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Charter Schools Today

Summer 2009

Turning Around Expectations Sacramento Charter High School

Rocketing to New Heights in Education John Hancock Charter School

Raising the Bar in Brooklyn

Williamsburg Charter High School


Editorial Editor in Chief: Alonzo Ellis

Production Editor: Rebecca Czarnecki

Production Director: Hayley Gold

Project Directors: Eric Gunn Hanim Samara


Shelley Seyler, Senior Staff Writer Tiffany Nichols, Staff Writer Holly Alexander R.C. Anderson Jim Barlow Lauren Muscarella

Bull Run Media Executive Team Kalena Alston-Griffin, Partner Keyla Carr, Partner Alonzo Ellis, Partner


Kalena Alston-Griffin, Partner

Executive Editor: Keyla Carr, Partner

Design Department:

Sheryvonn McDonald, Senior Designer Julie Hudak, Graphic Designer Ashish Kansara Jay Vandewani


Karyn Dowty, Director of Operations Daniella Gonzalez Kelly Matlock

Advertising Sales & Marketing Department: Bjorn Michals William Lee Yin

Letter from the Editor

As we usher in another hot and humid summer in the nation’s capital, the charter school movement has gained ground, albeit incrementally, thanks to President Barack Obama and his administration. Though the wheels turn slowly, this is allowing our vision for the movement to sharpen as we continue to believe that charter schools can revolutionize the country’s education system. On May 14th, President Obama called on Congress to allocate an additional $52 million in funding for charter school programs just as it began drafting its yearly appropriations. Such federal programs certainly provide support to some of the key components to the development of the movement: helping with the initial costs associated with the launching of charter schools and providing financial incentives to state governments and private lenders that enable schools to build and renovate facilities. With this light showering attention on the movement, the beat goes on for those charter schools that are already working hard to educate their students and for those that are trying to get started in today’s challenging and ever-changing economy. In the face of these obstacles, our summer edition highlights 35 schools from across the country that are not only turning failing schools into nationally recognized success stories, but also those that are serving their communities in some of the most unique and inventive ways. To be sure, across education sectors, opening the minds of students and fostering a sense of curiosity is something all schools hope to achieve. Maritime Academy Charter High School in Pennsylvania provides a maritime education in one of the country’s oldest port cities. Established to provide unique learning opportunities for students, on the open ocean and on land, the school offers multiple hands-on learning experiences. While across the country, John Hancock Charter School in Utah catches the attention of its students through cultivating an appreciation for music and through unique lessons such as “Rocket Day.” Both Williamsburg Charter High School in New York and Sacramento Charter High School in California reflect success stories that prove what is possible with strong leadership and a vision. While Sacramento was once plagued with violence and high absenteeism, the school now has a “Wall of Fame” boasting college acceptance letters and college pennants of where its students have matriculated. Williamsburg’s founder was a graduate from the Brooklyn public school system and committed himself to giving back to the community by creating a school that fostered success. It seems as though every aspect of society is morphing. Charter schools are also a part of this exciting evolution and globally integrated culture. To that end, charter schools are answering the call to produce students that are culturally aware and focused on improving and serving the world. In these pages, you will read about success stories born from expected failure; and schools that truly are pushing the envelope for the betterment of its students, communities, and the country. ~CST



Cover Story Improving Education in Broolyn Williamsburg Charter High School Eddie Calderon-Melendez, founder of Williamsburg Charter High School (WCHS) in Brooklyn, New York, founded his school with an interest in helping improve the prospects for children in the neighborhood in which he grew up.

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Teachers Unions & Charter Schools The Argument for Joining Forces


Encouraging Diversity Creating a Multicultural Classroom Environment


A Bipartisan Debate The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program


State Focus The Socioeconomic Impact of Charter School in Texas


Taking Time Off Preparing a Substitute Teacher for Your Classroom


Beyond the Idea Examining Charter School Law


Energizing Your Classroom Top 12 Ways to Motivate Students


Charter School Strategies Helping Autistic Children


The Specter of Segregation Examining the Racial Divide in Charter Schools


A New Dimension of Learning Exploring University Partnerships

Charter Schools Today

Summer 2009

Case Studies North



Closing the Education Gap Side by Side Community School, CT


Emphasizing Independence and Innovation Indian River Charter School, FL


Committed to Success Neighborhood House Charter School, MA


Cultivating Respect and Motivation Coral Springs Charter High School, FL


Beating the Odds Benjamin Banneker Charter Public School, MA


Teaching With a Full Bag of Tricks Evolution Academy Charter School, TX


Linking Work Ethic to Real Life Experience Codman Academy Public Charter School, MA


Encouraging Life-Long Learning Phoenix Charter School, TX


Where Dreams and Education Meet East New York Preparatory Charter School, NY


Setting the Bar High for Texas Charters Austin Can! Academy Charter School, TX


Improving Education in Brooklyn Williamsburg Charter High School, NY


Opening Doors to a New Teaching Technique Manara Academy, TX


Preparing Minds in a Port City Maritime Academy Charter School, PA


Recognizing Potential Tekoa Academy of Accelerated Studies, TX


Teaching Cultural Sensitivity Imani Education Circle Charter School, PA


Continuing to Fight the Good Fight Pocono Mountain Charter School, PA


Propelling Students Towards Success Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School, PA

Small class sizes and teachers armed with full bags of tricks are the keys to dealing with students at the Evolution Academy Charter School in suburban Dallas. pg 62

Midwest & West Maritime Academy Charter High School (MACHS) opened in Pennsylvania in 2003 and is now one of the largest charter schools in the country that focuses on marine subjects. pg 37

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A Virtual World of Opportunity Buckeye On-line School for Success, OH


Nurturing Innate Abilities Santa Barbara Charter School, CA


Personalizing the Learning Experience Golden Eagle Charter School, CA

Turning Around Expectations Sacramento Charter High School, CA



Case Studies Midwest & West Cont. 113

Inspiring Hope for the Future School for Integrated Academics and Technologies, CA


Where Progress and Success are Within Reach Global Youth Charter High School, CA


Leveling the Playing Field Arroyo Paseo High School, CA


Developing the Whole Child Guidance Charter School, CA


A Cornerstone of Music and Performing Arts University High School, CA


Injecting Freedom into Traditional Learning Palisades Charter High School, CA


Getting a Jump Start on College Preparation New West Charter Middle School, CA

I Can Do Anything Charter High School (ICDA) in Reno, Nevada graduates 50 students every year in front of an astounding 1,000 beaming audience members. “If someone really wants to understand the heart and soul of our school, I tell them to attend the graduation ceremony,” said Principal Allen Beebe. This event does not include the traditional valedictorian and salutatorian speeches. In fact, those honors are not recognized at all. Instead, the evening is an opportunity for students to express their individuality in less traditional forms; some dance and some sing. pg 151


Charter Schools Today

Summer 2009

The music plays, rockets fly and teachers are heard loud and clear at John Hancock Charter School (JHCS) in Pleasant Grove, Utah, south of Salt Lake City. Founded in 2001, this one-of-a-kind school keeps their students attention through a variety of tools from music appreciation to “Rocket Day.” pg 154


Creating the Next Generation of Leaders Banning Lewis Ranch Academy, CO


Cultivating Minds with the Classics Ridgeview Classical Schools, CO


Building Healthy Minds and Bodies North Valley Academy Charter School, NM


Thinking Outside the Box Southwest Learning Center Charter School, NM


Courage, Scholarship and Service Amy Biehl High School, NM


Providing Healthy Outlets for Creativity I Can Do Anything Charter School, NV


Rocketing to New Heights in Education John Hancock Charter School, UT


Teachers Unions & Charter Schools The Argument for Joining Forces Written by Tiffany Nichols It is no secret that teachers unions generally stand in opposition to the charter school movement. There is a great deal of contempt on both sides of the issue: charter school proponents feel that teachers unions are only concerned with defending mediocre teaching practices and lack regard for the success of their students; teachers unions, on the other hand, feel that the charter school movement undermines the nation’s public school system by siphoning off muchneeded resources. However, given that both public school and charter school teachers and officials are equally dedicated to righting the wrongs

of public education, there is perhaps some wasted potential in this contention. If both teachers unions and charter officials formed a united front to demand a better public education system, the possibilities for genuine education reform would be more likely to increase. The first charter school in America was founded in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1992 by two public school teachers who were both part of teachers unions. In fact, of the first several hundred charter schools, approximately one quarter were founded by teachers. This makes sense given that teachers are apt to know the needs of

students and teachers alike, as well as where the resources may be lacking in their school system. In fact, evidence shows that teachers are aware that charter schools have the potential to be more favorable places to work than public schools as evidenced by the number of teachers who apply for jobs at charter schools. For example, in Marblehead, Massachusetts a charter school received 500 applications from teachers applying for seven open positions. Similarly, in Arizona, 200 teachers applied for 10 positions. Charter schools typically have smaller classes, which mean there are more resources to go around for fewer students. This is of course appealing to teachers who


Features come from schools that may have limited budgets for technology or professional development. However, despite the known benefits that often come with teaching at charter schools, most teachers unions are diametrically opposed to this innovative system. The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers view charter schools as an impediment to the public school system. Teachers unions consistently vie against laws promoting the establishment of charter schools. In the same spirit, they are in favor of placing caps on the number of charter schools that are allowed to be established in a given state. The rift is exacerbated by the fact that charter school teachers, although welcome to join teachers unions as part of the public school system, do not tend to participate in the teachers unions. Although it would seem favorable to have a bargaining institution to back one’s professional needs, many argue that charter school teachers prefer not to join unions because they recognize that the ideals that the unions promote are persuasive, but do not agree with union philosophy on how to


Charter Schools Today

obtain those ideals in practice. Unions view charter schools and their teachers as a threat because charter school teachers operate more independently, which is completely counter to the purpose of a union. Unions argue that charter administrators think that teachers are expendable, and are therefore less likely to be dedicated to teacher satisfaction and professional development. Additionally, unions argue that, because many charters are run by individuals who have backgrounds working with for-profit businesses, charter schools cannot legitimately have the goal of promoting the successful education of students. On the other side of the issue, some in the charter school movement believe that the ideals teachers’ unions promote concerning professionalism, teacher voice, and autonomy are empty rhetoric. Charter school teachers often experience better working conditions than public school teachers and they believe that unions are opposed to charters because they present a model where teachers can perform

Summer 2009

independently and without the need for a governing organization. One example is that unions tend to frown upon the pay by performance model, or the creation of school competition. “Teachers’ unions and charters schools often act like sworn enemies, but productive coexistence could come through fewer assumptions based on the polarized philosophical positions of both camps and more evidence about charter schools’ performance…” argued an article published in Education Week on November 2, 2006 entitled “Productive Coexistence Recommended for Teachers’ Unions and Charter Schools.” Those on either side of the issue tend to be extremely opposed. However, a small middle ground is being established between the two camps. According to the results of a symposium held on May 20, 2006 between charter school leaders and union officials at The Progressive Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., there is potential for far more interaction and constructive conversation between these

two factions than one may think. The symposium helped establish commonalities with the parties agreeing that unnecessary conflict between them deflects essential resources away from helping students learn. The importance of promoting teacher’s influence and collaboration in advocacy for school funding needs and education reform to work toward successful schools was elevated. Both also agreed that trust and communication between management can be improved in both charter and traditional public schools. Unions and charters agreed that unionization had to be more than just a platform for collective bargaining; interestingly, most charter leaders saw a benefit in having an avenue for managers to discuss and plan together. Also surprisingly, union leaders in support of charter unionization argued that charters should not be subject to the same rules and requirements that are present for traditional public schools, such as mandatory transfer rules that protect veteran teachers. Similarly, in the September 10, 2008 edition of USA Today, reporter Greg Toppo reported that although “Education reformers have long criticized the big teachers unions for

blocking efforts to shake up public school bureaucracies, “ The American Federation of Teachers was launching a $1 million campaign to seek additional philanthropic funding for programs that will provide “sustainable, innovative and collaborative reform projects.” In fact, when the two opposing sides of the traditional public school versus charter school debate come together, there can be positive results. In Los Angeles, 80 percent of teachers at Accelerated School, one of Los Angeles’ most respected charter schools, have unionized with United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). In December of 2008, teachers from Accelerated School contacted UTLA regarding problems with teacher turnover, inconsistent treatment of employees, and lack of teacher involvement in decision making. Accelerated School board President Eric E. Johnson stated, “We understand the concerns of our teachers, and have, over job security and compensation, particularly during these difficult economic times.” Despite this stated understanding, Accelerated School teachers still exhibited the need to have

their voice backed and protected. The movement to improve America’s public schools for the most vulnerable children in the country is arguably one of the most important civil rights issues of our times. A great deal of progress will be made if charter school teachers and administrators stand strong with unions in the fight to change failing school policies, and bring America’s public school system up to par with its global competitors. Sources: “Charter Schools vs. Teachers Unions: Irresistible Force vs. Immovable Object?” by David W. Kirkpatrick with the U.S. Freedom Foundation and the Buckeye Institute “Teachers Union Organizes Celebrated Charter School” by Howard Blume, February 5, 2009, Los Angeles Times The Future of Charter Schools and Teachers’ Unions: Results of a Symposium by Paul T. Hill, Lydia Rainey, and Andrew Rotherham, in conjunction with the National Charter School Research Project and The University of Washington



A Bipartisan Debate The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program Written by Tiffany Nichols The poor quality of education in many of America’s public school systems can be considered one of the greatest civil rights issues currently facing the country. McKinsey & Company, the management consulting firm, just released a startling report in April of 2009, “The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools,” affirming that, more so than most of the world’s developed countries, in the United States, socioeconomic class and race are a significant determining factor in the quality of education one will receive. In fact, the report definitively stated that “test scores for black students strongly correlate to black poverty rates.” Indeed, an overhaul of the urban public education system in America’s schools is much needed, but there is a currently a great deal of debate in the nation’s capitol about how to remedy the problem of a failing education system, at least for a few District of Columbia students, in the meantime. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DOSP) is an initiative that was developed by the Bush Administration and approved by Congress in January of 2004. The District of Columbia ranks at the bottom of the list of public school systems in the United States, and the DOSP serves as a way to give a few fortunate students the opportunity to receive a quality education, regardless of the socioeconomic standing of their families. The federal government has set aside $74 billion in funds for the program, money that the District of Columbia would not receive otherwise. The bill gives qualified families $7,500 per year to allow their children to attend the private school of their choice. In 2007-2008, the program enabled 1,700 students to attend the private schools of their choice; students who otherwise would have had to attend schools where their peers were overwhelmingly performing below grade level. Nearly all of the students who receive vouchers are from families who are living at or

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below the poverty line. The average income for the families of voucher recipients is $22,736. That is only $2,000 shy of the poverty line for a family of four. Ninety-nine percent of these voucher recipients are African American or Latino. Nearly 7,000 students have applied for the voucher program that is only equipped

An overhaul of the urban public education system in America’s schools is much needed, but there is a currently a great deal of debate in the nation’s capitol about how to remedy the problem of a failing education system.

to serve one in eight low-income students in the District of Columbia. Although the intentions of the DOSP Program are positive, they use funds that could be vital to the development of the District’s charter schools. No proponent of education reform would be in favor of sending poor children to underperforming

Summer 2009

schools; but rather than the District sending students to private schools, it could work towards making sure that enough quality charter schools are established to meet the growing need for alternative institutions of education. Using charter schools as an alternative for underperforming schools offers some of the district’s poorest students the opportunity to attend school in a safe environment in which they would receive a higher quality of education than they would in their neighborhood public school. In addition to being a deterrent to the charter school system, this program also does not create enough choice for a sufficient number of students. There has been a great deal of opposition to vouchers within the Obama Administration, leaving the scholarship program in jeopardy. Democrats are divided on the issue. Margaret Spellings, former Secretary of Education for the Bush Administration, is in strong support of the voucher program. In a July 2008 article for The Washington Post, former Secretary Spellings says, “We, too, must place student welfare above personal ideology. Advocates of the status quo fear that opportunity scholarships will succeed, not fail. They believe that allowing children to escape underperforming schools will hasten the decline of all public schools. This is exactly backward. The opportunity to choose will push schools to improve, to keep families from leaving.” Her view is shared by Democrats such as DC Mayor Adrian Fenty and Chancellor Michelle Rhee. In support of this point of view, it would perhaps be even more productive for the District to take the funds currently allotted to DOSP and use them as start-up funds to open new charter schools, or even improve existing charters. Charter schools still create competition for public schools, giving them incentive to improve the quality of education that their students receive.

