects – with one-fifth getting D’s and F’s. Also, analysis of standardized testing showed that the students who performed the poorest in core classes performed the poorest on the test. Transversely, students who excelled at math and science, two integral subjects, performed well on the test. With the city’s educational situation being far below stakeholder expectations for students in 2005, the charter was created to offer an educational environment within the city that focuses on core classes such as English, history, math and science.

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West “They want to do better than that,” says Chris Webner, Panorama’s dean of students, referring to the school’s past lack of performance. Webner adds that as soon as he was confronted with the city’s records he realized the need for the charter. “The school board had a goal to increase completion of college courses in high school and standardized test scores.” Webner says that Panorama is the realization of that goal. Taking the advanced courses gives students “better college standing” and increases the rate of graduation, Webner continues. Fighting the Odds Webner says that the biggest obstacle in meeting the school board’s goal is finding the right teachers. Webner would like to bring in some adjunct college professors to teach non-college credit courses in the high school, but can’t because of the state’s requirement that they must have state certification to teach core and extracurricular courses. However, Panorama has 24 teachers that work directly with the students, engaging in alternative teaching methods and spending several one-on-one sessions with students in order to prioritize their academic success. Webner says that he is fully confident in their current staff ’s abilities, but contends that he wishes the requirements weren’t so strict for hiring new teachers. “If a college can certify college instructors to teach high school students, why can’t we?” Webner asks.

The charter also faces constant difficulties in performing well on the testing for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (otherwise known as No Child Left Behind), while still teaching to each student individually based on how they absorb information. “It requires a lot of thought,” shares Webner, adding that “the fine arts and other electives are feeling threatened so it’s a concern that there is too much focus on standardized testing.” To negate this concern as much as possible, the school tries to integrate multiple subjects for school projects. Also, Panorama conveys information in many different ways, such as hands-on, project-oriented learning. The activity-based learning helps students who would otherwise have difficulty retaining information. “The charter is more about individual needs for the students” than meeting scores, says Webner, adding that focusing on the student first often increases the likelihood that students will do well on testing anyways. To help students outside of the classroom, Panorama tries to make sure every pupil participates in tutoring to enrich their understanding of their weakest subject. The school also tried to incorporate flexible scheduling within the school day, so that students can meet one-onone with teachers. “A lot of the students in the charter use [these options],” explains Webner. As the school’s dean of students and guidance counselor, Webner is answerable for the students’ constant success. Having two educators as parents, Webner was raised in an environment where education was often the topic of conversation at the dinner table. He went to college and got a degree in teaching, a master’s in counseling and human development, then a specialist degree in school leadership. Now, he weaves his three degrees together in the leadership of the Panorama charter school, understanding that a student’s development and life situation are key factors in his or her ability to retain information. Over the past two years, Panorama has met a lot of success as it integrates college courses and strengthens core curriculums into its students’ daily schedules. Since 2007, Panorama High School in general has seen a marked performance improvement in test scores and core course performance, and among the charter students the increase has been the most dramatic. In the coming years, the charter program will blend into the high school’s main curriculum, increasing the entire school’s academic achievement and options. As such, the chartered body within the school will no longer exist, but the practices it established will continue to propel Panorama’s students towards academic achievement. If it were not for the charter, the school would not have near the number of college courses, family collaboration for student planning, or the rigorous tutoring program that it has today, not to mention the fact that standardized test scores would be lower. Thus, the charter’s legacy will continue to live on, helping more students succeed than ever before.

16 | Charter Schools Today


Academy of Excellence Building Futures Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Rebecca Czarnecki The Academy of Excellence (AOE) is a dream realized for Ms. Brenda Nelson, a woman with a desire to impact the lives of young people. AOE is a dream Nelson built brick-by-brick starting in 1998; now the school has two campuses – one in Phoenix, Ariz., and one in the more rural Coolidge, Ariz. – and serves at-risk youth throughout the area. Nelson remains a cornerstone of the school, exhibiting her strong presence as a board member, instructional coach and special education teacher. However, the current active director and principal is Eula Saxon Dean, who believes she found her calling in her work with the school. “I had a chance to do consulting work with a company that had done some financial work with the school,” recalls Dean. “They asked me if I’d come to this school, an inner city school, and it was one of my first chances to see the children and the needs that were part of their

lives. And from the first day I felt it was fitting. I had the heart and the desire.” Dean’s background reflects the population the school now serves. One of 13 children, she grew up in a home where neither her mother nor father obtained a formal education. But like so many parents, Dean’s mother and father had bigger goals for their children, and Dean eventually attended college with a full scholarship from Cornell and completed a law degree. When Dean connected with the school she realized that she could serve as a strong model for students because she could show them what was possible to achieve with hard work. Dean’s passion for the work is palpable, and she comments: “This is the work I’ve done that has involved the greatest integrity, due diligence and heart you have to put in every day … but if you can be consistent every day and seek to provide the best opportunities

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West possible it can make a difference in their lives. You must encourage them to want to learn, and to do their best and see themselves successful and begin to dream, and eventually they will give back to a community. They need to see there is a great place for them, a fit for them.” Planning for Tomorrow Today

children come from families who are unable to provide them. The school has found a savior in Tanner Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where a Women’s Missionary Society has provided underwear to outerwear for students. As Dean points out, “Without the clothing they stay home, and if they are home we can’t make a difference.” Additionally, a team of Wells Fargo employees comes to the school weekly to provide tutoring services. Other community members give time to assist children with reading. Dean says that the volunteers generally serve as a good reliable adult presence for those who may not have it at home. The sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha has also been very supportive. The local chapter in Phoenix has served as mentors to girls grades six through eight, and are excellent models to those considering going on to college.