Other left-winged government officials, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Barack Obama, are far more interested in promoting the development of charter schools and moving to end the DOSP altogether. The issue is that many Democrats, as well as teachers unions, know that the voucher program takes valuable resources away from the D.C. public schools and undermines the D.C. public school system. On the other hand, other Democrats, and a majority of Republicans take the stance that educating a fraction of the poorest District of Columbia students is superior to relegating all of the students to underperforming schools that are consistently failing to meet Adequate Yearly Progress report requirements. Indeed, students should be in an institution where they have quality teachers and access to a quality education. However, charter schools would potentially serve more children, and be held to accountability standards that are established by law. With the creation of charter schools, school practices can also be monitored more closely, as students will still be held to the standards of the state. It appears as if proponents of expanding the DOSP should prepare themselves for disappointment. In March of this year, the Senate rejected a Republican amendment to the bill. The amendment, which was written by John Ensign (R, Nev.) called to remove language from the bill that restricts voucher funding and to reinstate the bill beyond the 2009-2010 school year. The amendment failed in a 58-39 vote. President Obama signed the bill that allows the funding for DOSP to expire in 2010, although the administration has said it is committed to

avoiding the disruption of students who are currently attending private schools with vouchers. “Part of my job is to make sure that all kids get a great education, and it doesn’t matter whether that’s in charter, parochial, or public schools. I don’t think vouchers are going to solve all the ills of public education, but parents who are zoned to schools that are failing kids should have options to do better by their kids,” said Chancellor Michelle Rhee while speaking with The New York Times in April. It seems that parents who are zoned in areas with failing schools may be losing that option in 2010. Hopefully, with the end of DOSP, an increased funding of charter schools will soon follow, for the sake of the public school students of the District of Columbia. Sources: “The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap In America’s Schools” by McKinsey and Company, Social Sector “Senate kills GOP’s D.C. vouchers bid”, By Elizabeth Hillgrove THE WASHINGTON TIMES | Wednesday, March 11, 2009 “Congress Could End Vouchers in D.C.”, March 04, 2009 01:58 PM ET | Eddy Ramírez, “Save D.C.’s Vouchers”, By Margaret Spellings, Tuesday, July 8, 2008, the Washington Post

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Taking Time Off Preparing a Substitute Teacher for Your Classroom Written By: Tiffany Provost You need to feel comfortable with the teacher who will be relieving you for the day in having all that is needed. Make sure you have everything organized and ready to go when preparing for a substitute, you will be happy to know things went smoothly in your absence. You can make sure all is well with your class while you’re gone if you follow these simple steps to help properly prepare your substitute.

someone is available to them to help them solve problems. Give the substitute a list of which students need extra attention and the best way she can give it to them. If there is grading work to be done, you should leave an answer key for all assignments handed out. If it is best left

Be sure to leave a copy of the seating chart. The best thing you can do for a substitute is provide a thorough and up-to-date seating chart. Having a blank copy of the classroom desk arrangement on which they can fill in names of students is the method preferred by some teachers. Some of them like to take a picture of each student and produce a poster type seating plan that incorporates the photos. The way most other people do it is to have their students wear the same name tag all day long. Just find a way that suits you and leave some way of allowing the substitute teacher to address your students by name. Type your daily itinerary. Your day plan is the most important thing for you to leave for your sub. It should be noted that she has no knowledge of the current unit or lesson being taught, nor the individual struggles of any students. You should provide all of this information to her so she can best prepare and deliver educational lessons to the students. Remember to write the beginning and end of each period of time. Draw attention to any duty you are accountable for all the way through the day, and don’t forget to tell the tutor where to find your student if they don’t come in from breaks after the bell. Your students will want to know that

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issues in their classes. You must convey to the sub teacher how you deal with bad or good actions during class time. How do you choose to discipline your children? Are there any benefits? List out all consequences that students have come to expect. Get her some assistance. No doubt, the sub teacher will appreciate having a student to help them with the little things. Assign a student in your class that the substitute teacher can ask for help. You should also make note of any volunteers expected that day, and leave details for what they should do. Make photocopies of everything in advance. Don’t expect your substitute to figure out how to photocopy things first thing in the morning. Make sure that you have all she will need on your desk, labeled and ready to make her day easier. It’s something she won’t think of, but something that will cause much turmoil in your classroom if it doesn’t get done.

up to you, make note of this for her. Also, be sure to leave markers on the pages of your teaching materials that she will be using while they substitute for you. Put the books he or she will need in the proper order to avoid confusion. Discuss behavior management. Individual teachers decide how to deal with behavior

Summer 2009

Make sure you remember all the small details. Double-check that you haven’t forgot any of the little things that will help her through the day while you’re gone. Make sure she has all the keys that she will need. Just in case, leave your personal code number for the photocopier. Come up with another teacher to bounce ideas off of. In order to help your substitute’s day flow smoothly have as much prepared for her beforehand that you can. This will help you too, as you’ll be able to pick up right where she left off when you return. About the Author: Tiffany Provost writes about marketing and other business tips as a staff writer for

Energizing Your Classroom Top 12 Ways to Motivate Students Written By: Annie Condron If there is one thing we know about kids, it’s that they have short attention spans and prefer now to later. Teachers, more than any district or schoolwide programs, have the most power to motivate students because they’re on the front lines. They can influence students in a way that kids can actually understand: here, now, today, in this room. ***Obviously, not enough can be said about parent involvement, but that’s a Top 12 list for another day*** In Your Classroom or School 1. Praise Students in Ways Big and Small Recognize work in class, display good work in the classroom and send positive notes home to parents, hold weekly awards in your classroom, organize academic pep rallies to honor the honor roll, and even sponsor a Teacher Shoutout section in the student newspaper to acknowledge student’s hard work. 2. Expect Excellence Set high, yet realistic expectations.  Make sure to voice those expectations.  Set short terms goals and celebrate when they are achieved. 3. Spread Excitement Like a Virus Show your enthusiasm in the subject & use appropriate, concrete and understandable examples to help students grasp it. For example, I love alliteration.  Before I explain the concept to students, we “improv” subjects they’re interested in.  After learning about alliteration, they brainstorm alliterative titles for their chosen subjects.

of learners. By doing this in an orderly way, you can also maintain order in your classroom. In a generic example for daily instruction, journal for 10 minutes to open class; introduce the concept for 15 minutes; discuss/group work for 15 minutes; Q&A or guided work time to finish the class. This way, students know what to expect everyday and have less opportunity to act up. 5. Assign Classroom Jobs With students, create a list of jobs for the week. Using the criteria of your choosing, let students earn the opportunity to pick their classroom jobs for the next week. These jobs can cater to their interests and skills. Some possibilities include: • Post to the Class blog • Update Calendar • Moderate review games • Pick start of class music • Watch class pet • Public relations officer (address people who visit class) • Standard class jobs like Attendance, Cleaning the boards, putting up chairs, etc. 6. Hand Over Some Control If students take ownership of what you do in class, then they have less room to complain (though we all know, it’ll never stop completely). Take an audit of your class, asking what they enjoy doing, what helps them learn, what they’re excited about after class. Multiple choice might be the best way to start if you predict a lot of “nothing” or “watch movies” answers.

4. Mix It Up

After reviewing the answers, integrate their ideas into your lessons or guide a brainstorm session on how these ideas could translate into class.

It’s a classic concept and the basis for differentiated instruction, but it needs to be said: using a variety of teaching methods caters to all types

On a systematic level, let students choose from elective classes in a collegiate format. Again, they can tap into their passion and relate to

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FNeatures orth their subject matter if they have a choice. 7. Open-format Fridays You can also translate this student empowerment into an incentive program. Students who attended class all week, completed all assignments and obeyed all classroom rules can vote on Friday’s activities (lecture, discussion, watching a video, class jeopardy, acting out a scene from a play or history). 8. Relating Lessons to Students’ Lives Whether it is budgeting for family Christmas gifts, choosing short stories about your town, tying in the war of 1812 with Iraq, rapping about ions, or using Pop Culture Printables, students will care more if they identify themselves or their everyday lives in what they’re learning. 9. Track Improvement In those difficult classes, it can feel like a never-ending uphill battle, so try to remind students that they’ve come a long way. Set achievable, short-term goals, emphasis improvement, keep self-evaluation forms to fill out and compare throughout the year, or revisit mastered concepts that they once struggled with to refresh their confidence. 10. Reward Positive Behavior Outside the Classroom Tie service opportunities, cultural experiences, extracurricular activities into the curriculum for extra credit or as alternative options

on assignments. Have students doing Habitat for Humanity calculate the angle of the freshly cut board, count the nails in each stair and multiply the number of stairs to find the total number of nails; write an essay about their experience volunteering or their how they felt during basketball tryouts; or any other creative option they can come up with. Beyond the Classroom The idea of cash incentives is a timely yet controversial topic, so I’d like to look at this attempt to “buy achievement” through a different lens. It seems people are willing to dump some money into schools, so let’s come up with better ways to spend it. 11. Plan Dream Field Trips With your students, brainstorm potential field trips tiered by budget.  Cash incentive money can then be earned toward the field trips for good behavior, performance, etc. The can see their success in the classroom as they move up from the decent zoo field trip to the good state capitol day trip to the unbelievable week-long trip to New York City. Even though the reward is delayed, tracking progress will give students that immediate reward. 12. College Fund Accounts College dreams motivate athletes; why not adapt the academic track to be just as tangible for hard-working student. One way is to keep a tally of both the cash value and the potential school choice each student has earned. As freshman, they see they’ve earned one semester at the local junior college.  By second semester of junior year, they’re going to fouryears at State for half the price.  By graduation, watch out free ride to their dream school. About the Author: Annie Condron is the Editor in Chief at and the author of The “Top 12 Ways to Motivate Students” which is part of a new, exciting series made available by This series is meant to provide fun and insight relevant to K-12 education. is a new, online resource center designed by teachers, for teachers and is tailored to address the everyday needs of teachers both inside and outside of the classroom. To view the entire TeachHUB Top 12 series as well as other teacher recommended education tools, visit http://www. Printed From: http://www.

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Side by Side Community School Closing the Education Gap Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Tiffany Nichols Side By Side (SBS) Charter School in Norwalk, Connecticut was founded in 1997 as one of Connecticut’s first 12 charter schools. “The initial goal of the founding of Connecticut’s charter schools was to create schools that would provide a different kind of education program [and] meet the needs of the district’s failing students,” says Anne Dichele. Dichele, who is currently a professor at Quinnipiac University for the Masters of Arts in Teaching program, is one of the founders of SBS. Dichele recognized the need for a charter school in the area and got involved with the creation of SBS at the encouragement of one of her former students. That same former student is now a teacher at SBS. Norwalk is located in a relatively wealthy county though there are areas with a high percentage of children living at or below the poverty level. Creating SBS was necessary for closing the education gap between those children and their wealthier peers. SBS is a regional school, so although 80 percent of its student population is from Norwalk, there are over six different towns and cities represented by its students. Forty-two percent of the school qualifies for free or reduced lunch, and 74 percent of the student body is minority. The school determines who it will admit to its PreK through eighth Grade program through a traditional lottery system. There is a particularly long waiting list for the younger elementary grades because SBS admits students as young as three years old, which bodes well with working parents. In order to apply to SBS, families are required to attend a tour and an informational open house at the school. The purpose of this process is to allow parents to become more familiar with the SBS program, but also to inform them of the importance of their involvement in their children’s education. “We let them know that as a charter we operate on a limited budget and so we rely very heavily on our parental support,” declares Matthew Nittoly, current director at SBS. Nittoly initially aspired to be a chef, but later decided to get his teaching certification through a university internship program. The first place he interviewed for internship placement was SBS. Nittoly recounts that he truly admired the small, tight-knit community. He spent two years as an intern and Teaching Assistant in a fifth-grade classroom before being offered a full-time position. He taught for a while at the elementary school level before being endorsed in middle school math. When the former Director was leaving, Nittoly applied for the position, and received an overwhelmingly positive response from the community. After Nittoly was placed in the position of Director four years ago, he took steps toward fulfilling his necessary

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North SBS recognizes the importance of standardized testing, but does not use standardized tests as a sole measuring tool of whether or not it is a successful charter school.

requirements for being an administrator, and has seen great success ever since. One program that the school has devised to increase parental involvement is called Reading Assistance Pals (RAP), in which parents volunteer to be reading mentors and are then trained by a consultant and

paired with a child who is underachieving in reading. Volunteer parents are invited to come to professional development sessions to learn new techniques in reading, along with school teaching staff. The program is valuable to both students and parents because it keeps the lines of communication open between the home and school communities.

Congrats to

Side by Side Community School!

Great Schools for All We will not rest until every child in our state, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, has access to a great public school. Join the movement 85 Willow Street, New Haven, CT 06511

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“We’ve fallen under the gun some years. It’s not the driving force here at all. My problem with Adequate Yearly Progress being measured through standardized test scores is that it’s ‘snapshot’ data. Rather, we focus on progress over time. One of the problems with the systems used to measure accountability under ‘No Child Left Behind’ is that it applies differently to tiny charter schools. As a charter, we are not only too small to be measured using simple percentage benchmarks, but we are also accustomed to opening our doors to kids who are having academic and/or behavioral problems in the traditional public school system. It’s the nature of offering an alternative school program. Eventually, these students make progress, but it takes time and is not fairly represented by looking at a lone test score,” explains Nittoly.

Anne Dichele is currently looking at models of data collection and assessment in an effort to collect more long-term data on student progress. “We are far more ahead of the game than many other schools in many different school districts in looking at progress,” declares Dichele. The Adequate Yearly Progress formula only gives a picture of the progress of a student over a period of one year. In high-poverty, high-crime areas, the high school dropout rate is alarmingly high. Taking that into account, Dichele advocates that it is far more useful to track students into high school and take note of how many SBS students stay in school and continue on to college. Dichele believes that this is where charter success should be measured; beyond the classroom and into the long-term life progress of the student. The Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, more simply known as ConnCAN, is an advocacy organization working to further the improvement of the education system throughout the state. ConnCAN is behind the school’s effort to gather accurate data that represents the success of charter schools and helps them garner greater support for equality in charter funding. The law firm Shipman and Goodwin also works closely with SBS to keep them up to date on changing charter laws and statutes, which often affect student assessment and funding requirements.

for them at Side By Side. If you’re talking about academics, kids who graduate from here are on par with other middle schools. What’s different is the way they present themselves, avoid social difficulties, and learn how to be a social member of society. That’s important to us. We spend a lot of time on that.”

Nittoly takes pride in the small size of his school because of the attention and resources that can be devoted to each student. It is his hope that in the near future the SBS model will be replicated in other areas so that a greater population of children in need can obtain a quality education.

An area that Nittoly stresses as equally important to the traditional academic program is the social curriculum. SBS spends a great deal of time talking and teaching about social justice in its classrooms in order to educate students on the importance of advocating for the resolution of society’s social ills. There is a full-time social worker on campus, teachers are trained in dealing with conflict resolution, and students themselves are taught to resolve disputes peacefully and cooperatively. Teaching students to handle conflicts in a positive manner is especially important when working with children from high-poverty and high-crime areas because they are exponentially more likely to be involved in an altercation. “We’ve been around long enough to see that it works. We have an annual alumni forum where we invite graduates back and we quantify the data they give us, and then we collect as much useful information as we can. It’s good to hear from these kids, what worked

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Neighborhood House Charter School Committed to Success Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Jim Barlow Neighborhood House Charter School (NHCS), is located in Dorchester, Massachusetts, a community in southern Boston just north of Quincy. NHCS serves 400 kindergarten through eighth grade students, with African American, Latino and Asian students making up 75 percent of the school’s population. Headmaster Kevin Andrews considers himself the school’s architect rather than the founding headmaster, which is his official role. “We have a diverse staff and community. We are an urban school with a diverse student body and staff that mirrors the community. We celebrate our diversity and come together every day to provide the best education possible in a safe, clean and respectful environment.” Andrews earned a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Massachusetts and a master’s degree in education from Antioch College. He previously served as a teacher in Brookline and principal

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in both Brookline and Newton. Most recently, Mr. Andrews, along with 11 other Boston Educators, received the honor of being awarded a BARR Foundation Fellowship, Class of 2007 in recognition for outstanding leadership and contributions to Education in the city of Boston. In summer 2007, the fellows spent three weeks in rural Africa, exploring teaching approaches and speaking with educators. The fellowship is a three-year honor, during which the group meets regularly to share what they are doing and how to work together to improve the city they love. The school was founded by parents and was awarded its first charter in 1994. NHCS is publicly funded but independently managed and is accredited by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. There are over 2,000 students on the school’s waiting list.

The academic approach is a mix of several initiatives. The school uses a melding of direct instruction, individualized group and differentiated techniques -- all necessary for the school’s diverse 400 students. Some come from broken homes and 15 percent are in counseling. The school’s long-running, full-service approach even has school nurses taking students to see pediatricians and dentists, a service that began when the school was founded in 1995 with just 51 students. Special Services “We will do everything we need to do to ensure that our kids receive the education and services that they need to be healthy and successful; from counseling, basic dental care, and advocating for whatever support services are needed.” Andrews said. “That’s what we do. We have many partnerships with social service agencies and hospitals. We raise $1 million a year beyond our $6 million annual budget. The bottom line is that hard work never killed anyone. We take this responsibility very seriously. If we can’t be a model for all schools, we shouldn’t exist.” Many such health and social services draw upon family insurance policies, which the school helps parents navigate. The school has established and maintained a myriad of relationships with area health centers, hospitals and agencies that, in turn, provide support in terms of services, program collaborations and shared-costs arrangements. The school’s Web site lists an impressive group of foundations and corporate sponsors that help NHCS offer these services. Committed to Success “Succeed Anywhere” is the school’s educational philosophy, Andrews said. Every student at the school will have the necessary knowledge and skills to attend a high quality high school, whether that school is public or private, focused on college preparation, the technical trades, or the creative arts. The school Web site notes: “NHCS offers individualized learning programs for each student -- including students where ‘special effort’ is needed to overcome learning, physical, social or emotional challenges. The school is committed to developing the interests and talents of all of its students.” Juggling Requirements NHCS moved into a new 75,000-square-foot facility three years ago. This move provided an opportunity for 200 additional students to be enrolled, many of who were struggling academically. Immediately following this enrollment expansion, NHCS, once ranked as the state’s number one charter school, failed to achieve Academic Yearly Progress in 2007 and 2008. NHCS did, however achieve Academic Yearly Progress this year. Published state results for 2008 showed the school had achieved Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in every area, including in a math subgroup it had failed to meet in 2005 and 2006 because the expansion also included hiring and training over half of the 70 staff. “There are lots of things here I’m proud of,” Andrews said. “I’m proud of how, academically, we got back on track. I am also proud of our

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North full-service approach to education. We have a solid arts program that includes KidLab, art, music, theater and dance. These programs are an important part of a well rounded education and it is important to be creative when budgets are stretched to keep these programs intact. I’m proud of the people who are here, our school community.” In 2000, NHCS started a non-profit called Project for School Innovation. Andrews helped found this as a pilot program to draw upon the best practices of Boston’s urban and suburban schools. The organization then shares these practices with schools in Massachusetts and across the US. The school also launched “Kid Lab,” which is taught beginning at the kindergarten level. KidLab is a unique hands-on science and art program. In KidLab, students engage in experiments designed to build their skills in four areas: critical thinking, inquisitiveness, academic persistence and creative doing. It’s this additional creative learning that children remember when they are doing their MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System). Andrews is critical of AYP requirements and the expectation under

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No Child Left Behind, in particular that standards eventually must reach 100 percent. “That doesn’t allow any leeway. Name a school, business, anything that’s 100 percent at anything? Even here, when we get our kids to the 85 and 90 percent mark, we have done a very good job. One year, we had 100 percent of the kids in eighth-grade English score 100 percent; the following year it was 85 percent. If the goal is 100 percent, and you’re close, you should be fine. If you’re at 85 percent and getting penalized, there’s something wrong with the requirement,” he said. Serving students at all levels, NHCS is making its mark on each and every student that passes through its doors. With its proven ability to drastically improve its academics, the school is destined to continue this service to the greater Boston community. Andrews is optimistic: “With the election of a new president and the appointment of a progressive US secretary of education, we are in the midst of an exciting time for education in our country. As educators we need to stand ready to take on the challenges ahead and provide our children with a superior education.”

Benjamin Banneker Charter Public School Beating the Odds Produced by Hanim Samara & Written by Tiffany Nichols Benjamin Banneker Public Charter School (BB) in Cambridge, Massachusetts is doing the difficult and rewarding work of educating Cambridge and Boston’s most in-need children. BB was founded by a concerned group of community members, civic leaders, and parents who wanted to ensure that the area’s most vulnerable children received a proper education in math and the sciences. The school serves children from 17 different towns, from where they are bused with the aid of the service of Local Motion of Boston. Eighty percent of the students at BB qualify for free or reduced lunch; students that

the numbers have shown overwhelmingly underachieve. When talking about a school that is 72 percent African American and 22 percent Haitian Creole, the odds are stacked even higher against their success. But Executive Director and CEO, Marlon Davis, has made a career of beating the odds and does not believe that his students’ circumstances have to dictate their futures. Davis received his undergraduate degree from Providence College in Psychology. While in college, he served as a math tutor to students enrolled in a court-mandated math program

in Providence, Rhode Island. He went on to participate in Teach for America, and began his teaching career as a grade five teacher in Trenton, New Jersey. After his experience, he realized that he wanted to affect change on a greater scale, and he went on to get his Master’s degree from Harvard University, before going back to serve in the capacity of administrator in New York and New Jersey. His future plans include returning to graduate school for a second time to earn his PhD. Davis is now responsible for making sure an annual operating budget of $6 million makes an optimal impact on the education of

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North 325 students in kindergarten through 6th grade, while also funding approximately 80 personnel. Initially, BB’s mission was to specialize in providing students with an education in math and the sciences, the weakest areas statistically for minorities and those living at or below the poverty line. Now, BB is adjusting with the times and expanding its initial goal by educating its students in the STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). STEM is a major movement in education and will be critical in making American-educated students competitive on a global scale. The school has already added engineering to the curriculum and has begun to incorporate math, writing, reading, social studies, art, and music into the teaching of science. In keeping with this emphasis on science and technology, the school is in the process of starting their one-to-one computing initiative. BB wants to join academic concepts in both the computing and STEM initiatives. The program will be piloted with the 6th graders, and the money has been earmarked for the 2009 and 2010 school years.

“We don’t claim to have the best of everything, but we are providing a quality education for students who would not otherwise have the opportunity.” ~Marlon Davis

“I believe that if we provide students with 24/7 access to technology and provide with them with a structured approach in terms of usage, we can achieve greater student performance,” says Davis. In reaching students, Davis advocates for a traditional approach, balanced with innovative teaching methods. He finds that constructivist methods work best, in which students have the opportunity to experience their daily lessons through hands-on learning. Essentially, classes are taught by a “teaching team,” which consists of a lead teacher and a teacher associate, who work together in order to meet students where they are in their learning and achievement and move them forward. BB continues to refine and expand its inquiry based, hands on science curriculum, the core of which consists of nationally tested science units that have been funded by the National Science Foundation. In addition, volunteers from Harvard University, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Tufts University work in classrooms with students and teachers strengthening science content knowledge. Students in grades five and six participate in an Astronomy Club and summer science programs that give them access to the robotic telescope and other science resources at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. These resources are made available through a two-year grant from the National Science Foundation and the purpose of the grant is to investigate increasing student interest in science through the use of technology. Teachers and students also participate in another National Science Foundation funded initiative with the Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach to develop

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and pilot Lego Engineering units that support the development of both science concepts and engineering processes. To fully accommodate the significant number of students who are of Haitian Creole descent, the school has hired a number of Haitian Creole staff members who act as a liaison between teaching staff and parents. Internal data has shown that the school’s efforts are working. These students are shown to be doing better at BB then they would be at their neighborhood public schools. African American males are performing at a significantly higher level than they would in public school; however, Davis knows that there is always room for improvement. “We don’t claim to have the best of everything, but we are providing a quality education for students who would not otherwise have the opportunity.” As a public charter school, BB is required to meet Adequate Yearly Progress requirements. Davis agrees with the concept of accountability and that it is necessary to hold teachers to standards and monitor the progress of students, but he also knows the reality of the student population that he works with every day. He recognizes that there are circumstances that go far beyond those present in the classroom which dictate how well a student will retain material, and whether a student will have all of the resources necessary to succeed. “When you have a high number of students living at the poverty line attending your school, naturally problems that exist outside of the school come in to the school and affect the school. We have to service kids on a number of different levels in order for them to be successful. Our challenge is how to address academic success while also making sure that everything in their lives is stable and conducive to learning. ” Davis argues that in a larger public school district, there are more resources available to tackle key issues, but in a small school like BB, they have to do the best they can with the resources they have. BB receives a significant amount of Title I money, which is used to provide Supplementary Education Services to students after school and on Saturday, in some cases, for students who need extra help. Sometimes BB has to enlist the assistance of other agencies to meet the language needs of its students, or they even go as far as contacting Child Services if there are dire problems in a student’s household. When it comes to increasing resources and aid for student achievement, Davis is passionate about charters coming together with their public school counterparts and using all available resources for the greater good. The school also plans to use federal stimulus money to increase professional development resources for its teaching staff. He is adamant that BB uses all resources available to increase the potential of their students and the effectiveness of the teachers. Davis stresses that all of the kids at public and charter schools are coming from the same neighborhoods and have the same needs, so school officials need to share information on the best methods and practices to educate their students. He also stresses that the importance of having a dedicated staff that is committed to high standards for ALL students and feels that this message should be unified with other public schools. “Us against them is counterproductive, so I hope we can move to a more unified approach about how we provide quality teaching and a quality education to ALL students. Every school would be better.”

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Codman Academy Charter Public School Linking Work Ethic to Real Life Experience Produced by Hanim Samara & Written by Tiffany Nichols In a community where the two existing public schools were plagued by violence and falling below state standards, it became clear to local community members that providing an alternative was imperative. Community members called for a school that would incorporate arts and academic rigor with the ideals and practices of expeditionary learning. This approach encourages depth over breadth and links student work ethic to real-life experience. The response to the outcry was the creation of The Codman Academy Charter Public School (CA) in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The school received its charter from the Department of Education in February of 2001 and opened

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its doors to an eager community. Codman Academy initially opened with 34 ninth-grade students on the grounds of the Codman Square Health Center. The School is the first charter high school in Dorchester and is providing the community’s children with the college preparatory education they deserve. The school’s mission states this strongly: to prepare students for “full participation in the intellectual, economic, and civil life of society.”

Principal Thabiti Brown knows the value of a quality education. He was able to attend magnet schools before completing his undergraduate work at Brown University and earning his Master’s from Columbia Teachers College. Brown realized when he got to college that, unfortunately, he was not the norm. He decided to participate in the Summer Bridge program working with innercity youth before moving to Panama for two years to teach at an international school. Brown is particularly dedicated to the vision of CA because he is one of the founding teachers and himself helped to craft its mission. Expeditionary Learning Schools (ELS) is a non-profit organization that has opened successful schools around the country and partners with elementary and secondary schools to improve student achievement. CA is committed to the ELS learning model which demands a challenging curriculum that is engaging, encourages inquiry-based learning, and requires a school community to promote integrity and good citizenship. The primary learning technique used is that of project-based learning. In keeping with this approach, CA students are required to complete a “passage portfolio” in order to graduate from the 10th grade and move on to the 11th grade. The portfolio is designed to prepare students for tasks that they will be asked to complete during the 11th and 12th grades. The students are mandated to demonstrate their understanding of course objectives (Learning Targets) through successful completion of projects in each of the core subjects, which include Humanities, Math, and Science. Each portfolio includes all of the original work the student did during development and essential lessons learned. Students must also write reflections that include evidence for how submitted portfolio items demonstrate the learning that was intended by the project. All projects are accompanied by a bibliography and are graded according to a rubric. After submitting written work, students present to a panel comprised of a teacher, a member of the community, and a ninth-grade student. The panel is an important part of the ELS learning model because ELS is a proponent of students participating in their own original research to present to audiences that stretch beyond the classroom environment. Students are to complete all of their courses with a minimum grade of a C, and finish the Passage Portfolio before being promoted to the Senior Institute.

We are pleased to support Codman Academy Charter Public School!

Although CA uses the ELS approach with its students, Brown recognizes that there is not necessarily one approach that works for all students and that produces the same impact. “At Codman, most of our incoming 9th grade students arrive below grade level in math, reading and writing. We need to improve student engagement and basic skill understanding. Since students are more apt to engage in the hard work necessary to get up to grade level when they are interested in the task at hand, we want to take an angle that is high interest,” asserts Brown. Expeditionary Learning Schools has 10 principles which are intended to guide the learning process, not only as it pertains to the classroom, but also as it pertains to every aspect of life. These principles are The Primacy of Self- Discovery, The Having of Wonderful Ideas, The Responsibility for Learning, Empathy

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North and Caring, Success and Failure, Collaboration and Competition, Diversity and Inclusion, The Natural World, Solitude and Reflection, and Service and Compassion. These principles are areas of learning that serve as a foundation for the education of the entire student. Whether students come into CA on grade level or behind, different techniques in the 10 principle areas are used to reach them and cater to their individual learning needs. On campus, the school employs a social worker whose job it is to support the mental health development of students and families. CA is currently working with its partner, the Codman Square Health Center, on a plan to access government stimulus money that will fund new space for the two organizations. The vision is for a communal space between the school and health center to promote an expansive vision of health that includes education, physical and mental health for CA students and Dorchester community members. CA is committed to staying on top of its students’ behavior and enforcing discipline. The school uses its proprietary citizenship system to track student behavior for the week, which is then emailed to parents on a weekly basis. Parents receive a phone call if their children are tardy or absent from class. These techniques serve to promote good behavior amongst CA students, as well as

keep parents involved in the day-to-day education of their children. Parents are even invited to participate in seminar classes on Saturdays with their students where everything from Caribbean history to Go Cart design is taught. CA is receiving national recognition for their work. In 2008, the school was one of 22 schools nationally featured in a project titled, “Smaller, Safer, Saner, Successful Schools” produced by the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota. In the same year, CA was also named Senior School of the Year at the State Level for the 28th Annual Youth Awards for Energy Achievement, awarded by the NEED Project for outstanding, project-based learning about energy. In 2009, CA received the Commonwealth Award, which is given in recognition of “the demonstrated importance of creativity and innovation to student achievement and success.” Brown is thrilled with the strides CA has made, and hopes to only improve in the future. “We are hopeful that we are building a new building and trying to expand our space. We really want to figure out an effective way to support our incoming students because we want our students on grade level by 10th grade. I hope that in five years we have taken strides to do that. I hope we continue to see our graduates go on to college and graduating from college. I’m excited to hire our first alum.”

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East New York Preparatory Charter School Where Dreams and Education Meet Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Tiffany Nichols For a small number of children in East Brooklyn/Brownsville, East New York Preparatory School (ENYP) is a muchneeded silver lining. ENYP opened in the fall of 2006 with 100 students in kindergarten and first grade. The school has admitted 50 students per year since its inception, and now serves kindergarten through third grade, with plans to expand through eighth grade. When speaking with Ms. Sheila Joseph, Head of School, it is evident that ENYP is dedicated to creating a sense of community and responsibility in its students. ENYP has created a unique learning environment in which students are encouraged to contribute to their community through their own pursuits and interests. Sheila Joseph grew up in a housing project in

Queens. Her own school bore a resemblance ENYP; even though she was economically disadvantaged, she was always expected to go to college. She went on to teach with the New York City Teaching Fellows program, and discovered a desire to start a school in a neighborhood with a significant percentage of incarcerated youth. She chose East New York/Brownsville because it is one of the communities with the highest rate of government funds being spent on incarceration. “I want to see what happens when you put that money into quality schools. The kids from that same block can earn millions of dollars in college scholarship funds.” The sense of social responsibility and community that is fostered by ENYP staff

is a vision to strive for in every school. The THINK Program, which stands for Tolerance, Hard Work, Integrity, No Excuses, and Knowledge, is the ingenious invention of Joseph and is a remarkable example of how to develop the entire student, teaching beyond a test to foster integrity and social responsibility. Every morning ENYP students gather in the THINK circle, to be reminded of the values that they should keep in mind while learning and interacting with their school community. “Like Martha Stewart and Oprah do morning yoga with their staff, I wanted to do rituals and chants with the students in the morning to get them charged and motivated,” says Joseph. Also while in the circle, students are encouraged to voice any problems they have had with their peers. The student who has

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North offended his or her peer is required to apologize while in the circle, and promise never to commit the offense again. Joseph testifies to the success of this method of teaching life lessons. The school makes an effort to re-indoctrinate the students with the THINK principals every year. During summer vacation, right before the official start of school, is THINK camp. The camp is a required week-long program for ENYP kindergarten students, and a three-day program for returning students. The school is divided into learning pods to foster a sense of community amongst the students and their parents so that they have a group of people in the same position and learning level to begin building relationships. Surrounded by a Vision As a college preparatory school, ENYP places a great deal of weight on the importance of attaining a college education. “Two months out of the year we use biographies and autobiographies of famous African Americans and Latinos to reinforce core values. It is important for the students to see people who look like them who have succeeded and accomplished great things,” declares Joseph.