One of the AOE’s main goals is teaching its students to be life-long “It helps that teachers are focusing on learners. Rather than promoting individual students; not individualized a sense of “graduating” from learning, but making sure everyone can work each grade, each year is treated toward their goals. And we will continue our like preparation for the next. reading program, coaching the children in Additionally, the staff regularly talks reading at the various levels." to the students about what they envision for themselves. Dean says, — Eula Saxon Dean, “We have these conversations daily Director and Principal to discuss what they can become in the morning meetings. It’s a time they can express themselves, discuss what could happen for themselves, what they are thinking and feeling, and we can give them positive encouragement. “ While AOE hires teachers from outside traditional settings it works to identify what support each teacher needs. As Dean comments, When Dean first started at the AOE it was struggling, but she knew “Once you walk in and realize it’s your room all by yourself and you it could do better. The team at the school sat down for a serious realize the diversity of learning in that classroom, and the diversity evaluation and called to ask for a consultation with someone from of experience from the home environment, it can be overwhelming.” the Department of Education. That, along with gaining a coach to help layout a plan for the school, set a new course. Eula is thrilled to When selecting teachers there is a lot AOE pays attention to: how report that the school, “followed the plan to a ‘T’ and this year we a person describes children, how they teach a lesson with staff were performing plus,” she continues, “We are already implementing role-playing as students, and what teaching experiences they have strategies to move up student performance, because it’s our desire to previously had. As Dean reveals, “We observe them in the classroom, become an excelling school.” and I believe the level of evaluation goes deeper ... it’s coaching. And to be honest the flags come early.” AOE has numerous programs in place to help the students succeed. One such program is titled “Power Up” and helps encourage In terms of what the future holds for the Academy of Excellence, enthusiasm in math. It helps solidify the important basics of the Dean talks about how funding continues to be a burden. Arizona subject, and, Dean says, this reinforcement is needed so that “[the doesn’t provide funds for charter school facilities and Dean finds her students] don’t have to use fingers to figure out two plus three,” for greatest pain lies in not being able to pay teachers what they truly example. deserve. She states, “It’s all contingent on enrollment, so if that’s low it weakens your ability to get additional support.” The school also assesses each student so that the teachers can write specific instructional goals. Eula admits that it is time consuming, but Regardless of the difficulties, the school is looking to expand slightly. she reveals that the benefits are great: However, Eula stresses that she only wants this growth if the school can do it well. Her words leave no doubt that the Academy of “It helps that teachers are focusing on individual students; not Excellence will continue to have a lasting impact on the students it individualized learning, but making sure everyone can work toward is able to serve. their goals. And we will continue our reading program, coaching the children in reading at the various levels. “ “I feel on track now. We’ve got a plan now. I know we’re critical enough in our evaluation of knowing the right people to hire. I have Built By and For the Community a Phoenix location and [one in] Coolidge. And Coolidge could accommodate 150, but integrity means so much to me. Before any In the words of the Beatles, “We get by with a little help from our race the runner must prepare, so we have to do some preparation. friends.” For AOE this is certainly true and community assistance We’re getting the support and we have no doubt we can step out and has been vital. The school requires uniforms and some of the do the job in the future.”

18 | Charter Schools Today


Connections Public Charter School Catering to Each Child’s Potential Produced by Hanim Samara & Written by Kellie Ducharme Chartered in May of 2000, Connections Public Charter School (CPCS) was begun when parents, educators and outspoken community members of Hilo, Hawaii, rallied together and petitioned the president of Hawaii’s Board of Education and its superintendent of schools. Parents and teachers wanted an alternative to the existing public school system, and hoped to create a school that used innovative techniques to implement a creative and engaging curriculum specific to each student's evolving needs.

Implementing a One-of-a-Kind Curriculum

In August that year, CPCS opened for grades K-6, housing just 184 students. By the same time in 2001 that number had almost doubled at 360. Several factors contributed to this attention, one of the most prominent being that CPCS was designated a “demonstration site”

“We strive for every child to leave CPCS as a technologist, a life-long learner, a caring and concerned citizen, a creative and quality producer, and a critical thinker and cooperative worker,” the school’s mission statement espouses. One way CPCS does this is by relating students’ learning experiences to the real world, so that pupils don’t disassociate learning at school from learning in other areas of their life.

As a beneficiary of the University’s program, CPCS integrates learners, parents and teachers so they can work together to identify the strengths and weakness of a student and establish learning material and methods that will speak directly to each student. Adjusting to each student’s learning style promotes teaching students to their maximum learning positional.

“Instructional methods that support engaged experiential learning focus on preparing students to be problem solvers able to use information, not just remember it,” the school believes. CPCS integrates Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences in its learning philosophy. This increasingly popular theory asserts that students rely on varying degrees of linguistic, mathematical, logical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, kinesthetic, spatial and musical ways of thinking, among others. According to this theory, every learner has a different mix of these qualities, and consequently receives information differently.

for the University of Hawaii’s Manoa Curriculum Research and Development Group, meaning that the school benefited from the university’s creative, new lesson plans and staff development programs.

“Teaching must reach out to each learner, to find those ways of nurturing and learning, which works best for individual students,” the school espouses, incorporating a great deal of flexibility in its curriculum and timeline so it can accommodate individual needs. “Because CPCS is not a place, but rather a set of experiences under the guidance and direction of teachers and parents,

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West students are not constrained by time and its limitations,” the philosophy continues. The school also believes that directly nurturing social growth correlates with academic success, and as a result incorporates several social activities and group presentations in its classrooms. Thoroughly Training Teachers To accommodate such a complex and student-specific curriculum, the school focuses a lot of energy on staff development. Teachers learn to use an action research model to introduce new ideas and instructional techniques and are trained in the practices necessary too communicate content and bridge what students learn with how they learn it. “Professional development is essential if teachers are to effectively use [our] learning system,” a School Alignment of CPCS and the Standards in Hawaii report explains. Teachers are instructed to give students “benchmark assessments” to gauge student learning, and then reinforce each student’s weakness through repetitive teaching after the results of the assessments are determined. CPCS makes sure that each teacher has “follow-up” support available after training and assessments, meaning that floating staff and the school’s administration assist teachers in further implementation of material and in new teaching techniques. The school is also accountable

20 | Charter Schools Today

by law to meet the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) yearly progress goals, and continuous teacher training is essential in meeting NCLB’s goals. Continued Growth Since the school’s inception, Connections has added a middle and high school, and now serves children K-12. In May though June of 2009, the school was able to send 10 middle and high school children to China for a cultural study tour, where students traveled to Beijing, Xian and Shanghai. Led by CPCS teacher Grace Chao, the tour was hosted by Peking University’s philosophy department at the University of Hawaii. The group climbed the Great Wall of China, learned calligraphy, attended an acrobatics show, walked through the Ming Dynasty’s Thirteen Imperial Tombs and visited the Forbidden City after a trip through Tiananmen Square, among other historical sites they visited. As the school’s curriculum shows, CPCS is taking its vision “A ohe pau ka ike i ka halau ho’okahi,” which in Hawaii’s native language means “knowledge comes from many sources,” seriously. Focus firmly in place, Connections Public Charter School will continue to expand on the idea of multiple intelligences for many years to come.


Midwest

Benjamin Banneker Charter Academy of Technology Connecting Communities Through Technology Produced by Hanim Samara & Written by Kellie Ducharme Chartered in 1999, the Benjamin Banneker Charter Academy of Technology (BBCAT) opened in Kansas City, Mo., using three church buildings as a facility for its 300-plus students (a range of kindergarten thru fifth grade) to learn. In 2000, the school moved to 1601 East Meyer Boulevard (formerly a convent for unwed mothers) to better accommodate students and provide educational services in one location. Unfortunately for parents, teachers, staff and its Board, this facility had been improperly coded by the school’s management company, and months later the school was faced with revocation due to the fact that the building was cited as being unsafe and unhealthy for children by the charter school sponsor. At that point the school would have closed had a judge not granted a motion to stay, and had Dr. Marian Brown, an educator with more than two decades of experience, not been able to secure a suitable facility for the children. Fortunately, a former Jewish community center, located at 8310 Holmes Road, was available for lease. The Board immediately terminated its contract with its management company, and under the leadership of Dr. Brown the school regained control of finances, was renovated, and opened its doors in September of 2001 with just 37 students. In January 2009, the school purchased and relocated to a facility formerly owned by a local college located at 6401 Rockhill Road. The school now operates on a yearly budget of over $3 million dollars, has 67 staff, and some 342 pupils enrolled from kindergarten to eighth grade. From Online to On Campus BBCAT continues to grow and modernize. As an academy of technology, it advocates the