"I want the walls of the school to tell the students’ stories and motivate them to dream for more.” ~Sheila Jospeh

This vision is constantly surrounding ENYP students. Students post their personal goals on one side of the school’s main hallway, taking inspiration from the autobiographies and biographies that they have studied. This portion of the wall is also covered with pictures of famous minorities, and people who have contributed to the school. On the opposite side, paraphernalia is reflected to remind students that a college education will give them the training necessary to reach these goals. Going the Extra Mile The success of ENYP students is a testament to the lengths that the school administration is willing to go to ensure that its students succeed. An interim assessment is done every six weeks to keep track of student progress and make sure that teachers are catering to weak areas. Students who are struggling with the material are targeted with smaller group instruction, as well as tutoring throughout the day, after school and on Saturdays if necessary. In order to further ensure that students were receiving the assistance they needed, in October of 2008, Joseph consulted with Penda Aiken to provide the school with an experienced professional. A group of 10 students who were having trouble on their interim assessments needed additional attention. Penda Aiken provided an instructor with six years of experience and by March these students, who were performing below grade level in October, were reading at grade level. Their assessments went from 16 percent to 98 percent. “That was huge,” says Joseph. The Role of ENYS’ Teachers

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North Perhaps it is Ms. Joseph’s advocacy of the “pay by performance” method of compensation for teachers that encourages her teaching staff to always push for the most yearly performance progress possible. “I am a big advocate of performance pay,” says Joseph. Teachers are rewarded when more than 80 percent of their students are performing at grade level. Eighty percent is the standard, and anything above that is rewarded through pay raises and recognition. Every Friday, teaching staff, school administrators, Special Education Teachers, Intervention Teachers (responsible for tutoring) and the Assessment Coordinator come together in an Instructional Support Team to discuss what is working in the classroom, and where improvement is needed. Teachers also participate in a threeweek training session during the summer in which they reach out to students and parents; and once a month there is a full day of professional development for teachers without the students present. The conversations cover everything from moving a child’s seat, to offering assistance to parents of students, and even giving students the option to stay after school to do homework if their home environment is too unstable. Some students come in on Saturday’s for extra help and further continuity. Joseph hopes to one day expand the school, and has sought the help of the architectural firm, Rickenbacker and Leung , to find a space and a design for the new facility. East New York Preparatory School is proof of the success that comes with making students and teachers accountable for their own progress. Sheila Joseph is helping to raise a generation of Americans who will know the value of education and the positive impact that human capital can have on the global community.

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Williamsburg Charter High School A Founder's Vision for Local Youth Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Tiffany Nichols Eddie Calderon-Melendez, founder of Williamsburg Charter High School (WCHS) in Brooklyn, New York, started this school determined to improve the prospects for children in the neighborhood where he grew up. The Origins of a Dream Mr. Calderon-Melendez is himself a product of Williamsburg’s public schools. He went on to attend college and graduate school in New York City, at New York University and Columbia University. Mr. Calderon-Melendez’s commitment to local youth has been a theme throughout his professional career. He worked for a number of years in the Bronx before returning to Williamsburg, where he built the youth and family services division of a large nonprofit into a premier youth development and after school education provider.

WCHS is proud to boast an 81.5 percent graduation rate for its first class, far in excess of New York’s citywide average of 58 percent.

Working with kids in the after school hours was fulfilling, but it brought into sharp reality the failure these young people were encountering during their school-day hours. With that in mind, Mr. Calderon-Melendez took on the challenge of school reform in his neighborhood, attempting to transform the notoriously dysfunctional Van Arsdale High School into a smaller, better school. However, the bureaucratic challenges to achieving change within the Department of Education’s existing parameters were formidable, and with deep regret, Mr. Calderon-Melendez stepped away from that effort. Despite the outcome of the Van Arsdale initiative, Mr. CalderonMelendez found himself more committed than ever to the issue of urban school reform, particularly at the high school level. That led him to pursue the possibility of opening a charter high school. In 2004, his dream was realized, and New York City’s first high-schoolonly charter school, authorized by the New York City Department of Education, was born. Calderon-Melendez was fortunate enough to secure a loan from the Nonprofit Financial Fund for $375,000 in order to finance the endeavor. Williamsburg Charter High School (WCHS) began with a class of 131 ninth grade students and graduated its first class in June 2008. Students matriculated at a wide range of colleges and universities, including Johns Hopkins University, Wesleyan University and Mr.

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Calderon-Melendez’s own alma mater, New York University. Throughout the school’s development, there have been several other outside organizations that contributed greatly to its success. These include WCHS: EQ Architecture designed the new school building; JPS Solicitors provide its consulting services to help with federal grant and renewal applications; and Fruchter, Rosen, and Co. provides the school with auditing services.� A New High School The mission of WCHS is to engage students in a “rigorous and demanding liberal arts education� leading to graduation and to the pursuit of higher education. One of the foundations of the school’s academic program is the study of Latin, which all students undertake. Latin is considered the lynchpin of a strong, classically based education. By undertaking sustained study of Latin, WCHS’s students arrive at a deeper understanding of the origins of much of the English language, and well as the interconnections among language, art, literature and history in western society. For inner-city youth unaccustomed to high expectations and a demanding curriculum, this can be a challenge. For WCHS, it is a chance to provide students with the support they need to meet that challenge. In addition to the Latin requirement, all students entering ninth grade are screened for competency in English and math. Students showing remedial math needs are automatically enrolled in a comprehensive, two-year algebra sequence designed to build skills and fill in gaps for


R  C. Fruchter, Rosen and Company P.C. (“FRC�) is a “boutique� full service CPA firm originated in 1990 and servicing a diversified client base primarily in the New York metropolitan area. Our continuity of staff and hands-on partner involvement has allowed us to provide quality audit, and tax services, as well as consulting services to many of our clients. We currently provide auditing services for more than 20 charter schools. Since its inception, FRC has continuously passed the AICPA peer review required every three years. The review evaluates our firm’s organizational structure and system of quality control policies and procedures. FRC wishes to offer its congratulations to Williamsburg Charter High School for its feature in the summer edition of Charter Schools Today.

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students who enter WCHS below grade level in math. All freshmen are enrolled in Freshman Seminar, an introductory course focused on critical thinking and writing. By emphasizing math and English competency from day one, WCHS works to ensure that students have the foundational skills in which more sophisticated learning can be embedded. What Success Looks Like Statistics regarding high school graduation among inner-city youth--particularly the Hispanic and black students who represent the majority of students at WCHS—are dire. Yet in a community in which many students are likely to drop out and lose track of their long-term goals, WCHS is proud to boast an 81.5 percent graduation rate for its first class, far in excess of New York’s citywide average of 58 percent. That same class also secured $1.9 million in scholarships and financial aid to enable them to pursue their dreams of higher education.

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An Enormous Need With 16,000 students between the ages of 14 and 18 living in

the surrounding area, and limited options for quality high school education, the need for more schools like WCHS is strong. With that in mind, Mr. Calderon-Melendez and the board of WCHS embarked on an ambitious expansion plan. In autumn 2009, two new high

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North schools will be launched—Believe Northside Charter High School and Believe Southside Charter High School. Both are modeled after WCHS, and hope to replicate its many successes. All of these schools are expected to operate under the umbrella of the Believe High Schools Network, a charter management organization set to launch in July 2009.


A Place to Call Home WCHS, along with the Believe High Schools Network, will be moving to a new home come autumn 2009. That new facility, at 116,000 square feet, is the largest, privately developed charter facility in New York State, will be home to a school of nearly 1,000 students (projected to grow to 1,250), and will provide state-of-the-art educational opportunities while still hewing to WCHS’s rigorous, college-focused curriculum. The two new schools will inhabit the space being vacated by WCHS. It is not only students who will benefit from having a “home of their own,” but teachers as well. The strong and ongoing emphasis at WCHS on professional development will be enhanced by having appropriate facilities for seminars, workshops and other faculty learning opportunities. Students and faculty from the new schools will also have a chance to engage in cross-school learning, further reinforcing the connection among all stakeholders at the three schools. Opportunities to showcase student talent will be greatly enhanced

36 | Charter Schools Today

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with the availability of theater, dance and studio art space. And parent engagement is expected to increase as well, given that WCHS will now have a home of its own. Eddie Calderon-Melendez began his own educational journey in Williamsburg. With the success of WCHS, and the opening of two new high schools, he is giving back to the youth of his community what was given to him so many years ago: the chance to excel in an educational setting that cares about students as learners and as individuals.

Maritime Academy Charter School Preparing Minds in a Port City Produced by Hanim Samara & Written by R.C. Anderson Maritime Academy Charter High School (MACHS) opened in Pennsylvania in 2003 and is now one of the largest charter schools in the country that focuses on marine subjects. According to MACHS’s written information, although any student is accepted, those who are “serious about learning and have a deep interest in math, science and technology are encouraged to apply.” Although MACHS is currently a fifth through twelfth grade school, founder and CEO Dr. Ann Waiters hopes to add a fourth-grade class by next year. The goal is to groom children at a younger age for the higher level of courses they will participate in if they remain at the school.

Although Waiters found “people looking at her quizzically,” when MACHS was initially opened, she continued to adamantly believe if children are introduced to maritime concepts and a rigorous education at a young age, it will allow them “to reach out for available opportunities” when they are older. Waiters does not believe MACHS steers children toward a particular career path, however. Instead, it opens their minds “for what may be available to them in the future. Maritime education goes above and beyond [traditional education],” she explains. When Waiters investigated the resources

Philadelphia had to offer, she realized it was “a great port city” with maritime options students knew nothing about. Waiters wanted to open a school which took advantage of these numerous maritime experiences and could “provide [unique] opportunities for students.” After graduating from MACHS, students can now focus on university programs or jobs that work specifically with maritime “government agencies, environmental groups, and businesses.” Students are also exclusively equipped to follow a more distinctive career path by working on the nation’s waterways, or becoming a maritime lawyer or scientist. These are just a few of the prospects open to

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students with the proper background, such as the one they obtain through MACHS. This idea has since exploded in popularity. MACHS began in 2003 with 500 students, thanks to extensive advertising. By 2008, the student population grew to 781 with almost 1,000 students on the waiting list. The fame has grown to such an extent that Waiters is now considering opening another maritimebased charter school in the Erie or Pittsburgh area and will soon begin discussions regarding these possibilities. The success of MACHS is likely due to the curriculum’s “heavy dose of math, science, oceanography and environmental studies” as well as other opportunities, both in the classroom and out of it, Waiters believes. MACHS provides students with a classical education but also ample opportunity for real-life, hands-on experience with ships and marine businesses through internships and service learning projects. Extensive cooperative learning is used so students can “feel it and get their hands on it [in order to] understand [maritime concepts].” Although expectations are high and the curriculum

“We want students to understand they have a responsibility to themselves and also their community.” ~Dr. Ann Waiters 38 | Charter Schools Today

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difficult, MACHS retains 95 to 98 percent of its students. Students in eleventh and twelfth grade are given real-world experience through their service learning projects. To graduate, each student must complete one project by the end of their senior year. To fulfill this requirement, students volunteer in one of many community locations, such as Seaman’s Church that provides a refuge for seaman newly in port, allowing them to connect with their family, play games and relax. Students also volunteer at the Seaport museum while others learn to build boats. Although many projects are directly related to marine topics, some are not since students can volunteer at their churches or elsewhere in the community. Students are required to do more than volunteer. They must also meet pre-set goals and write reports explaining what they did and the outcome. Volunteering takes place not only during part of the school day, but also during their personal time on the weekends. “We want students to understand they have a responsibility to themselves and also their community,” said Waiters.

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Many MACHS board members also have direct ties to the maritime industry, one being captain of the ship, Gazella. Students are allowed to work on Gazella, and, for those who are 18, can leave port and work on the ship while it is at sea.

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40 | Charter Schools Today

Summer 2009

Although MACHS has only graduated one small class, these service learning projects have already yielded results. One student left high school and was hired by the shipping company he completed his project with. Advanced study in the classroom exists as well. In-depth academic study is available in specialty courses such as maritime law, which is highly technical. Other classes specifically tailored to the maritime theme are available in the nautical sciences, ecology, astronomy, meteorology, marine navigation, shipboard pollution control, traffic services for safe ports and transportation. Students also have the opportunity to go on simulated voyages and deal with the excitement and problems that arise from being on a ship at sea while remaining in the safety of their classroom. Students also have the option of working with the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship. By partnering with this organization, students can develop and write business plans as well as learn other practical skills. Although service learning projects are required only of those in upper high school, other hands-on projects are provided for younger students. Elementary and middle school children are often taken

to the Seaport museum where they learn about maritime science and history. When older, they are introduced to maritime related companies such as K-Sea Transportation. Often, they are given trips on barges and provided a glimpse into what it feels like to be a sailor on the river. In 2007, students even built their own boat and sailed it down the Delaware River. Additionally, older students are allowed to sail with the local yacht club, or take rowing and scuba diving lessons. Other trips are also taken to colleges such as the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and SUNT Maritime College. Students take at least six trips each year giving them “plenty of experience outside the four walls [of the classroom],” said Waiters. To accommodate rapid student growth, Maritime Academy turned to Salvo Landau Gruen & Rogers, a boutique law firm with offices in Pennsylvania and Delaware, to help the school lease additional space and, subsequently, to purchase certain buildings. Owning the real estate is a more cost-effective option for the Academy. Salvo Landau attorneys Stephen Salvo and Eric Silberstein also consult with the school’s board of trustees, advising them on various governance matters.

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When it comes to equipping each classroom with affordable and unique furniture and supplies, the school turns to Hertz Furniture Systems, a company that has been in the industry since 1966. Next year, the school is implementing a type of “boot camp” they are calling “The Bridge” during the summer for new students entering the fifth and ninth grades. Middle school children will have three hours of math, science, language arts and personal development. High



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North school students will attend classes in these same subjects for four hours each day. This intensive summer school will prepare new students for the rigors of the classroom and give them a better chance to be competitive with their classmates. Although other sister maritime charter schools are being considered for the future, Waiters is currently concerned with expanding the buildings available for MACHS. Two buildings were recently purchased and two others were remodeled. Regardless of whether MACHS expands to other areas of the state or country, Waiters aims to continue to “offer students of Philadelphia a school with its unique maritime theme that opens doors of opportunity that students can find nowhere else.�

42 | Charter Schools Today

Summer 2009

Imani Education Circle Charter School Teaching Cultural Sensitivity Produced by Hanim Samara & Written by Tiffany Nichols The public education system in America has often been criticized for a lack of racial sensitivity and diversity in teaching practices. Imani Education Circle Charter School (IEC) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania combats that criticism with an innovative school doctrine and curriculum that promotes racial and cultural unity.

“Imani” is the seventh principle of the African American holiday of Kwanzaa and means “faith.”