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Midwest importance of computer knowledge and works to ensure that each of its students’ families has a desktop computer. The technology focus and infusion can be seen through the following technological advances: (1) a computer lab with 78 computers, and plans to open up another lab with a broadcasting station in 2010; (2) a total of 6 portable classroom labs in which one is a Mac lab; (3) smart boards in almost every classroom with immediate response systems; (4) digital and document cameras & scanners; (5) LCD bulletin boards posted

throughout multiple buildings; and (6) LCD projectors in every class. Students are taught the importance of computer safety and knowledge, and a majority of their assignments are required to be competed online. The school sees technological expertise as a bridge for urban kids to reach higher realms of education. Since the 2001 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (otherwise known as the “No Child Left Behind” Act) standardized tests have been the primary qualifier for student success. Yet, at BBCAT, teachers rely on many other indicators to determine a student’s success level, and they think that the government should, too. “You have to look at the whole school; you need to look at attendance, behavior and extracurricular activities, the viable home-school relationship, school culture, individual academic achievements, as students have multiple intelligences,” says Brown. “Testing is sometimes not their strong suit, and this should not be the only indicator to determine if the school is meeting the standards.” To facilitate children’s success, BBCAT tries to involve parents in their children’s education as much as possible. It’s not unusual for teachers and school officials to make home visits, or to see a parent in the halls of BBCAT, sitting in on classes or volunteering for numerous activities. Parents also make up an advisory committee for reviewing data, gathering volunteers, raising money for school events and suggesting activities and changes to BBCAT’s administrative staff. In the classroom, BBCAT uses differentiated instruction to adapt lesson plans to each student’s individualized needs. Through the use of an online diagnostic math and communication arts evaluation tool, students are receiving direct instruction at the level in which they can build on prior knowledge and experience success in grade level standards. “Students don’t all learn at the same rate,” says Brown, who promotes the concept of establishing an Individualized Education ACTION Plan (IEAP) for each student.

22 | Charter Schools Today


Midwest Singing Each Student’s Praises In addition to integrating technology into the curriculum, Brown and her staff also weave music into classroom lectures under the suggestion of renowned educator Howard Gardner’s educational

theories. As noted by Brown, Gardner’s theory supports the idea that teaching towards standardized testing is not a fully effective way to educate because students have different areas of intelligences and different methods of learning. One of the most successful alternative methods has been melodic incorporation. Another way BBCAT has achieved success is by developing partnerships with other public schools and charter schools, exchanging resources and advice whenever necessary. Brown has also partnered with the community in events, including fundraising, talent shows, weddings, reunions, technology awareness safety and neighborhood carnivals. “Making your presence known in the community lets them see the good work that you are doing,” Brown says, adding that education strengthens communities. She also encourages her pupils to be active in the local community outside of school. Many BBCAT students participate in these activities: Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, National Junior Honor Society, martial arts clubs, One Homeless Night raising money for the homeless, cultivating a community garden


on the school grown in partnership with a local university (The Green Griot’s Club) to feed the homeless, Monarchs in Space discovery, band, dance and local church activities, as well as being a member of Schools of the World.

Over the next few years, Brown wants to continue strengthening the school’s relationships, both within and without. The plan is for BBCAT to be “a tremendous force in the community and establish other partnerships.” Brown also wants to expose “the whole [urban] community to technology.” As Brown strives to help students and their families master the ever-changing technological world, BBCAT plans to continue to expand its presence in Kansas City, with the goal that every disadvantaged family will have a computer they understand how to use. As proven by BBCAT, learning can happen for anyone, anywhere, given the right tools and techniques.

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South

Number of Charter Schools Increasing Over Traditional Tampa Schools Written by Patricia Hawke In 1996, then governor Jeb Bush co-founded the first charter school within the state of Florida, when most educators across the nation thought of charter schools as nothing more than a fad. Now, there are more than 350 charter schools within the state of Florida; there are 38 across the Tampa Bay area with several in the Tampa Schools area — private and public. The movement has mushroomed across Florida with charter school enrollment expected to top 100,000 students this year. Yet, if you ask the average adult on the street, most have no idea what a charter school is. Though many charter schools are private businesses that operate under the guidelines of the state school board, many were traditional schools converted to public charter schools and still under the direction and control of the school districts, such as the Tampa schools. Charter schools are given more flexibility from many of the regulations that apply to the traditional Tampa schools in exchange for greater accountability. Charter schools can be as different as day and night in their mission, vision for

26 | Charter Schools Today


their students, approaches to curriculum and teaching methods, and administrative structures, as well as their overall philosophy.

schools. Ten are lower grade levels and two are secondary. A few have middle school grades included.

Each charter within the Tampa schools area must prove that their students are continuously improving academically from year to year. If they fail (indicated by student test scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), they are closed.

Charter schools within the Tampa schools’ area, as well as across the nation, continue to produce mixed results. Since their inception in Florida, 78 have closed, and nearly 30 percent were in the red financially a few years ago. Charters traditionally average 11 percent less funding per student, and their students generally score slightly lower on the FCAT, though they are improving.

Any individual or business that wishes to create a charter school can. Successful new approaches to education by some charter schools are copied by others. The primary philosophy of these schools, however, is that one curriculum and one way of doing things is not correct for every student. The success of the charter schools within the Tampa schools’ area has forced the Tampa schools’ leadership and educators to re-evaluate their traditional schools, giving students and parents more educational choices from which to choose.

Most charters within the Tampa schools’ area have a greater proportion of minority students than the traditional schools. Many are located within the inner city communities, where all schools face their biggest challenges. Article Source: http://www.articlesbase.com/k-12-education-articles/ number-of-charter-schools-increasing-over-traditional-tampaschools-102309.html

Clearly no longer just a fad, the Tampa schools lose many students (and the funding that goes with each student) to charter schools each year, and the numbers are on the increase. The Tampa schools now have 12 public charter schools converted from their traditional

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Northeast

Adelaide L. Sanford Charter Teaching to the Beat of a Different Drum Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Kellie Ducharme Brother De Lacy Davis spent more than 20 years on the New Jersey police force. He had just retired when he was asked to head a progressive, afro-centric charter school upstart. Tired from two decades of fighting crime in Newark’s rough urban environment, Davis politely turned

down the offer. But Adelaide L. Sanford Charter (ALSC) wouldn’t take no for an answer, and Davis continued to be enticed to take the position of the school’s principle. After weeks of courting, he finally went into the school to just “take a look” and immediately knew it was where he belonged. Now, Davis is the impassioned principle of ALSC, which promotes African-American heritage and integrates African culture in all academic subjects. The charter, which opened in 2007, is in its third year and serves 192 students, distributed from kindergarten through the fourth grade. The Rhythm of Heritage Each morning, the kids begin their day with the sounding of the Djembe, a traditional African drum, which underscores ALSC’s emphasis on the students’ African heritage. With the assistance of New Jersey’s Victoria Foundation, which funds an artist in residence for ALSC, the charter employees a master drummer and an African dance instructor. Each student at ALSC learns how to play the drums, and doing so is seen as a privilege with utilitarian use, notes Davis. “One of the ways we were able to manage the discipline and the behavior modification [of students] is through the use of the drums.” The students respond positively to the opportunity to learn drumming.

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Currently, ALSC is using the drums to connect with a classroom halfway across the world, in Lagos, Nigeria. By way of video conference through the Internet, the two schools are planning on drumming for one another. “This allows students to use 21st century technologies to become good citizens around the world and to build relationships and learn,” says Davis. The drums are just one way that Davis emphasizes the African culture that drives the school’s unique academic philosophy. ALSC also teaches afrocentric history, explains Davis. “We talk about self-esteem for students. Seeing images of themselves in the lessons makes them feel good.” The school also encourages the use of the titles “brother” and “sister” when the students refer to each other. “In the African tradition we very often refer to each other as ‘brother’ and ‘sister,’” explains Davis. “Growing up in the inner cities, in particular, we referred to each other as ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ to develop an affinity for each other, because you’re less inclined to harm [a] brother or sister.” Thus, the school cultivates a respectful, family-like atmosphere that teaches coalition among those who attend. Success for Every Student The atmosphere of family support extends beyond mere nomenclature. If an individual student is showing signs of academic struggle, ALSC tries several strategies for improvement. Proactively, the school employs a curriculum coordinator who identifies struggling students so that they can receive extended one-on-one learning time. In fact, every classroom at ALSC is equipped with two teachers to enable the ability for individual attention when necessary.

greeted each day by a volunteer welcoming committee that is headed by parents and teachers. Fortunately, this type of parental involvement is typical for ALSC. Davis says that more than 70 percent of the students’ parents are involved in the school, whether by helping to raise money, lead field trips or tutor children. “The parents love the discipline, the safety, the commitment [of ALSC] to the students,” remarks Davis, who says their respect for the school engenders a desire to give back to ALSC. For example, parents helped teachers run a 2009 Christmas fundraiser, bolstering an effort that ended up raising more than $15,200 ($5,000 more than a fundraiser that took place two years ago). Despite already strong parental support, Davis wants the parent participation rate to rise even higher. “We’ve still got some work to do,” he says. As incentives, the school opens its doors to parents any day of the week and holds workshops for parents. Also, when a student is having a behavior problem, parents are the first ones notified and they are asked to come into the school for a “strategic” meeting on how to work alongside teachers to encourage better behavior. In every situation, parental involvement being one example, ALSC strives for continued improvement, both for the school and for its students. “We’ve been fortunate to break barriers,” Davis says. The Adelaide L. Sanford Charter has been successful in breaking barriers for students in academic development and cultural enrichment, and will continue to be successful in promoting the right attitude toward strengthening a positive environment where everyone thrives.

ALSC also participates in America Reads, a program facilitated by The New Jersey Institute of Technology and the New York Public Library where college students are paid to tutor children who have low reading comprehension. “Some of the students who were never interested in learning are now extremely focused and can’t wait for [the tutors] to arrive every week,” says Davis of the program’s affect. “It’s creative and it’s working.” Gradually, ALSC’s national test scores have risen to reflect this special attention. On the national TerraNova tests, the kindergarten grade performed in the 41th percentile in 2007, but rocketed to the 78th percentile in 2008. Similarly, the first grade class performed in the 36th percentile in 2007, and rose to the 59th percentile in 2008. Bringing Families in on the Fun Along with the beat of the school’s beloved African drum, children and parents are

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Northeast

Urban Choice Charter School Giving Hope to Education Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Brittany E. DeVries In 2000, Rochester, New York, ranked first statewide for violent crime and eleventh nationally in its poverty rates for children. During this turbulent period, Urban Choice Charter School Founder John Bliss spent 10 years working with students coming from these neighborhoods at one of Rochester’s poorest performing schools. Surprisingly, the students in his class were among the highest scoring in the Rochester School District. Bliss knew that it was possible for the neediest students to be successful even if all odds were against them. He also knew that the methods and practices he used in his class could be reproduced so that more students could be saved. This fact, along with some incredible stories he had heard from parents in the community, led him to pursue a new school unit within the Rochester City School District. This program would allow him the autonomy to expand and create an even more intensive program. This was before the New York State (NYS) had charter legislation.

30 | Charter Schools Today

Unfortunately, the school district was not ready for real change. Bliss’ relationship with the district spun downward. “My mail was opened, book orders were lost, and in general things got pretty ugly for me,” he recounts. Bliss resigned (after 10 years of service), surrendering his pension and health benefits. In an effort to make ends meet, Bliss placed his dream on hold and found traditional means to support himself. “I still had all of my bills to pay, but I couldn’t work for people that I didn’t trust,” he says. For several years he worked at odd jobs and did what he could to care for his family. This included shoveling snow and cleaning bathrooms at a downtown tennis club. When NYS passed charter school legislation, Bliss wanted to start a school. It would be called the Truffula Charter School, named after the trees in the Dr. Seuss book The Lorax. The application was not


accepted, but the desire never died. Four years later Bliss would try again and be approved. Designing a School from Scratch The Urban Choice Charter School (UCCS) was started by a small group of people meeting for two years at a local library. The school had no organizational or financial support. It was based on the same principles that Bliss used while teaching. There was no lengthy, articulate, preconceived professional document to guide them. The team just plugged away. Recalling his history up to the development of UCCS, Bliss says that getting a school isn’t easy, but it is something you can accomplish if driven enough. “When you hear the idea of someone starting his or her own charter school, that anyone can do it, I’m living proof that you can do it,” he says. Developing its Program The UCCS motto is redefining urban education. It provides a safe and challenging environment that encourages academic progress for all children in grades K-8. Most are economically disadvantaged. The curriculum is based on New York’s State Learning Standards, but it goes beyond its standards, offering close teacher/student relationships and a longer school day. “It is all about the relationships the students have with the adults who stand in front of them each day,” says Bliss. Trust and respect can’t be options. There needs to be an emotional commitment that is palpable. Learning is assessed often and parent communication is frequent and honest. There are many adults who work with the students and share themselves. It is a community. Volunteers, college and high school students, physicians and others come to the school. The school employs a full-time nurse, three counselors, and an on-site nutritionist. Quality meals are served on real plates and silverware. Students attend music, art, health and Spanish classes. They also have access to a Mac lab, a rock climbing wall, plus guitar and drum lessons, among other enriching options. And every student goes outside every day. “Physical Education has become an extra at some schools but we believe that good health increases your chances for good grades.” Bliss notes. UCCS does not include any particular against-the-groove methods into its academia (unlike the style of Montessori, Reggio Emilia or KIPP). And Bliss says it is not the school’s methods that deviate greatly from traditional education methods; it is the teachers’ approach to implementing these methods. “Best practices exist in all great schools but we choose to be judged by more than test results,” says Bliss. “We