The school was founded by Dr. Francine Fulton, who named the school after her granddaughter. “Imani” is the seventh principle of the African American holiday of Kwanzaa and means “faith.” Fulton had completed the certification program to become a principal, only to discover that it would be very difficult to “do school” the way she envisioned. She determined that her true desire was to create a charter school that was aligned with her own beliefs and ideology. Fulton is the cofounder of an African-Centered high school, but soon realized that her niche was in elementary education. IEC opened its doors in 1999 to a waiting list of 3,000 students. The school recently celebrated their 10th year anniversary with a very festive occasion on March 21, 2009 which was attended by board members, faculty and staff, students, (present and former), community partners and wellwishers. Dr. Fulton is proud of the school’s approach to education that promotes an AfricanCentered view of the world while stressing the importance of all cultures and ethnicities,

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North incorporating them into the school curriculum. IEC recognizes the importance of students seeing people who look like themselves reflected in their history and literature lessons. Students are taught that Africa is the birthplace of human civilization and that DNA evidence proves that all races originated from that continent. In light of this, IEC teaches its students that they all belong to one race: the human race. This philosophy leaves no room or basis for racial discrimination and prejudice. The African-Centered philosophy is incorporated into math and science lessons as students are taught that both math and science began with the ancient Egyptians, a civilization that existed even before that of Ancient Greece and Rome. Although the majority of the student population is African American, Fulton asserts that the parents of non-African American students and the students themselves greatly appreciate the use of an African-Centered philosophy in the classroom . Imani Education Circle Charter School has also developed a model for teaching children to read that is producing great results. In innercity schools, many African American children of low socio-economic status are being passed through grades without developing the ability to read or think critically. IEC has engineered an approach that has pre-kindergarten students reading before they reach first grade. The reading technique is called “direct instruction (DI)� and it places a great deal of emphasis on the phonetic pronunciation of words. Teachers are trained in DI at the beginning of every year and a reading specialist comes in once a month to observe and make sure that the direct instruction technique is being delivered properly. “Our model

44 | Charter Schools Today

Summer 2009

has really worked,” asserts Fulton. “I encourage any school principal that is concerned about reading skills to adopt it.” As most charter school administrators know and stress in their school leadership, the school curriculum is only as strong as the teachers who are delivering the lessons. This is why, at IEC, educating teachers is just as important as educating students. The school received a four year grant to participate in the TAP Program. It is a relatively new program on the East Coast and was created to help teachers become better deliverers of instruction. IEC students showed marked improvement on their six week benchmark evaluations, and teachers meet periodically to discuss what is going on in their classrooms. There is a cluster meeting once each week to review techniques that have been working with students to achieve results, and also discuss techniques that need to be discontinued. The meetings are led by the Leadership/TAP team which includes two master teachers and three mentor teachers at IEC. The master teachers do not have classroom responsibilities whereas the mentor teachers continue to have classroom responsibilities as teachers as well. The Chief Academic Officer oversees the entire program. This approach seems to be working well for teachers because they have a forum to discuss their strengths and weaknesses, and share best practices to have the greatest positive impact on students.

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One of the most exciting missions of late for IEC is Fulton’s endeavor to open a sister school in The Gambia, West Africa in September 2009. Fulton had the vision to start this school four years ago and has been working on the project ever since. The school in The Gambia is being built from the ground up. There are plans for an exchange program,

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North with teachers and students participating, to take place between the Imani Education Circle in Philadelphia and Imani Education Circle in The Gambia. This will be particularly advantageous in teaching an African-centered curriculum because there is no better way for children to learn about the culture and history of the African continent than for students and teachers to travel there. “We are opening with 90 students, but I am hoping that eventually we will have more. I am now in constant fundraising mode. I started this mission without any corporate backing, so now I am orchestrating a full fledged capital campaign for both Imani America and Imani Africa.” Fulton takes pride in the fact that IEC is beating the odds. The school has passed its Adequate Yearly Progress requirement four out of the last five years; the one year it did not pass, the mark was missed by 1.8 percent of a point. Even in a school that is nearly 100 percent free or reduced lunch, students are learning to read at an early age and excelling on their exams. Every six weeks students are given benchmark assessments to ensure that they are making progress, and weak areas are

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“There are many students who are going through hardships at home that affect their learning. To base funding on student achievement alone is unfair.” Fulton is a proponent of Title I funds because they allow her to fund the materials she needs as well as hire experienced teaching staff. IEC is also grateful for the help it receives from corporate entities. In fact, Intelligence Resources is working on an E-Rate grant for the school which will help to subsidize school operating expenses such as the phone bill. Langsam Stevens has assisted the school in its legal affairs in the past.

OmniVest is honored to have successfully worked with Imani in securing $8 million in new market tax-credit financing and continues to provide Imani with tailored on-going accounting/financial services.

In five years, Fulton hopes to expand the school, but does not plan to add a high school component. She told her staff that if they do their job well, their students should be able to go anywhere. Fulton intends to keep her mission alive and mantra alive: “failure is not an option.”

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46 | Charter Schools Today

Summer 2009

Pocono Mountain Charter School Continuing to Fight the Good Fight Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by R.C. Anderson “High expectations, no excuses.” That is the motto everyone at the Pennsylvanian Pocono Mountain Charter School (PMCS) believes in, according to CEO Pastor Dennis Bloom. Although it was initially started as a private school in 2000, it did so well that it was converted into a tuition-free charter school in 2003. Bloom and his associates felt the 10 to 20 percent increase in enrollment

each year at the private school proved there was a great need not being met through the district’s traditional public school system. To provide free educational access to more students in the community, the private school was transformed into a charter and re-named. Since then, PMCS has won two Keystone Pennsylvania awards and has passed the

state’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements for the last five years, an accomplishment the traditional public schools in the area cannot claim. Because of this, the school has grown from 250 students to 675, with room for more. Although PMCS has run commercials on television to invite parents and students to consider the school, its best press is due to word-ofmouth based on the school’s high academic achievement and parents’ disgust with the area’s public schools.

“We start with education and end with education. The welfare and benefit of the child is the most important thing; money is no object.” ~Pastor Dennis Bloom

Whereas other schools in this district can have a teacher to student ratio that reaches as high as one to 50, PMCS has a ratio of one to 15 in its high school and one to 20 in its elementary school. Principal John Severs notes that while the district’s public schools continue to lose 500 to 600 students each year, PMCS is increasing its enrollment annually by 75 to 100, growing the student population two and a half times since their doors opened in 2003.

From Left to Right: Pocono Mountain Charter School CEO Rev. Dennis Bloom, Congressman Paul Kanjorski and Pocono Principal John Severs.

Bloom believes one reason PMCS does so well is because “there is a warmer atmosphere, [it is] more loving, more parent oriented and involved, [there is] more security with cameras and no violence or cursing.” Indeed, the school has done well. It has graduated

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North three senior classes with 100 percent of the graduates being college-bound. One student at PMCS was awarded the opportunity to attend a Harvard summer workshop and went on to qualify for fully paid tuition to the Ivy League university. Another student ranked within the top 10 percent of the nation’s students on the SAT by earning a score over 2100. Special education students are expected to be high achievers as well. Due to tutoring, special help and “mainstreaming,” 25 percent of these students do so well each year that they no longer need this type of support the following year. The graduation rate of students from the special education program has improved over the past three years. “If a student is coming from a different culture, we make sure someone is there. If there is an IEP, we make sure the teacher knows and is following procedure. Students rise to the challenge; [they may] flounder, but there is a support system to pick them up and move them on,” said Severs. The goal is “to be number one in Pennsylvania,” said Bloom. “We start with education and

48 | Charter Schools Today

end with education. The welfare and benefit of the child is the most important thing; money is no object.” This is apparent even in the field trips students take. Throughout the year, every class from kindergarten to twelfth grade goes on at least two trips. Students visit the Pennsylvania Zoo to learn about animals and their habits, the aquarium in New Jersey, and cultural centers in the area. “Every field trip has to have an educational purpose,” said Bloom. The main focus, however, is to prepare students with everything they need to be accepted to and succeed in college. This extends beyond traditional school books and to turning students into well-rounded community members. In addition to the regular clubs and extracurricular activities offered to students, there is also a community service club. In the past, members have fed the homeless, constructed quilts for and prepared food baskets for those in need. Strong character development is another pillar PMCS promotes. “We have character

Summer 2009

modeling in our teachers and staff,” explained Bloom. Students are taught to be polite on a daily basis as well as how to act toward one another. They are also drilled on the importance of proper attire through the use of a school uniform and explicit expectations regarding appearance. All of these attributes combine to prepare students for the rigors of a serious college experience. Although PMCS has undergone a trial by fire that is currently ongoing with the district, Bloom is looking to the future. “Once [the district] backs off and learns they are not going to get rid of the charter, [we] would like to open a kindergarten to sixth grade school focused on math, science and civics.” By doing this, Bloom believes the school “could develop a child who could really [become] great, [even] leaders for the country.” Until another area becomes available, though, Bloom and Severs will continue to fight the district’s attempts to close the school and work to prepare more students for college and the decisions they will make in later life.

Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School Propelling Students Towards Success Produced by Hayley Gold & Written by R.C. Anderson Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School (PALCS) opened in 2004 as a cyber charter school committed to serving students statewide. According to Dr. James Hanak, founder and CEO for PALCS, the opening of this cyber school was the result of a long, arduous process propelled forward by sheer determination. After two years, five submissions and re-submissions for charter approval, 2,000 pages of documentation, 500 signatures from community members, approximately 50 letters from community leaders, and a handbook written especially for special education, PALCS was granted the opportunity to prove they could uniquely serve students in the state. PALCS is now in its fifth year with an enrollment of 2,300 students for the 2008-2009 school year, though this number is likely to increase. Currently, only around one percent of Pennsylvania’s students are

attending one of the state’s cyber charter schools; however, the movement has grown exponentially over the past five years. In the 2004 school year the cyber schooling movement served approximately 10,000 students. Today, the movement has swelled to serve over 21,000 students throughout Pennsylvania. Hanak believes this trend will continue and the cyber schooling movement will continue to grow in Pennsylvania. Hanak initially became involved with PALCS due to his previous experience with a different cyber school. He realized the cyber concept was a positive one and had a “worldwide component” which he believes is important. One goal of PALCS is to raise awareness among its students that they are all members of a global community. Hanak hopes that the students and the school can contribute to solving the problem of world hunger and world peace. Hanak also strives, “to get our schools to partner with schools in the developing world.” Hanak has “always been interested in foreign missions as it is a good way to bridge back to the community” and he has committed himself, his students and the school to doing so through activities such as service learning orientated international trips during the school year. In the last five years, PALCS has sent students to 13 countries to partner with local schools. Last year students traveled to Panama and began a water filtration project, returning this year to ensure it was still running. In Panama, they gave shoes to the children in the community. Students also have the opportunity to visit China every fall to learn the language, curriculum and culture. Additionally, PALCS donates books and computers to schools in need around the world.  Hanak says PALCS is “trying to build tomorrow’s leaders today.”  There are other unique aspects to a cyber charter school such as PALCS. Not only does PALCS provide every student with a computer, printer, scanner and microphone headset, but it uses the online resource, Moodle, which allows teachers and students to interact online in various ways. Assignments can be posted and submitted online, lecture recordings can be seen and heard, and e-mail and even virtual chemistry labs can be accessed. Another software program, Adobe Connect, uses cameras and video conferencing to facilitate one-on-one discussions and dialogues between the teacher and multiple students concurrently. Interaction is not only online, however and as students have the opportunity to attend multiple field trips each month. Additional benefits offered by PALCS are flexibility and alternatives to seemingly inescapable situations. One student, for example, dealt with bullying and physical violence at her high school until she enrolled

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North that USP strives to discourage and temper. Through USP, PALCS has had a student rise to be one of the top 10 debaters in the country. Other students have gone on to attend schools such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). As for the future, Hanak would like to see more cyber schools across the nation. Other states have approached PA Leadership Charter School to help them duplicate their successes in Pennsylvania. In June, Hanak presented a seminar at the National Charter School Alliance Conference in Washington, D.C. explaining PALCS and offering the school’s services. at PALCS. Not only did this remove her from a dangerous situation, it allowed her greater options in her classes and education. Since everything was done online, PALCS was able to arrange for her to take an online Latin class originating in Texas. This fulfilled her requirements for graduation, while also allowing her to receive college credit. PALCS has also found a way to equally serve both students in special education and those who are exceptionally bright. Each special education student obtains support from a special education teacher dedicated to meeting his or her particular needs. This is done through homework help, tutoring, alternative curriculum and weekly one-on-

“Just because a student is in special education doesn’t mean they don’t have leadership qualities, they just haven’t had a chance to exercise those capabilities.” ~Amy Murphy

one video conferences between teacher and student. Special education coordinator, Amy Murphy, believes “just because a student is in special education doesn’t mean they don’t have leadership qualities, they just haven’t had a chance to exercise those capabilities.” According to Murphy, many special education students absolutely do better in the cyber school setting at PALCS than they did in their former traditional school. Students who previously “didn’t get attention in their home district now have the chance to graduate.” The academically advanced student also has a place at PALCS. Students who meet the requirements for high levels of motivation and achievement have the opportunity to apply for enrollment in the University Scholars Program (USP). This is designed to “maximize the intellectual potential of gifted and motivated learners,” according to USP’s written information. Students in this program receive a rigorous high school education while in middle school. Once in high school, they begin college-level work, including Advanced Placement College Board approved courses. However, often students such as this lean toward perfectionism and extreme seriousness, two pressures

50 | Charter Schools Today

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PALCS is expecting to grow between 10 and 20 percent this year. It has maintained such a steady growth in student and parent interest that it has become difficult to hire teachers and administrators quickly enough. Hanak, however, is enthusiastic about the progress and the ability to allow students opportunities they would be hard-pressed to find in traditional schools. As PALCS expands into other states, students of Pennsylvania undoubtedly have a new option for learning through modern technology and creative methods.


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The Specter of Segregation Examining the Racial Divide in Charter Schools Written by Tiffany Nichols Charter schools have been noted by some as the saving grace of public education, where race and socioeconomic status have less influence on the success of inner-city students and the quality of education they receive. In many cases, charter schools do function in a way that other institutions of public education hope to replicate and maximize. However, in the process of trying to improve the public education system, have charters become just as socioeconomically and racially segregated as public schools? If so, is that segregated environment created by charter schools, or is it just an inevitable product of a society that is already racially segregated?

As segregation becomes a concern, an increasing number of states are conducting reports to establish exactly how charter schools are measuring up to public schools in this area. The Education Policy Center at Michigan State University released a report in March of 2007, which showed that their charter schools were overwhelmingly just as segregated as the state’s traditional public school counterparts. They found that throughout the state, public schools were more likely to be white segregated, while charter schools were more likely to be African American segregated. Given that Michigan’s suburban school districts are predominantly white and most

of the state’s charters are in cities like Detroit, which have a much heavier African American population, this finding is not surprising. The study also found that charters who drew their students from varying districts had much more diverse student bodies than charter schools who only admitted students from their immediate districts. Charters that were located in racially segregated districts remained racially segregated, while charter schools in diverse districts were actually found to be less diverse than average. 1 Another study, “Failed Promises: Assessing Charter Schools in the Twin Cities,” conducted by the Institute on Race and Poverty and released in November of 2008, argued that charter schools in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area are more segregated than public schools, and are contributing to the segregation of the public school system. In conducting the report, test scores and poverty measurements were collected from all public schools and charter schools in the Twin Cities. Test scores for traditional public schools were higher than those of charter schools. The Institute on Race and Poverty recognizes that tracking the progress of individual students would have been a better indicator of progress, but such information is not yet available. The report also concluded that segregated charter schools far outnumber integrated charter schools, and in some cases, schools that are predominantly one race are surrounded by schools that are predominantly of another race.2 One could argue that it is something of a chicken or the egg scenario. Are 1 “Are Charter Schools More Segregated Than Traditional Public Schools?” by Yongmei Ni, The Education Policy Center at Michigan State University, PR30%20CS-TPS%20Segregation%20w%20logos%20 Mar07.pdf 2 “Failed Promises: Assessing Charter Schools in the Twin Cities” by The Institute on Race and Politics, Charter_Report_Final.pdf