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Northeast impoverished and violent neighborhoods in NYS, but their achievements have been extraordinary. Last year, 91 percent of the fourth-graders passed the NYS math exam and 87 percent passed the NYS ELA examination. One hundred percent passed the NYS Science exam. In almost every grade UCCS students far outperformed their peers in other Rochester public schools. Similar results can be found in third to seventh grades. Bliss’ vision has held true but it has taken extra effort.

want great scores like everyone else but we also want kids who get up every morning excited about coming to school.” Redefining Expectations Over 80 percent of UCCS students qualify for free or reduced meals. The school serves students from 16 different zip codes. Almost 90 percent are minority students who come from some of the most

Teachers get to school at 8:00 a.m. or earlier and the day doesn’t end until 4:30 p.m. There are after school programs, Saturday programs and a full summer school. The school enrolls approximately 400 students but the school employs a much larger than normal size staff. There are 84 employees making the student to adult ratio five to one. There are about 22 students per class, but most middle school classes have only 15. There is a full-time teacher assistant in almost every class so learning can be as efficient and creative as possible. Staff gets what they want but the expectations are high. Teachers are held accountable through various measurements but there are no surprises. “Our school is not about hierarchies or egos; we have too much work to do,” says Bliss and he has enough faith in the school to send his own daughter there. Instilling Inspiration Parents take an active role in the community at UCCS, and appreciate the way the school repays them through their children’s educations. A mother recently met Bliss with a hug and tears in her eyes, explaining to him how the school has changed her life. “It is incredibly gratifying knowing that you have created a place that has so dramatically improved someone’s quality of life,” says Bliss, “but it is very hard work.” Success has not been easy. The school relies almost entirely on government funding despite enrolling some of the neediest students in New York State. Staff is told to earn respect rather than demand it. “Kids are treated like family,” says Bliss, while admitting that this can be exhausting. “It is a balancing act because you need to be empathetic but you can’t lose hope because the kids are counting on you. “Our school is successful because the people who work in it are committed to something beyond a book,” Bliss continues. “They know that kids can’t be pushed over the bar. Students need to want to jump over it themselves and fostering inspiration takes a unique person.” Urban Choice seems to have found a successful method for finding these individuals and with each passing day the students become more confident.

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Amigos Por Vida Charter Helping Students Receive Competitive Education Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Kellie Ducharme Set up to serve the Gulfton community of Houston, Texas, Amigos Por Vida Charter School (APV) benefits the Latino culture of one of the biggest cities in the largest American state bordering Latin America. Known for its working class Hispanic population, Gulfton is a cramped section of Huston that has a population of 16,327 per square mile, as opposed to the city’s average of approximately 3,500. In this community, more than 62 percent of residents live at or below the federal poverty line, according to statistics provided by the 2000 U.S. Census. With such a large population of low-income wage earners, Gulfton’s schools are occupied well above capacity. The Sylvan Rodriguez

Elementary School, built in 2002 for 800 students, overflowed by more than 250 children in just four years. Thus, APV provides a needed addition for Gulfton’s youth. Serving kindergarten through seventh grade, the school is currently working to expand an eighth grade level. Ninety-eight percent of the school’s students are economically disadvantaged and 99 percent of the school is Hispanic, with the other 1 percent being African-American. Additionally, 92.4 percent of APV’s students are qualified as limited English proficient. More than a specific learning philosophy, APV exists to service the needs of impoverished minorities in the Houston area. Developed by Carlos Villagrana, the school’s current principal, APV’s curriculum

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South incorporates a dual-language immersion program and academic rigor to teach its students leadership and work ethic. This has contributed to the charter school has received the Texas Governor's Excellence Award and the State’s Gold Performance Acknowledgement in Math and Attendance. Before Villagrana’s term as principal of APV, the school had been struggling academically.

where he grew up speaking both English and Spanish, though Spanish was spoken primarily in his home. When he was eight, he moved to Oklahoma, where he experienced a Midwestern upbringing and was the only Latino in his elementary class. Under constant encouragement from his parents to embrace education, Villagrana enrolled in Oklahoma State University, where he studied business management. During college he working though the nonprofit organization United Way to mentor inner city kids in Oklahoma City.

To promote goals of higher education, Villagrana has instilled a program where homeroom classes adopt universities, learning about a college More than a specific learning and exchanging correspondence with During Villagrana’s time of working philosophy, APV exists to service students from their adopted school. with these kids, many of which During this process, students learn were struggling to stay in school the needs of impoverished basic college vocabulary, and the and out of trouble, he discovered minorities in the Houston area. idea of going to college is positively that the education system had a far espoused each day. The school also greater impact than he ever realized. has several enrichment programs, “Who has the most impact on such as robotics, where high school your lives,” Villagrana would ask students and teachers work with APV these children, who would almost students to build creations that compete in state-wide competitions. inevitable answered “my teacher,” he says. “I thought it was neat that one person could have that kind of impact on kids,” shares Villagrana, An Unexpected Career who went back to college after that summer and changed his major to elementary education, a career path he had never before envisioned Now the principal of a thriving school, Villagrana originally thought for himself. When he was just 27 years old, he was approached by he was bound for the business world. He was born in El Paso, Texas, Houston's superintendent to be the principal of APV, a school that was struggling significantly at the time. When Villagrana began at APV, it was struggling with sub-par test scores, epidemic mismanagement and a great number of students with working class parents who spoke little English. He was told by the board of education that he had just a year to find certified teachers, and develop a quality curriculum and a financially accountable program. Obviously, Villagrana made those improvements and more, illustrating that “all kids can learn regardless of the education level of their parents” and allowing education to put elevate a once immigrant class. Under his guidance, the school has recently received a financial accountability rating of superior achievement. Villagrana says that the unexpected twists and turns of his life have always emphasized the importance of education and entrepreneurship for struggling demographics. “It’s been a really great life experience,” he shares. “It’s taken us from almost being closed down to being written up by the Texas Board of Education - that’s an awesome story.” “For me, we may be poor and ESL, but at the end of the day, these are our kids [and] we try and do the most,” continues Villagrana, who from the beginning of his time at APV has directly identified with his students. “I really [see] myself in these kids.” It’s that constant identification that will continue to spur Villagrana and the staff at Amigos Por Vida Charter to make a difference in their students’ lives.

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Pinellas Preparatory Academy Training Minds for Continued Success Produced by Hanim Samara & Written by Kellie Ducharme Florida-based charter school Pinellas Preparatory Academy (PPA) began from the musings of longtime educator Terry Schlesinger, who taught a program for gifted students at Ridgecrest Elementary School in Pinellas County, Fla. Schlesinger pondered what it would be like to create a school that would encourage creativity and hands-on learning in emotionally mature children. Originally, the school was called “Love of Learning.� Starting in 1999, Schlesinger began petitioning Pinellas County to provide an alternative to the existing public schools. In 2002 the Pinellas County School Board granted Love of Learning chartership, and in August of that year 60 students, spread

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South from fourth to sixth grade, entered the doors of what became known as Pinellas Preparatory Academy later that spring. With just four full-time teachers and four part-time teachers, PPA’s staff had to work tirelessly that year to prove to its chartering body, the county board of education, that is was worth keeping active. Under the guidance of Schlesinger and Principal Dr. Ron Lipton, the school flourished and doubled to 140 students during the 2003-2004 school year and added a seventh grade, followed by another increase in students and the addition of an eighth grade classroom in the 2004-2005 school year. Today, the school is under the leadership of Curtis Fuller, who has acted as its principal since August of 2005. Fuller has a master’s degree in educational leadership from Cardinal Stritch University, and a bachelor’s in education from the University of Wisconsin. In his education posts prior to his


principalship, Fuller served as a special education teacher, elementary teacher and worked to establish a charter school in Wisconsin. Continuous Growth With 389 students and more than three dozen teachers, faculty and staff, PPA moved into a new facility in 2006 with three times as much space as its former building. Due to the school’s success and growth the school added an additional five classrooms in 2008. However, PPA is focusing on more than growth in numbers. The school desires constant growth in its students, both academically and personally. Through its creativity-based teaching methods PPA helps each student develop individually, with respect to their specific personality traits and gifts. Because of the small student-to-teacher ratio – there’s no more than 22 students per class – pupils get a lot of face-time with their educators.


South PPA uses some alternative methods, aside from classroom lectures, to facilitate learning. For instance, PPA has three laptop centers that can move from classroom to classroom and teach students computer skills and research methods. Also, the school has volleyball, soccer, basketball, track, softball, cheerleading and baseball teams that instill leadership attributes in students. Students can also attend the school’s summer camp, which incorporates activity-based learning, athletic competitions and teambuilding activities in addition to more traditional academic summer school classes. High Expectations In terms of general academic curriculum, PPA values team-oriented cooperative learning in its classrooms. To the students, cooperative learning emphasizes the importance of utilizing their individual skills in order for the group to achieve success. In addition to cooperative learning, PPA’s learning environment is heavily project-based, because hands-on projects are one of the best ways for maturing students to display their unique creativity. Whether working individually or together, PPA holds its students to elevated standards. “We hold extremely high expectations for our students, and push them to do their very best,” reads the school’s letter to perspective parents. “Our curriculum challenges students, and we challenge them to do their very best.” Since PPA only goes up to the eighth grade, teachers encourage their students to put a lot of thought into choosing the right high school. The charter encourages students to attend magnet or career academy programs. PPA also encourages parent involvement. It has a strong Parent-Teacher Enrichment Group that works to promote the welfare of the school’s students by building a closer relationship between home and school. As parents, teachers and students continue to rise to PPA’s challenge of going above and beyond, the charter will continue to prepare pupils with expansive knowledge. PPA produces graduates who are ready to take what they’ve learned not only to high school, but to what their parents and teachers like to call “the real world.”

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Spotlight

Bright Futures Academy Helping Students Shoot for the Stars Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Rebecca Czarnecki It cannot be denied that the bar is set high for students attending Florida’s Bright Futures Academy. However, for children suited to the demanding program it is unquestionable that bright futures are exactly what the school is working to build. Bright Futures is a K-8 school that “promotes internationalism and foreign language in a warm supportive climate” touts the Web site. The school itself is broken into three small campuses located within two miles of each other in the North Palm Beach/Palm Beach Gardens area. A shuttle runs between campuses to facilitate parents’ ability to drop-off and pick-up their children from the most convenient location. Since it opened in 2001, the school has undergone a number of changes. Originally, it was part of a group of three charter schools operating under the name of Hope Community Learning. The three schools served different socio-economic brackets, but used one unified curriculum. Over time, the group dissolved and the schools became independent. Bright Futures started with just 48 students in K-2 and then opened a separate charter middle school in 2004. The following year, the two schools were consolidated under one charter. Bright Futures is the only school in Florida to have achieved this success. Bright Futures is led by the committed Kendall Artusi, the principal and CEO. For Artusi, working at these schools is something of a

homecoming. She grew up in the area, but moved to Texas to pursue her graduate degree in education at the University of Houston before returning to Florida to be a part of Bright Futures since its beginning, when the school was transitioned from Hope Community Learning. She has seen her own children through the program and is passionate about the school’s mission and philosophy. Three Sites, One Spirit Artusi explains that the school was deliberately separated into three campuses to increase individual student attention and staff accessibility. Each site is designed to hold no more than 300 students in order to create a “small, familytype environment,” Artusi says. This allows staff to really get to know and develop a relationship with their students. Despite having multiple sites there are plenty of school activities offered to students, which fosters a sense of school community between campuses. Parents are not only encouraged to get involved, but required; active parents commit to volunteering 15 hours per year. One of the most popular activities is Down on the River Night. The event is held once a month, on a Friday evening, and consists of a movie screening complete with concession stand. In addition, the school has plenty of after-school activities and a Civil Air Patrol program that encourages students to get involved in community service. The school also hosts a fishing tournament and a 5k Veterans Day Run.

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South gives the example that if first graders are studying Brazil for their language arts class they might have reading that discusses animals of the rain forest. The school also has a strong Model United Nations program to teach international cooperation. The combination of following state-approved curriculum and using highly qualified teachers is working well for Bright Futures; the school has been an A-rated school since its inception, save for one year. Artusi explains that the county helps Bright Futures by giving the school strong diagnostic tools. Meeting state standards is the most challenging, and Artusi mentions that district requirements are “interesting” and can be a bit of a tightrope walk. Artusi attributes much of Bright Futures’ success to a hugely dedicated school staff. Artusi says it is not unusual for staff to work 12-hour days, and that the Bright Futures teachers’ school day is an hour longer than that of the district schools. Many go above and beyond, volunteering to help with after-school programs. “It’s not for the faint of heart,” she bluntly admits. “You have to love education.”

One of Bright Futures’ most distinguishing features, Artusi explains, is its commitment to reaching each child on instructional levels, and by using team-teaching. Students are first identified to be either learning at, below, or above grade level. Two teachers work with students who are at grade level, while one teacher assists those below level and another helps with those above level. Students are re-evaluated through the course of the year. Artusi asserts, “All students should be receiving education on their instructional level, not just their grade level or frustration level.” A World of Learning Another unique feature of the school is that a significant portion of the curriculum has an international focus. Depending on the grade level, students may learn about a certain continent or country. Using an approach similar to the International Baccalaureate (IB) method, the staff finds age- and subject-appropriate teaching topics. Artusi

The staff is clearly dedicated to the students, and Artusi speaks with pride of students who have achieved huge improvements in their Florida’s Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) scores in Bright Futures’ program. However, good grades alone do not guarantee student success. Bright Futures has a stringent disciplinary policy with zero tolerance for drugs, weapons and fighting. For offenses that don’t merit expulsion from the school, students are required to attend a conduct improvement course. The week-long course is held for an hour after school and is used to help correct behavior. Artusi acknowledges the need for the kids to really want to come back each day, in order to succeed. When asked about sponsorship, Artusi credits a dedicated staff for contributing necessary funds to run Bright Futures. “Our biggest sponsor is our staff,” Artusi remarks. The reality for Bright Futures, as it is for many charter schools, is that funding is one of the biggest challenges. Although the school holds numerous fundraisers, with a school budget around $3.3 million, Bright Futures still struggles with certain expenses. “It’s amazing that we get by,” Artusi comments. In spite of the challenges, the passion and enthusiasm of the Bright Futures’ team keeps the school running successfully. When asked about the future of the school, Artusi looks toward continued improvement, and acknowledges the goal, for her and staff, to work to perfect the system they have in place. She reiterates the fact that Bright Futures has a strong commitment to remain as a tight-knit community, but dreams about being able to expand the school’s model beyond the county and possibly even out of the state. Having outgrown one facility already, Bright Futures strives to improve its services to accommodate more children and build bright futures for years to come.