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Features charter schools perpetuating and promoting segregation; or are charter schools simply cropping up in areas that are racially and ethnically segregated, as they recognize and attempt to mitigate the discrimination that can arise in public education? There is no question, given the data, that the charter school system is segregated in many cities, but there is a question as to the source of that segregation. The reality is that students are generally mandated by law to attend public schools in their immediate area (with charter schools typically serving students in their immediate area), and neighborhoods in many metropolitan cities are racially segregated, resulting a racially segregated public school system. For example, in September of 2006, the Minneapolis Foundation conducted a study to discern the degree of racial segregation present in the city and the degree to which residential segregation affects school segregation. The study pulled data from The Brookings Institute and the findings are worth relaying. “For each dollar of income, white homeowners owned $2.64 worth of house and black homeowners owned $2.16 worth of house. This gap is called a ‘segregation tax’ since it results primarily from a high degree of racial segregation in neighborhoods: the higher the degree of segregation, the wider the home value gap. Midwestern metro areas had the highest segregation tax.3” If Midwestern metro areas, like Detroit and the Twin Cities, were found to have a high degree of residential segregation, it would presumably follow that schools in those areas, both private and public, would have the same 3 “Racial Segregation in Minnesota,” September 2006, uploads/PastSeasons/Disparities/Documents/ SegregationFactSheet.pdf

degree of segregation. A factor that cannot be excluded from this argument is the importance of choice. An article from the January 10, 2009 edition of The New York Times highlights immigrants as another catalyst for segregation in charter schools. The article tells the story of a Somali immigrant mother named Fartune Warsame who is raising three sons in Minneapolis. She chose to send her children to the International Elementary School to shield them from American values and ensure that they were educated about their own cultural history. Girls at International Elementary School feel as if they can wear their traditional Muslim head coverings without being ridiculed by their peers. The lunchroom serves food that is in line with Muslim dietary restrictions. The school also sits well with East African immigrants who do not want their children picking up what they perceive as skewed American values that prevail in public schools. In situations like these, Charter schools not only serve as an educational alternative for new Americans, but also as a safe haven for the impressionable minds of their children. In fact, 30 of Minnesota’s 138 charter schools are focused on catering to students of specific ethnic groups, whether it is Ethiopian, Latino, or Hmong.4 This article also notes that while some believe these charter schools are effective in allowing immigrants an environment in which they can learn free of ridicule and the pressures to assimilate, others see public education as the bastion of integration and the creation of the great “melting pot,” what has long been accepted as a tenet of the American dream. 4 “Immigrants See Charter Schools as Haven” by Sara Rimer January 9, 2009, http://www.nytimes. com/2009/01/10/education/10charter.html?_ r=1&scp=1&sq=fartune%20warsame&st=cse

Allowing parents to choose schools that are in sync with their own cultural and religious beliefs takes away the perceived benefit that comes from being educated in an ethnically and culturally diverse learning environment. Education is enriched by the presence of varying perspectives. There is a unique advantage that charter schools have over public schools to promote cultural diversity. To begin, charter schools could open their enrollment policies to students outside of their immediate neighborhoods, while maintaining quotas for each dominant ethnic group. This way, there would be a greater probability of getting students from diverse cultural backgrounds. However, basing school admissions on race risks ignoring the issue of socioeconomic status, which is “the central driver of school quality and academic achievement.”5 With this idea in mind, there is an initiative in Louisville, Kentucky that promotes school integration based on socioeconomic status. “Case in point was Jefferson County’s Roosevelt-Perry Elementary School. The school was integrated by race, but 99 percent of its students were low-income. It struggled academically. Indeed, four decades of research has found that in promoting academic achievement, having an economic mix is far more important than having a racial mix. Blacks don’t do better academically when they sit next to whites, but low-income students of all races perform at higher levels when they’re given access to a middle-class environment -- one in which they are more likely to find peers who are academically engaged and less disruptive; parents who volunteer in the classroom, are PTA members, and hold school officials accountable; and teachers who are highly qualified and have high expectations. “6 It may be that when schools are integrated based on socio-economics, diverse socioeconomics will manifestly bring racial integration, as well. This is especially significant in metropolitan cities where a great number of those below the poverty line are minorities. The debate is ongoing and complicated, but the discussion needs to be had in order to ensure that the American school system reflects the rich culturally diverse society that makes this country unique. 5 “The New Look of School Integration” by Richard Kahlenberg June 2, 2008, The American Prospect, look_of_school_integration 6 “The New Look of School Integration” by Richard Kahlenberg

© Dave Sackville

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Encouraging Diversity Creating a Multicultural Classroom Environment By: Childcare Education Institute Culture refers to the “traditions, rituals, beliefs, and values that are shared amongst a group of people.” Each person is a part of at least one culture.  Some families participate in several cultures. Multiculturalism refers to the “sharing of many cultures.” The first goal of a multicultural program is to assist children with recognizing differences, as well as similarities, among all people.  Allowing children to explore varying cultures creates opportunities for them to see that even when people have different customs and traditions, they often share some common traits, too. Children learn that people can be different and unique, yet still have much in common.  Such realizations help young children learn to accept differences and aid in eliminating prejudice and racism.  These realizations assist children with accepting and respecting people from all cultures and backgrounds.

customs. The early childhood program that is culturally sensitive will build the self-confidence of its children by integrating the cultures of all the children into learning experiences. The first ingredient for a successful multicultural program is the classroom teacher’s knowledge of diverse cultures.  Take time to learn the backgrounds of your students, as well as the populations represented in your geographic area. Educate yourself on their beliefs, values, foods, and customs.  Share those with children as you incorporate them into learning experiences. Encourage children to ask questions that help them understand more about others who have a different background from their own. Learn the traditions of each child in your classroom.  What holidays do they celebrate?  How do they celebrate birthdays?  How are they parented?  What are their favorite foods and family traditions?

The second ingredient a preschool teacher must have to successfully implement a culturally diverse classroom Children learn that people can be different The second goal of a environment is an attitude and unique, yet still have much in common. multicultural program is to of acceptance and respect for Such realizations help young children learn encourage cooperative social other cultures.  It requires an to accept differences and aid in eliminating skills.  As children learn open mind that accepts and prejudice and racism. to accept differences and respects differences.  Children similarities among people, model what they see, so they can work and get along the teacher’s inclusion and with others better.  They acceptance of different ideas, begin to see other’s viewpoints customs, and traditions helps them learn to accept and respect. and individuality. The multicultural classroom assists children from minority cultures in developing cooperation and social skills in a setting Helping children to compare, contrast, and learn about other cultures that may be unfamiliar to them.  Their self-esteem is boosted as they are without making judgments about them requires this attitude of recognized and accepted for their individuality. They feel good about acceptance and respect. As teachers lead children to respect others themselves as other children recognize the worth of their traditions and

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who are different, they will begin to appreciate individuality. As children grow and mature with these attitudes, they will have social skills that not only accept, but also applaud individuality. The third critical ingredient for a teacher’s success in implementing a culturally diverse classroom is the ability to add a multicultural perspective into curriculum planning and classroom management skills.  This requires careful consideration of children’s cultures and traditions, and necessitates planning to help other children experience them in learning centers and activities. How does your program “measure up” as a multicultural environment?  Do you have multicultural materials?  Is diversity accepted and applauded?  Is the community well represented? Having children of differing cultures in the class can offer firsthand experiences and insight.  The customs and traditions of their cultures should definitely be represented in the learning environment. Remember that providing the children with a multicultural program helps boost self-esteem and teaches them about acceptance and diversity.  A multicultural program will help children understand and work well with others as they grow and mature.

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Learn more about creating a multicultural classroom. Visit ChildCare Education Institute to discover over 100 online child care training courses that meet the continuing education requirements of the child care industry. Register for a sample course and try online learning today! About the Author: ChildCare Education Institute (CCEI), a distance training institution, is dedicated to providing online training to meet the continuing education requirements of the child care industry. CCEI offers over 100 online professional development courses, plus online certificate course of study programs, such as the Child Development Associate (CDA). CCEI is approved by the International Association for Continuing Education Training (IACET) to award IACET Continuing Education Units (CEUs). Source:


Indian River Charter High School Emphasizing Independence and Innovation Produced by Hanim Samara & Written by Tiffany Nichols Indian River Charter High School (IRCHS) brings all of the freedom and creativity of a college education to the high school classroom. IRCHS is a testament to what education can accomplish when it encourages independence and innovation. The school was founded in 1998 when a group of 12 individuals in the community decided that they wanted to create a different school environment than was offered at the traditional public schools in Vero Beach, Florida. Some of the concerned community members happened to be on the school board and realized that there was a need

for diversity in the way that public schools were providing education. The founders of IRCHS sought to develop a school that would foster good citizens with the benefits of cultural awareness, character education, academic excellence and career preparation. In speaking with school Director, Cynthia Aversa, it becomes clear that IRCHS’s specialty is encouraging growth through independence and creativity. Aversa was floored by IRCHS when she first brought her son to orientation. She had been a teacher in the school district for 16 years and was impressed to find a school that was in line with her own educational philosophy.

Given her considerable experience, she was encouraged to apply for the position of Director when the previous director moved out of state. When Aversa took over the school there were 250 students. With the introduction of the visual and performing arts program, which the board of directors championed, the school’s enrollment doubled. The IR model is one that is truly different from that of most charter schools, and could serve as a model for future charters. IRCHS has a close relationship with Indian River State College because the two schools share grounds. The school has an open campus,

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similar to that of a college, There are no bells between periods, or hall monitors to keep track of students’ whereabouts. Students are given the full responsibility of keeping track of their own classes and being on time; similar to the environment students will encounter in college. As in any other high school, there are unifying themes and practices that keep all of the students and faculty on the same page and create a sense of structure. All classes are taught within the framework of a time period so that there is continuity, and students learn to draw similarities in all areas of study for a certain period in time, from the ancient world to post-modernism. Also, during freshman year, each student is assigned to a “homebase” This homebase is equipped with a refrigerator and other amenities that are similar to that of a college lounge. Each homebase, comprised of 22 to 25 students, is assigned a mentor teacher who acts as a liaison between school and home. Students meet with their homebase

teacher every Friday where they discuss pressing or relevant issues. Parents are also very involved in homebase meetings supporting both students and teacher in any manner needed.

“Our Parent Action Committee is so dedicated. They are on campus every single day. They are happy to assist in any way they can with anything from honoring teachers with luncheons to helping the school with fundraising.” ~Cynthia Aversa

Also like the college atmosphere, students are required to take core courses and are

also given an exercise in long-term planning and must choose a concentration, or path of study. There are three courses of study which students can choose from upon entering IRCHS; core curriculum, visual and performing arts and golf. Helping the school and students with text book requirements is Budgetext which provides access to reduced price, used text books, and allows the school to sell back books for money. IRCHS offers diverse course options beginning freshman year. The first course of study is called the Core Curriculum where students take their required classes in addition to any honors, Advanced Placement courses, and any dual enrollment courses with Indian River State College. The second path is the Golf Program, which is the only one of its kind in the area. Students go to Pointe West Golf Course two times each week to train with experts in golf, learn the game and golf etiquette. They go to Indian River State College in

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Port St. Lucie for a full day on Fridays to take two dual enrollment courses in golf course maintenance that will also count toward their college education. Students in the golf program can finish in four years with an Associate’s degree in golf course maintenance. Most students go on to universities where they complete the rest of their studies for a Bachelor’s degree in a golf course management program.

to perform with Peter Taboris, renowned vocal and instrumental conductor. Whether students choose a more traditional path, or go into golf course management or an artistic field, IR has the resources and course offerings to help them pursue their goals.

One lucrative fundraising strategy is the presentation of student performances that IR puts on at the end of each semester as a fundraising event.

“It’s a multi-million dollar business,” says Aversa. “Our students in the Golf Program do quite well for themselves.” The third option, which is the most popular of the three and has the participation of over half of the student body, is the Visual and Performing Arts Program. IR prides itself in offering an extensive and in-depth program that offers education in every aspect of the art world. Classes are offered in a wide variety of subjects including classical ballet, ethnic dance, choreography, dance history, music theory, ceramics, painting, digital arts, drawing, drama, stage craft, and the list goes on. The chorus students have performed at Carnegie Hall twice and have an invitation

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“Our Parent Action Committee is so dedicated. They are on campus often. They are happy to assist in any way they can with anything from honoring teachers with luncheons to helping the school with fundraising,” says Aversa. One lucrative fundraising strategy is the presentation of student performances that IR puts on at the end of each semester

Summer 2009

as a fundraising event. Local businesses purchase a full evening for $2,000 or a table for $500. IR serves a five-course dinner, in partnership with Indian River State College and the Disney Resort. IRCHS students are responsible for serving the meals to guests and cleaning up at the end of the night. Before the show begins, classrooms are open so that parents and community members can walk through the school and see student work on display. “We put on the presentation for four nights and the community has given us so much support that we now only have one night reserved for parents!” boasts Aversa, a director who is very proud of the success of her charter school. “I attribute our success to our amazing Board of Directors. They utilize the expertise of our teachers and encourage new ideas. As our students evolve and change so does our school. That is what I attribute our success to.”

Coral Springs Charter School Cultivating Respect and Motivation Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Jim Barlow Going to the mall is a daily happening for 1,600 students in Coral Springs, Florida. However, it’s not for social outings; it’s where these middle- and high-school students go to get their education. Ten years ago, an abandoned, downtown mall was purchased by the city and converted into a 147,000-square-foot charter school to help relieve school overcrowding in this Broward County city, located 20 miles northwest of Fort Lauderdale. Coral Springs is in the three-county, South Florida metropolitan area that is home to some 5.4 million people. The city experienced rapid population growth beginning in the 1970s and by 1999 enrollment exceeded maximum caps at the three local high schools and four middle schools that previously served the area. About half of the 1,600 students are in middle school on one side of the building with the remaining high school students on the other

side.. All of the students share a cafeteria, gymnasium, and fine arts wing. Admission to Coral Springs is based on a public lottery. “We are a reflection of the community in which we live,” said Billie Miller, principal of the school for the last five years. “There are very affluent folks in our community along with a mix of lower and middle class residents. Our diversity reflects the other schools in our area.” The student body is 55 percent Caucasian, 26 percent Latino, and 11 percent African American. The school is managed for the city by Charter Schools USA, which was founded in 1997 and currently manages 19 schools on 14 campuses in the state. The Coral Springs Charter School’s governing board is the city commission, which oversees a “$10 million” annual budget funded solely by the averagedaily-attendance formula of the Florida Education Finance Program.

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The governing board appoints an advisory board (comprised of community, parent, city and CSUSA stakeholders) to act as a liaison between the governing board and the school. Miller accepted the challenge to head the school after 31 years working in district schools and at the district offices. Her most immediate challenge is recovering from last year’s failure to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for students with disabilities, who underscored in both reading and math, and for black students, who fell below standards in math. In 2008, according to Florida records, 60 percent of the school’s students were on track to meet AYP in reading; 80 percent were seen on the right track in math. Overall, Miller said, “We’re happy, and our parents are happy that we are an ‘A’ school, and that we’ve been able to maintain that standing through some really difficult challenges.” The school, as a combination school, has achieved an “A” grade, based on meeting state annual assessments and criteria, six of the last seven years; it received a “B” in 2002-03. “Once you achieve that status [of being an ‘A’ grade], the state keeps raising the bar. We are constantly stretching to reach new demands,” Miller explained.

support. Teachers have volunteered during their normal planning time to pull affected students out of their elective courses to work on their reading and math. With the minority students, we’re trying to determine the best way to meet individual needs.” Students had just completed this year’s Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test at the time of this interview and Miller is hopeful AYP will have improved in the two areas. “We have the Sunshine State Standards and we need to master them,” Miller said. “We want our students to reach a level of mastery, and we work diligently to make that happen. I think sometimes, though, there should be other criteria beyond FCAT to determine a level of excellence. There are many things that make us stand out as a school of excellence…It’s important our students get a good education but also become well-rounded citizens with good character.”

Just over half of Florida’s 389 charter schools, which enroll more than 100,000 students, are considered “A” schools.

Half of the school’s 97 teachers are certified as highly-qualified under No Child Left Behind; the remainder is working to reach highly qualified status by completing their temporary certificate requirements for new teachers under Florida’s teacher certification laws. “We believe in having highly qualified teachers,” Miller said. “We believe they should have professional certification so I definitely agree with the requirement. We do not hire uncertified teachers, but face the same challenges as everyone else in finding the most qualified teachers.”

“We have made a conscious effort this year with our students with disabilities,” Miller said. “Our ESE [exceptional student education] department has put in after-school tutorials to provide additional

The combined school has a wide-ranging program that is designed to be strong in academics, fine arts, technology, and athletics. “We have an active student body, and we have all the clubs you can imagine,”

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Miller said. “Our students are civic-minded, and are actively involved in the community.” One of the unique aspects of the school is its ACE Academy. ACE, which stands for Academic and Career Excellence, is a comprehensive program designed to give participating Coral Springs students real-world experiences in business and prepare them for college through early college-level coursework. Through ACE qualifying seniors take part in an executive internship program. The school also has stringent behavioral standards, which include detention for students who fail to meet personal appearance standards or to wear required uniforms. The dress-code requirement, according to the school’s Web site, helps to prepare students for real world jobs and to encourage “greater respect for individual students and others.” Parental involvement is required, with 20 hours of service for parents of one child or 30 hours per family for more than one child. Parents are viewed as partners, whose roles are important and part of a collaborative effort at the school. “I constantly look at and try to keep in mind, when it comes to making decisions for the school or for the students, what is best for all of them: parents, teachers and students,” Miller said. “One really has to take a step back and think about the big picture. Sometimes, I later question: Did I make the right decisions? Our goal here is to meet the needs of every single one of our students, and I have a faculty and staff who work very hard to try to do that. Our parents have made a conscious choice to have their children in this school, and we want to be able to meet the needs of the children.”

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Evolution Academy Charter School Teaching with a Full Bag of Tricks Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Jim Barlow Small class sizes and teachers armed with full bags of tricks are the keys to dealing with 410 high-school students -- most state-qualified as being “at risk”-- at the Evolution Academy Charter School in suburban Dallas. The school, which opened in 2002, focuses on the evolution of troubled youth into young adults who can be contributing members of society, says Cynthia Trigg, founder and chief executive officer. The school’s name, she says, has drawn curiosity in a state where the scientific theory of evolution often is a hot debate. “Think of the definition of evolution,” Trigg said. “You are changing. You are evolving. We are not talking about a scientific reason for change. Ultimately, we see kids arrive non-responsive or even non-compliant, and we nurture them with a strict, fair, firm, and compassionate standard. You see a different kind of kid, a young adult, when they leave our school.” The school’s promise is that upon graduation, every student will have a diploma, a clearly demonstrated set of academic skills, experience in the workplace and community service, a personal development plan for beyond high school and an awareness of the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizens. Evolution Academy is located in Richardson, just northeast of Dallas, and caters to 9th through 12th graders. 95 percent of the students qualify for “at risk” under the state’s 13 criteria. Most are dropouts, have had behavioral problems or are failing in traditional schools. For these students and their parents, Evolution Academy is a “second chance” for success. It is at-risk students whom Trigg wanted to serve when she moved to Dallas from Houston, where she had served as an assistant principal and educational consultant. Prior to her service in Houston, Trigg served as a teacher and director of student activities in Beaumont, Texas. “We moved to Dallas in 2000, and saw that there

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were limited numbers of schools that offered choices to at-risk youth. That’s what led me to petition the state for the charter.” First-year enrollment was at 252 but since then has grown through word of mouth and referrals. “We soon outgrew our building, but we’ve moved into a new building,” a 25,000-square-foot facility built with budgeted state funds, Trigg said. At first, Trigg noted, discipline was an issue. “We have a clear student code of conduct, and as we have evolved -- and students have learned the culture of the school -- it is not a major factor anymore. It doesn’t keep us from doing the things we need to do to educate kids. I wish I could say that we don’t have discipline problems, but that is not realistic and I wouldn’t be telling the truth.” The school’s staff of 27, including 15 teachers who are highly qualified under the federal No Child Left Behind or working toward certification, operates with a $2.2 million budget provided under the state’s average daily attendance formula and federal Title 1. Under the Texas Education Agency’s definition for alternative-education charter schools, Evolution Academy is rated “academically acceptable,” which is the top designation. Recent assessments, however, saw the school fall short of required federal proficiency in math. “That seems to be a challenge throughout the state in both math and science,” Trigg said. “Overall, accountability has its place. It breeds a competitive edge, and I feel it’s necessary. We know we need to utilize additional strategies to bring up those scores.

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Local guidelines have been put into place.” Trigg admits that measures of success must not rely on just one standard. “Certain areas have to be taken into account,” she said. “You should consider demographics and other circumstances.” She noted that many of her students arrive with deficiencies that cannot be addressed before standardized testing begins. “The field isn’t leveled, and that is a concern.” At, a Web site that provides ratings and reviews of public and private schools, a parent of Evolution Academy wrote: “My sons go there and have progressed and grown with the help of the teachers and the other staff to the point that two boys who would not have graduated with their normal high school class will graduate ahead of the game.” The parent praised the school’s individualized learning and progression approach because it allows students “to feel as though they are…in charge of their future and their progress.” “We try to empower the teachers with multiple strategies,” Trigg said. “If one

thing isn’t working, we try another and another until mastery takes place. It is a work in progress, constantly monitoring and adjusting.” That strategy is carried out in classes with a maximum of 18 students per teacher. One-on-one interaction is encouraged with each student, especially those struggling academically or behaviorally. “In business, and corporate America, you have a product of some sort,” Trigg said. “You can see the start of that product to the end of that product. You execute and move forward. Students are our product. We can forecast what impact we may have on them, but we don’t know the outcome of a lifechanging experience that we’d like to see in our students. You may not know for perhaps years later whether or not success took place. I often lie in bed thinking about how we can create an environment that would better enhance lives of kids and how can I fund it.” Parents are not required to participate under the school’s charter; however, parents are urged to do two things regularly: ask their children about their assignments and progress reports which are issued every 3 weeks.

“We tell parents that we don’t look so much for them to knock on the school door on a day-to-day basis, but when we are in need of them and we can work collaboratively with them, they have risen to the occasion,” Trigg said. When parents are asked to help at events such as prom nights, open houses and others, about 90 percent of parents show up or help in other ways. “We do understand that some of our parents are engaged in working, but we also realize that it is normal for parents to scale back their school involvement by the time students are in their high school years.” “It is my hope that we can take our model and plant additional schools throughout Texas then transition to a national level,” said Cynthia when asked where she hopes to see the school in five years. Evolution Academy’s focus on helping “at risk” students not only changes the lives of those directly affected but also helps society evolve students into integrated members of society.

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Phoenix Charter School Encouraging Life-Long Learning Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Tiffany Nichols Phoenix Charter School (PCS) in Greenville, Texas is a charter school for Pre-kindergarten three-year-old through 12th-grade students where fine arts are an integral part of learning. The school currently serves close to 500 students with 97 staff and an operating budget of $4 to 4.5 million per year. PCS was founded as a non-religious private school by a board of parents and prominent community members, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and accountants, who were dedicated to the betterment of the community and were looking for an alternative to the traditional public school with its large classes. From 1986 to 1999, PCS gained a reputation as a school that emphasized an appreciation for the arts and promoted high standards of citizenship, including behavior and academic achievement. Vickie Glasscock, Executive Director, came to PCS during its last year as a private school in 1999. “There are 26,000 people in the town and, for mostly financial reasons, the town could not support our private school and the Christian private school too. Many folks just could not afford the tuition, but people still wanted our school. There was a lot of grass roots support. Writing the charter was a way to keep school choice for the families of rural Hunt County and surrounding areas,� says Glasscock. PCS applied for and was awarded an open enrollment charter in the 2001-2002 school year. PCS is dedicated to a fine arts integrated rigorous core curriculum that engages students and encourages lifelong learning in partnership with parents, professional artists, and other community members. Glasscock mentions that she often feels like an isolated voice advocating for open

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enrollment, non alternative program charters in Texas due to the small numbers (most charters in Texas are on alternative accountability serving 75 percent at-risk students) and the lack of public knowledge and understanding, leading to a lack of legislative awareness and political support. Only 28 percent of students at PCS are strictly general instruction. The remainder is those who have somehow fallen through the cracks of the traditional public school system and need some kind of academic intervention. She explains that at the time PCS transitioned to a public school there was not a great deal of support for charter schools in Texas but that is improving under the newly unified charter movement and recently formed Texas Charter School Association. Phoenix Charter School is quite proud of the techniques it has used to make impressive strides with its students. The majority of Hispanic Pre Kinder 3’s and 4’s come to the school with little or no English language abilities, and many of the

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2152 W. Northwest Highway, Suite 122, Dallas, Texas 75220

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Since 1889, Texas A&M University-Commerce has been in the business of transforming lives through education. From elementary schools and N.A.S.A., to the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan and the U.S. House of Representatives, A&M-Commerce graduates have made a difference throughout the world. As the second-largest member in the Texas A&M University System, A&M-Commerce provides the prestige of a tier-one school in a small-town atmosphere complete with personal mentoring from world-class professors, small classes and hands-on experiences from day one. Long recognized for its legacy of excellence in teacher and school administration education, the university’s acclaim also extends to its programs in agriculture science, music education and a new media art department that routinely graduates nationally recognized students.

children come from language deprived environments. PCS was the first Texas school to adopt a curriculum called ST Math + Music, researched and developed by the University of California-Irvine, distributed and supported by the Mind Research Institute which asserts that Spatial Temporal Reasoning and IQ can be increased at an early age to make a significant impact on students’ learning capabilities. The Mind Math learning technique is interactive and features comprehensive online math programs coupled with piano keyboarding instruction, which all PCS students take. Students move at their own pace through each non-verbal class online which benefits the pre-reading and English Language Learners in the early grades. Glasscock attests that students’ math scores have improved in the years that the program has been implemented. “This math program gets them there. If we can achieve the [mastery of ] math without them even reading yet, they develop those skills.” PCS also emphasizes Spanish proficiency for all of its students instead of “remediating” the Spanish speaker for the English speaking classroom. The goal is dual language proficiency for everyone, making all PCS students more equipped for the 21st century. Second language introduction begins at three years old, rather than 13 as in the traditional Texas public schools. Glasscock quotes research that “the younger we are exposed to a language the more likely it is that we will be able to think in that language. By 13 years those synapses begin to close.”

Located in Northeast Texas, A&M-Commerce is home to nearly 9,000 students, three academic colleges, a thriving graduate school, and more than 100 degree programs. As the region’s focal point of higher education, A&M-Commerce offers students facilities ranging from a recently completed science building and new student center, to a fully equipped recreational facility and the soon-to-be built music hall. In addition to the on-campus facilities, A&M-Commerce strives to meet the needs of students throughout the Metroplex with a combination of face-to-face and online classes offered at branch campuses in Corsicana, downtown Dallas, Midlothian, and Mesquite.

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South One of the most important aspects of the curriculum at PCS is its integrated fine arts component and stand alone arts classes for all ages. Champions of Change* researchers found that “learners can attain higher levels of achievement through their engagement with the arts. Learning in and through the arts can help ‘level the playing field’ for youngsters from disadvantaged circumstances.” The enhanced arts learning environment at PCS includes classes in ceramics and photography, playwriting, theater arts and theater arts production, as well as choral and instrumental ensembles. Unlike most private, charter, and traditional public schools that have phased out their home economics courses, one could say that PCS has evolved home economics into courses that are more relevant but just as useful. The school features an impressive agricultural curriculum in addition to its fine arts and academic programs. Students work alongside staff members on the Nature Trail and Wildlife Habitat campus and can take classes in home maintenance and improvement, agriculture and technology, wildlife and recreation management, horticulture, and advanced floral design and interior landscape development. These classes are useful in a climate with a growing emphasis on preservation of the environment and green building. Given that PCS is so heavily focused on the arts, an understandable amount of frustration was expressed by Glasscock about the No Child Left Behind’s definition of “highly qualified” teaching professionals and its Adequate Yearly Progress formula. “Teachers at

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Phoenix already take a financial hit by working here since we do not receive the same funding the traditional public schools receive. Our teachers are mission driven and highly dedicated to the students.” “Our mission originally started out ‘embracing community members and professional artists.’ When NCLB went into effect and fine arts were considered to be core curriculum, we could not have professional artists teach our kids anymore, unless they were also certified teachers. We had to get rid of them, which was a great loss to our students. We are able only in high school to employ degreed, non-certified individuals with the required number of hours in the fine arts.” Glasscock lamented, “You could be an M.D. in Texas and not be qualified to teach science to elementary children. We encourage artists to get their teaching certification, and we participate monetarily in their continued education towards that goal. Alternative certification candidates offer us some flexibility,” explains Glasscock, and, “we hire several each year.” Unfortunately, for schools like PCS that had the initial goal of providing enrichment for both the school and the community, teacher certification requirements create a costly obstacle for the overall goal and purpose of the fine arts program, although many artists have attained their teacher certification while they were employed with PCS and several of the core class teachers hold minors or second degrees in areas of the arts.

Glasscock also asserts that Adequate Yearly Progress Assessments do not serve as a fair basis to test student achievement or teacher progress toward fulfilling the distinctive mission of Phoenix Charter School. She is a proponent of accountability, but believes that it needs to be monitored and measured in different ways. In a growing school like PCS, many students will enroll with academic gaps and will need time to improve academic performance. When students start at the school, they more often than not bring with them any number of behavioral and educational problems. Progress does not occur overnight and it takes time for teachers to strategize an appropriate course of action; and even more time for any action to have an effect. Yet, the tests will speak to the performance of the school, regardless of whether the test scores of new students or struggling students are lower than the rest of the student body. The new growth measure in Texas allows us to meet and exceed state accountability. Glasscock is proud, however, that PCS has had a great amount of success with reaching students through their fine arts program, an impact that cannot be evaluated by using simple benchmark exams. James Catterall’s analysis of the Department of Education’s NELS:88 database of 25,000 students “demonstrates that students with high levels of arts participation outperform ‘arts – poor’ students by virtually every measure. Since arts participation is highly correlated with socioeconomic status, which is the most significant predictor of academic performance, this comes as little surprise.”

PCS’ learning techniques have helped its students go off to junior colleges, four year colleges, and the military. “We’ve only begun to graduate seniors in the last three years. This year the valedictorian will attend University of Texas. In years past, students chose Texas A & M Commerce, Stephen F. Austin and a variety of Junior Colleges. “To think that most of our students had not even thought of themselves as attending college when they first came to PCS. Some of them are the first in their families to receive a high school diploma. It’s good to work here. “My middle class parents sacrificed a lot to send me to private rigorous college prep schools my whole life. That college prep background provided me with many advantages, and I then went on to a major private university on scholarship. I want to offer those same advantages to the children of Greenville, Texas. In our school we are trying to help them realize their potential. We have taken kids to Rome, Greece, and France…we are expanding their horizons. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. I don’t think they would have the exposure to the arts or to a broader horizon without the Phoenix.” *CHAMPIONS OF CHANGE, the Impact of the Arts on Learning edited by Edward B. Fiske; published by The Arts Education Partnership and The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities; funded by the G.E. Fund and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

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Austin Can! Academy Charter School Setting the Bar High for Texas Charters Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Holly Alexander While Austin is the smallest of the 10 Texans Can! Charter schools, the vast experience of Principal Dr. Joe E. Gonzales (known simply as Dr. G to students and throughout the state) has spurred impressive local growth and provided resources to other schools. Gonzales was previously the first Latino superintendent of schools in both West Texas and in the Tri-City district of Bay City, Saginaw and Midland, Michigan. When he started considering retirement, Texans Can! saw an opportunity, and asked him to become principal of Austin Can! It’s

“All parents love their children but some families lack the resources to remain bonded, especially with the family-like lure of gangs for many teens." ~Dr. Joe E. Gonzales been a great partnership for this innovative and energetic educator with a strong group of charters. All 10 schools either own their property or are in the process of buying it, and provide a wider array of activities than many charters. Austin Can! resides in what was an elementary building and is now a high school. Gonzales’ personal story is unconventional, which has proved to be an asset for his role as an educator as it gives him unique perspectives and a keen ability to think outside the box. He grew up largely in Michigan, where his parents were migrant farm laborers. As an adult, he became a volunteer, teacher, principal and then superintendent of schools, all in the Tri-

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City area. Along the way he won a Hispanic Educator of the year award from Michigan’s governor and was honored with the U.S. Department of Education’s prestigious John Stanford Hero’s award. As described by former Education Secretary Richard W. Riley, this award honors “Americans who never asked to be honored...who never believed that what they were doing was heroic…but became heroes because their deeds inspire us, rouse us to action, and summon us to our highest civic duty.” When Gonzales arrived in September, 2007, Austin Can! had 88 students. Today it has about 400. Gonzales is driven by his passion to give students the education, motivation and confidence they need to succeed in school after many years of believing they have failed. Many Austin Can! students arrive after dropping out of school as many as four times and Gonzales and his staff have special talents for turning this around. Austin Can! has a strong outreach program to the students’ parents; about two-thirds of whom are still influential in their lives. In January of 2009, he started a literacy program for adults because he realized that

many parents didn’t have the basic reading abilities and other skills needed to encourage or help their children. The program began offering one small evening class and within four months has grown to offer four. “All parents love their children,” he says, but some families lack the resources to remain bonded, especially with the family-like lure of gangs for many teens. “But,” he continues, “every young person has a bond with someone, whether that be a parent, teacher, or maybe an older sibling or friend – it could be anyone.” One of his top priorities is to identify that person and make good use of their influence. Gonzales and his wife have often become such an influence – a student who needs some attention is likely to have dinner, go to a movie or do something else with them. Convincing students that they can achieve is the biggest challenge for Austin Can! with many of its high-school-age students reading at no more than third or fourth grade levels. “Everyone is good at something, and if we recognize that something, most students gain self confidence and become willing

to tackle tough challenges like making up education deficits,” Gonzales says. To that end, the school has incentive assemblies and an annual Celebrate Growth! gathering in which each and every student is recognized for at least one thing. Some might seem like small achievements, such as improved attendance. Others are the more traditional music, drama, sports and academic awards. Recognition also comes with small tangible rewards, such as a Big Mac certificate, movie pass, or being allowed to dress down from the school’s required uniform for some period of time. On the other end, Gonzales creates a safe and hopeful atmosphere by absolutely prohibiting gang members or gang activities at Austin Can! School counselors, whom they call advisors, check for and screen out gang members who apply, and a student who joins a gang will be excluded from school. Like many charter administrators, Gonzales says small classes and above average one-toone interaction is one reason for the school’s remarkable success – a record number of seniors earned their diplomas last year, and