40 | Charter Schools Today


Benjamin Franklin High School Preparing Future Leaders for the Present Produced by Hanim Samara & Written by Kellie Ducharme In 2005 Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, ravishing a city and leaving its residents completely disoriented. As the rest of the world looked on, wondering how to salvage the situation, a small movement in the city intensified its efforts to address the needs of the city’s children. Benjamin Franklin High School (BFHS) emerged from the New Orleans Public School system as a charter school in the fall of 2005 as the city began to rebuild after the storm. “It was chartered at just the right time,” says Dr. Timothy Rusnak, the current school principal. After the hurricane that year, children were left wondering how to process the damage. “The school began to rebuild immediately,” Rusnak shares, “but the psychological damage will always be carried by our students.”

matter the circumstance. Immediately after Katrina, BFHS began to rebuild its acclaimed AP program and regain its preeminent position as one of the nation’s top-rated schools. Cultivating Academic Success Prior to Katrina, Franklin boasted a student population of 936 students with 70 faculty members; after the storm about half as many students returned, but the school kept many veteran faculty members in a determined effort to preserve academic quality. BFHS has slowly rebuilt its student population base and reorganized departments and now is home to 610 students. The concept of academic excellence has driven BFHS from its inception more than 50 years ago. The school was previously part of the local district and identified as a magnet school for students with strong academic potential. “The desire to learn is the foundation for success,” espouses Dr. Rusnak. And the charter’s success definitely relies on academic zeal. BFHS does its best to promote highlevel coursework and lofty goals for higher education in its students. “We have an intense AP program,” Dr. Rusnak explains. “Our AP program helps shape the soul of our curriculum.” Students also may take courses on-site at local colleges. Rusnak has plans to expand the AP offerings through a program he calls APEX (Advanced Placement Executive), where students could take university courses in conjunction with AP offerings in an expanded instructional format.

But, like its namesake, Benjamin Franklin High School believes that the power of curiosity fuels our nation’s creativity, ingenuity and diversity and fosters learning and exploration in its students, no

BFHS also has local community partnerships that facilitate competitive art, music and dance programs. Each afternoon, about 50 students are transported by school bus to study advanced arts at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts. Athletics are another integral part of the charter’s involved atmosphere; its 14 sports teams include soccer, swim, track, volleyball, basketball, football, baseball, tennis, golf and cheerleading.

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South adolescent, rejection can be devastating, so we have a no-cut policy for our sports and academic teams,” says Dr. Rusnak. “Interestingly, this has produced a highly competitive athletic program. All of these team-building exercises contribute to one of the fundamentals BFHS finds most important to embrace: diversity. The school’s student body is a melting pot of children of all races, ethnicities and backgrounds. Racially, the students are one-quarter Asian, one-quarter African-American and one-half Caucasian. “The diversity here is an enormous asset to our learning environment,” Dr. Rusnak shares. “And the kids love it; they want to be around others, not just those of their same race.” An Inside Perspective on the Charter System Having spent several years in charter leadership, Dr. Rusnak has developed clear views on how charters can continue to succeed throughout the next decade.

Teams and clubs play an important role in the school community. “Friendship and a sense of peer acceptance are important to the

“Fundraising, marketing and recruiting” are essential to keeping the charters running successfully, says Dr. Rusnak. Though the school does receive federal and state funding, it does not receive enough to fund its highly competitive academic programs fully. Thus, the school looks outside government funding for further support. “Charters have a profound responsibility to meet the needs of the public,” stresses Dr. Rusnak, acknowledging that this school model began because communities feel a need for alternative, targeted public education. Dr. Rusnak says that many charters don’t reach full potential, however, because of the lack of fundraising. As members of the public school system, many don’t raise money because they already receive federal funds. “The way that [charters] divorce themselves from [the methods of ] independent schools must end,” he shares. Dr. Rusnak also feels that charters meet an underserved need in public education: a specific focus. “Public schools get in trouble when they try to be something for everyone; they can become nothing to everyone,” says Dr. Rusnak. “You must find a niche. Charter schools offer great hope for everyone. In this economy and society you need focus.” As Dr. Rusnak guides Benjamin Franklin High School, he will continue to make it an example for other charters in New Orleans, emphasizing the need for academic rigor, tailored programs and community awareness.

42 | Charter Schools Today


West

Ezequiel Tafoya Alvarado Academy Building Bridges for Future Latino Leaders Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Kellie Ducharme The tagline for Ezequiel Tafoya Alvarado Academy (ETAA) is “a school for smart kids.” And this impetus fuels the charter’s focus on empowering economically underprivileged Latino children in Madera, Calif., through education. These efforts are intended to breed future leaders in the state’s extremely large Latino community, where children often attend underserved public schools. “I wanted to create a school where we could prove that very low income students could have academic achievement,” says Dr. Nicolas Retana, who holds a doctorate in education and is ETAA’s co-founder and executive director. “Most traditional schools, they don’t believe it, they don’t manifest it, and they don’t create an environment where Latino kids can have success.

“We’ve proven that [we can]; we’ve had very high test score gains,” he continues. Dr. Retana’s approach is one of intense structure and academic rigor that intends to teach students that they are in control of their own lives. “We really emphasis taking ownership and responsibility for your own life,” he says. To do this, ETAA encourages competition and discourages excuse-making and complaining, he adds. Leadership from A to Z The charter receives its name from the Latino educator, activist, and inspirational figure, Ezequiel Tafoya Alvarado, a Mexican-born immigrant who moved to Texas as a child and eventually received his master’s degree in Theology from the University of Southern California. Appropriately, ETAA has a unique, Latino-centric strand of leadership that it weaves into its curriculum, which teaches kids about concepts of what leaderships is, as well as gives examples of good leaders. “We give our students many opportunities to be the leaders in their classrooms,” explains Robin Retana, codirector and longtime educator. Ms. Retana uses a recent career day as an example, where fourth graders came dressed in their desired profession and gave speeches to their fellow classmates. “We teach them how to maneuver the politics of life, how to speak well, [how to be] assertive,” shares Dr. Retana, adding that he’s had a lot of parents commend him for how he inspires the children at his school to continually become better learners, athletes and people. He says that one of the best ways to engender success is through competition. “It’s important that our young men and women compete,” he says. “We compete at a high level, competition is good, and we don’t fear competition.” In addition to athletics, the school has female students participating in a girl scouts program to encourage further leadership and responsibility. The school also offers “student of the month” awards that pupils can receive for attending class every day, completing their homework and having good behavior. At the end of the

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West year, all students who received this accolade for five months out of the school year are taken on a field trip. ETAA’s faculty promotes the field trip and student of the month award often, and both school leaders say it has infused the school with a good kind of peer pressure, in that it encourages kids to be winners. In general, focusing on the positive is how ETAA strives to teach kids. The school has zero discipline problems. “Our parents know our expectations and it doesn’t take long for the students to honor the environment that has been created for them,” he adds. “We want to create a new generation of leaders,” shares Dr. Retana. “It just creates a beautiful atmosphere for learning.” Defying Statistics The city of Madera has a modest population of 60,000 and ETAA has 348 full-time children, a number that has grown by about 50 each year. Every child at the school speaks both Spanish and English and most of their parents work in the agriculture or service industries, says Dr. Retana. Many families live below the poverty line. Yet, despite such overwhelming statistics, the school’s daily attendance rate hovers between 98- and 99-percent. The school has a “tremendous” parent involvement program and each family is obligated to provide up to 10 hours annually of service in the school. Also, the school’s reputation is widely known in the California education community. For less than 10 initial teaching slots, Dr. Retana interviewed nearly 100 people. “We really take it seriously,” he says of choosing his faculty, many of whom have master’s degrees and all of whom speak Spanish. Dr. Retana believes that in every kid, no matter the economic standing of their parents or the color of their skin, there is endless potential. With Ezequiel Tafoya Alvarado Academy, his goal is to create a Latin community in California that realizes this truth. “We don’t want our kids to think that just because they are from poor families that they can’t achieve success,” he stresses. Thanks to his vision, ETAA’s time for success is now.

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Spotlight

Michigan Schools Maxed Out on Charters, But Parents Want More Written by Patricia Hawke Not all Michigan schools charters are successful, according to reports. Overall, however, they are succeeding for some students where the traditional schools have failed. Though charters schools are not for all students, many parents seek educational alternatives for their children to get them out of the mainstream and into more innovative methods to motivate their children to learn. Many parents are tired of the problems with the public school system that is inadequate and produces underachieving young adults. Charters become an even higher priority for parents with children in failing traditional schools, appearing to be their way out.

The children of thousands of families within the Michigan schools are on waiting lists for admittance to charter schools. Not only does this underscores the parents’ commitment to school choice, but it also indicates their desire for their children to have a better education — one they obviously do not believe they can achieve in the traditional Michigan schools. Like many other states, the Michigan schools has a cap of 150 on the number of charter schools each district may have. These caps were seen as necessary in the beginning for a couple of reasons: (1) To ensure they were successful before they exploded on the scene, and (2) to ensure the traditional public schools were not lost all together. The Michigan schools is currently maxed out at the 150 maximum university-chartered state schools. There actually are 230 charters in Michigan, but 80 are exempt from the cap. For example, a Native American operated charter comes under the control of the federal government and is exempt. Enrollment in charter Michigan schools was at 91,567 during the 2005-2006 school year. That is 5.3 percent of all Michigan schools students that year and up by 10,000 students over the previous year.

Basically, charters in Michigan are independent public schools that generally are chartered by a state university. They have more flexibility in how they educate Michigan schools students, not required to adhere to all of the rigid rules that traditional schools must follow. Though many people mistakenly believe that charters take the wealthy, white students away from the traditional Michigan schools, the fact is that charter students are predominantly urban, minority and low-income. As with traditional schools, charters receive per student funding with the amount being the same for all students. For charters, this means that there are few operating as high schools, since it costs more to operate grades nine through 12. For example, there are only five high school charter schools out of 22 total charters in Kent and Ottawa counties, with one closing this summer. More high school charters are needed with the long waiting lists and parents clamoring to have their children admitted. Article Source: http://www.articlesbase.com/education-articles/ michigan-schools-ma xed-out-on-charters-but-parents-wantmore-132296.html

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Spotlight

Chicago Schools Open First Virtual Elementary School Written by Patricia Hawke The Illinois State Board of Education has approved the state's first virtual public elementary school, the Chicago Virtual Charter School. The Board acted against State Superintendent Randy Dunn's recommendation to disapprove the Chicago schools application, as well as against the opposition of the powerful Chicago Teachers Union, by voting a five-to-four approval. Though virtual schools already exist in the United States, they usually are high schools. Several states, however, prohibit virtual charter schools, such as Indiana, Tennessee and New York. South Carolina goes one step further by prohibiting any home-based instruction at its charter schools. Opposition to the Chicago schools' new virtual elementary school stem from a variety of areas. Here are just a few: • Computers will replace teachers and/or reduce their role in education, eliminating many teacher positions.

46 | Charter Schools Today

• The one-on-one attention that students may receive in a physical classroom setting will be lost. • Virtual students in the Chicago schools will not receive enough social interaction, stunting their socialization skills. Proponents believe the Chicago schools new virtual institution may give some children a chance to succeed, where traditional schools already have failed. The state board's Chairman Jesse Ruiz noted that he received many compelling letters from parents, pleading for an alternative approach for their Chicago schools children. Another issue that faced the state board is the current Illinois law on charter schools, which states they must be "non-home based". It was for this reason that State Superintendent Dunn had recommended the new Chicago schools' application be denied. This added more fuel to the Teachers Union's argument against approving the school.


State board members and proponents argued that the charter school laws were enacted in the 1990s, before lawmakers could have anticipated the growth of technology that makes a virtual school possible. Chicago schools General Counsel Patrick Rocks told the board that the restrictions on home-based charter schools were from concerns that home schools would attempt to reposition themselves as charter schools in order to secure public funding. Charter schools are part of the Chicago schools system and are given more flexibility in staffing, curriculum and other areas — similar in theory to home schools. They receive public funding per student, causing the lawmakers concern over a possible redefinition of home schools. Rocks presented board members with letters from several of the lawmakers who enacted the law that stated their intent was not to block Internet-based schooling. After the vote, Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart vowed to take "swift and appropriate" action to stop or block the opening of the school. Rocks noted that it was very unlikely that the Union could mount any viable legal challenge.

The Chicago schools' new virtual institution opens September 13, 2006. Already about 300 families have applied for their children to attend, and the school can accept another 300 students, according to Sharon Hayes, head of the school. Once enrolled, the Chicago schools families receive desktop computers, workbooks and other student materials. The Chicago schools students are required to meet weekly at a downtown Chicago learning center, located within DePaul University. The students interact regularly with teachers through emails, conferences and workshops, as well as interacting with teachers and other students at the learning center. Chicago Virtual Charter School already scheduled to serve a wide variety of elementary Chicago schools children. They include gifted and special education students, as well as children who previously attended public, private and home schools. Their web site is at: www. chicagovcs.org. Article Source: http://www.articlesbase.com/education-articles/ chicago-schools-opens-its-first-virtual-elementary-school-54738.html

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connecting communities through information. THE MAGAZINE FOR CHARTER SCHOOL EXECUTIVES www.charterschoolstoday.com

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