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this year’s class may go over 90 percent. Asked the classic question about the financial impossibility of creating that kind of ratio throughout school systems, he instantly replies that he doesn’t think it is impossible. Austin Can! has a number of tutors, some paid and many volunteers, including both parents and current students who are strong in a particular subject. As the home of the main campus of the University of Texas, Austin’s education community benefits from its presence because it provides a larger pool of potential volunteers than other areas of the state and even the country. Interestingly, Gonzales likes the premise of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), but thinks it needs to measure each student’s progress from his or her initial level of achievement during a given period. This allows for the measurement of real learning, rather than comparing achievement to some arbitrary standards for success levels that is based on a student’s years in school. He would also mandate that testing measure real skills needed to succeed in learning, rather than existing knowledge about particular topics

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or subjects. Nevertheless, Austin Can! has established an enviable track record with the current NCLB, having met standards five of six times. Gonzales also believes that, like students, all school staff, from teachers to paraprofessional aides to ancillary staff, like custodians, want to succeed, and can if employers lay out clear expectations for the results of their work, and provide the training needed to become proficient. To another loaded question in education, the perception that there isn’t enough money for training, Gonzales says, “If training is a top priority, any organization can find money for it. In 48 years in education, when I have seen anyone who failed to perform to expectations, one primary reason was that their organization hasn’t given them enough attention to develop and succeed.” It comes as no surprise that Gonzales finds himself on the road a lot these days – Texans Can! taps his experience and wisdom to help other schools in their system develop further toward Austin’s success. Specializing in audits, efficiency studies, state and federal accountability issues, staff motivation, dropout recovery, parental and community involvement, and curriculum alignment




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Manara Academy

Opening Doors to a New Teaching Technique Produced by Hanim Samara & Written by R.C. Anderson In August 2009, the doors to Manara Academy in Coppel, Texas will officially open and the almost 350 students who walk through those doors will be walking into a new world of learning. This is exactly what the parents who founded the kindergarten through fifth-grade school hoped for when they sat down to pen Manara’s charter. Although schools in this area of Texas are some of the best in the state, these parents did not believe their children were receiving the skills necessary to become involved and contributing members of society. They wanted their children to learn how to answer real-life questions dealing with worldwide concerns such as the environment. Community involvement and foreign languages were also deemed necessary focal points since many parents were from international locations and saw these as crucial lessons for their children to become successful in an increasingly globalizing world.

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Manara plans to accomplish its educational goals using expeditionary learning (ELS). Although ELS has had success in other parts of the country, Manara will be the first school to adopt this curriculum in Texas. With ELS, parents and teachers hope to promote ethics, character, high achievement, improved retention of learned material and increased ability to apply concepts to new situations effectively. To do this, teachers create “expeditions” which are similar to a “unit” or “topic” in traditional schools. Expeditions combine math, science, writing and interpersonal skills into one main project. Learning in this manner sharpens students’ ability to analyze situations, apply what they have learned and explain their procedure and results to other students, teachers and community members. Eighth graders, for instance, in a traditional school would spend one hour in a math class, another hour in English, another in science and so on. Eighth graders in an ELS school, however, would amalgamate

all of these subjects by conducting an expedition on local ponds in the area to find out what the pH and E. coli levels are, what animal habitats surround the ponds, and what pollution sources threaten the overall health of the microenvironment. Then, they would compile and compare their results and write a report. Hands-on, in-depth projects such as this introduce students to real-life questions and problems as well as ways to answer or correct them. Expeditions also increase the student’s ability to retain learned material since they are able to connect new concepts to something meaningful to them. In other states where ELS has been used, projects such as these have led students to present their results to the city council for review and help spur action against pollution and other city-wide concerns. Manara expects no less from its students when it opens its doors for the first time in August. Another unique aspect of ELS is the premise that classmates learn more effectively when together, as opposed to independently. This is true regardless of whether the student is considered “special education” or “gifted.” Where traditional schools remove these students from regular classes to put them into “special classes,” ELS does not. Expeditionary learning is based on the belief that any student, at any level, can learn more effectively by interacting with their classmates. Teachers can customize projects based on their students’ skills and what they need to learn or practice. Since the class is broken into groups, expeditions can be modified based on the strengths and weaknesses of each group. Students in special education can focus on basic concepts while gifted students can be given more complex goals to stretch their minds and apply them fully.

Field study and community service projects are also necessities in the ELS learning philosophy. Students will have the opportunity to take part in 10 to 12 field studies each year, such as working in the community gardens to learn about the natural world or community service projects such as cleanup days. Manara plans to partner with advocacy and community groups to provide services for the community or conduct research on topics important to the city. The goal is to instill a sense of community and environmental awareness as well as the idea that each student, as an individual, is a “vital member of the environment and community.” It is hoped that by introducing students to these concepts and actions at a young age, they will continue these practices into adulthood. Interpersonal skills are also of the utmost importance. To develop and refine these, Manara has adopted “Tribes.” According to Principal Amaris Obregon, this technique will allow teachers to “build a community in the classroom” and will also teach students to “tell others what they feel or need [and] go through conflict resolution.” Students will learn to voice their opinion in a manner that is respectful. Manara will use this to build character and instruct students on the importance and use of ethics in daily life. Foreign language classes are also something the founders of Manara believe public schools lack. While some public schools offer Spanish as an elective, most do not. Even for those offering Spanish, it is often unnecessary for students in Texas. “Spanish is very predominant and many students already speak [it],” Obregon stated, “[offering Arabic and French] is another way to be innovative and offer something new.”

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South Manara teaches the languages orally first, through songs and games, rather than beginning with reading and writing which can be slow and frustrating. “[This] creates a great learning curve; [the teachers] can’t keep up.” To help their teachers, Manara has partnered with the University of Houston for Arabic and the University of Dallas for French. “These are two of the top-six UN languages that are underserved, particularly Arabic,” Obregon said. These languages will make students “marketable and will be an incredible benefit” to them. By 2012, Manara hopes to add three grades to become a kindergarten through eighth-grade school. Obregon’s “fondest hope is [that] other schools will want to duplicate” Manara and its success, she says. Unfortunately, Manara is one of the last charter schools that will be approved for Texas. Texas has put a cap of 215 charter schools allowed in the state. While this is disappointing, Obregon believes that as charters succeed, states will begin to re-look at laws such as this one that repress the innovation and creative learning techniques charters engender. After all, the best quality charter schools have is “freedom of choice to individualize instruction for [the] classroom. Districts have tighter reigns and control from the top down. Charter schools can make decisions [based on] what will work for [their] school. If you want to try a new method, [you] just try it. This creates wonderful schools because teachers love what they are doing.”

Tekoa Academy of Accelerated Studies Recognizing Potential

Produced by Hanim Samara & Written by Tiffany Nichols The founder and CEO of Tekoa Charter School, Inc. dba/ Tekoa Academy of Accelerated Studies (TA), Paula Richardson, PhD, started out with a telephone call from a friend that evolved into a compelling vision. Guided by her strong faith and God, she believed her purpose was to help children and parents in her community; henceforth, Tekoa Academy was born. Tekoa Academy became a school of choice for students and parents who wanted and needed a smaller learning community; a learning community where all staff knew students’ names, understood their special talents, and what their dreams were; a community where hopelessness was replaced with faith, hope, and love. When Dr. Richardson shared the vision with her pastor and first lady of the church (Marvin and Lois Moore), they embraced the vision so much the church was moved to another location so Dr. Richardson would not have to go through the financial hardships of locating a building that other charter’s were facing. Having a building helped Dr. Richardson to continue her quest for getting approval for what would be Port Arthur’s first charter school. Dr. Richardson received help through many different venues to help make her aspiration a reality. Through her journey a classmate’s father, Jerome Brookes (80 years old during that time), assisted in the gathering of information about existing charter schools nationwide (Mr. Brooke’s passed away in 2007). After two years of preparation with the support of David Bradley and Dr. Robert Offit, State Board of Education members, Tekoa Charter School, Inc. received its certification from the Texas Education Agency to operate as a Texas public charter school. Dr. Richardson told Mr. Bradley that God used him and Dr. Offit to help Tekoa become a reality. She accredits David Bradley for being a leading advocate for quality education for school-age children. When Dr. Richardson was asked how she selects educators, her immediate

response was, “I select those with a passion and love for children.” Those are essential elements needed along with higher education and certifications. “So often,” she stated, “I was employing individuals with the right credentials but no heart for the children. Others, had credentials and a heart for children, but limited skills and knowledge.” Leading back to what many in the educational industry did not want to hear, “Certified does not always mean qualified. However, we have a great team of educators, administrators, food service nutritionist, maintenance technicians, and transportation specialists that make up our complete learning community.” “To me,” she says, “that’s the village it takes to educate the total child.” Dr. Richardson contributes their 2008-2009 student success to the professional development that staff received. The school has established a career development plan for staff and provides the appropriate professional development for them. Tekoa uses educational service centers for professional development because Dr. Richardson believes they offer great training. “We are in a cooperative agreement with Region V ESC (Beaumont, Texas) and we participate with Region IV ESC (Houston, Texas).” “Overall,” she says, “Texas educational service centers must be applauded for their cutting and over the edge methods and strategies provided to educators.” The school pays for the professional development that all staff receives. Tekoa Academy will send educators to AP Summer Institutes at Rice University this summer to become certified to teach Pre-AP/ AP courses. This training along with the C-Scope curriculum (Region VI ESC) and the CORE Supplement (Texas Educational Tools) will provide teachers the resources needed to deliver a rigorous curriculum to the student body. Instructional coordinators are being hired to provide continuous

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South classroom mentoring, modeling, monitoring, and collaboration. Tekoa Academy collaborative partnerships are with local industry and universities. Huntsman Corporation funded Tekoa Academy’s first robotics program through the assistance of Clark Colvin, Huntsman Community Relations Coordinator. The school robotics team advanced to state competition. Mr. Colvin is now Public Affairs Coordinator for Flint Hills Resources in Port Arthur, Texas. Texas A&M emergency management partnership evolved through the coordination of Mr. Charles X. White, School Consultant for emergency management. Dr. Richardson stated that her daughter, Princess Richardson, is the onsite coordinator. Princess has a degree from Lamar Institute of Technology in Homeland Security and is now in the criminal justice program at Sam Houston University in Huntsville, Texas. “I feel that our school is safe and in good hands with Princess at the helm of our emergency management team.” Texas Southern University (Dr. Richardson’s Alma-Mater) is another partner. Dr. Robert Ford, Interim Chair of Chemistry, is the coordinator for the GLOBE program at the university. Dr. Ford recognized how the school would benefit by becoming a GLOBE partner. GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) is a worldwide hands-on, primary and secondary school-based science and education program. GLOBE’s vision promotes and supports students, teachers and scientists to collaborate on inquiry-based investigations of the environment and the Earth system working in close partnership with NASA and NSF Earth System Science Projects (ESSPs) in study and research about the dynamics of Earth’s environment. Because Tekoa is in proximity to five major petrochemical companies with a total of 30 chemical companies in the tri-plex area, Tekoa students will benefit greatly in the participation of this earth system science project. Woodmen of the World are civic partners who provide the classrooms with U.S. flags, Texas flags, history books, fund different projects, and present a history award to the top history student each year. The Strawder family, of Strawder Insurance, has been a longtime friend of Dr. Richardson and a great support to the school. Another partnership is with St. James Catholic Church. After hurricane Rita, one of Tekoa’s educational buildings sustained water damages, resulting in Tekoa needing to relocate. “There were no other school structures in Port Arthur available and we were in search of a building to accommodate us. We considered modular buildings, but space was not efficient. However, God always has a Ram in the bush. St. James Catholic Church educational building was standing

firm. We met with Father John C. Toon and business manager Jeffery Lewis and were able to come to an agreement to accommodate Tekoa’s Pre-K through 2nd grade students. Our 2008-2009 school year ended with student success. Our TAKS scores soared, our children are feeling great, our parents hopeful, and our community partners can document success. As we move forward into new horizons, we move strategically, preparing our children to be ready to participate in international markets.” On May 1, 2009, Tekoa Academy began its 10th year as a certified charter school in the State of Texas. On August 16, 2009 ten years of instruction begins. On September 10, 2009 the Tekoa community has planned a celebration. Henry Bloch, former CEO of HR Block will be the guest speaker. Mr. Block is the founder of the University Academy Charter School located in Kansas City Missouri. Tekoa Academy is in Port Arthur, Texas. The school is located in a blighted economic empowerment-enterprise zone. Ninety-three percent of the students are economically disadvantaged, but the scores reflect their abilities not their addresses. Dr. Richardson’s hope is that some of the students will one day return to become employees in their learning community or employees of the city. “I believe we have lifted the voices of hope for those whose voices were thought to have died. I smile when I look at what God has done for me and my community. Tekoa Academy is truly a school of ‘Hope’ by choice.”

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State Focus

The Socioeconomic Impact of Charter Schools in Texas By: Keith Pulliam Introduction: Due to the decline in the quality of public education in Texas, state lawmakers passed legislation in 1995. The new law permitted the opening and implementation of charter schools. These new charters schools encourage and support innovative teaching for a variety of learning styles, improve the achievement of students, and provide options within the public school system (Terry and Alexander 2008, 4). Prior to the new legislation, there was no opportunity for choice within the public school system with regard to a child’s education, and children attended school according to their zip code. That deficiency began to change when the first charter school in Texas opened in the fall of 1996. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) reports that the “first generation” of charters consisted of 17 schools and had a collective population of 2,412 students. Legislation initially limited open-enrollment charters to 20 schools; however, lawmakers increased the cap to 100 schools in 1997 and to 215 schools in 2001 (Story 2007, 1). As of 2007, Texas had one of the largest and most flexible charter school programs in the United States (Story 2007, 1). Currently, Texas charter schools serve over 113,000 students, an estimated two percent of all public school students. Moreover, of those 113,000 students in charter schools, 80 percent are minority and 60 percent are economically disadvantaged students (Terry and Alexander 2008, 7). Research Analysis-Lifting the Cap: The State of Texas currently has 210 active

open-enrollment charter schools. In addition, Texas will likely reach the cap of 215 openenrollment charter schools by 2009. If the cap remains in place, many parents and children will be at a disadvantage, unable to choose the best quality education for their families. Many charter education supporters have and will continue to push for greater parental control and increased accountability with an emphasis on improved public relations. However, these supporters encounter a lot of resistance, because opponents see charter schools as competition to the public

schools. Consequently, increased restrictions and mandates stifle charter school growth. If the Texas government and the education policy stakeholders review the statistical findings and evaluate the impact of openenrollment charter schools in Texas, they will find a clear picture of the positive outcomes charter schools provide. It becomes apparent through the examination of the economic and social factors of open-enrollment charter schools that lifting the cap on the number of open-enrollment charter schools in Texas would be beneficial to the current public school system. 

Contrary to common public perception, charter schools are public schools. Similar to public schools, charter schools cannot charge tuition according to state law. However, “charter schools have a significant amount of autonomy and are free to be innovative in educational and administrative practices,” as stated on the Resource Center for Charter Schools (Technology Help for Administrators 2008).  Before a charter school in Texas breaks ground, the entity must submit a proposal, similar to a business proposal, for approval, which typically includes a mission statement, a philosophy and a vision. Furthermore, the proposal provides information regarding basic logistics, including class size, number of school days and hours, the programs that will service students and a projected budget. On many occasions, charter schools seek the help of outside agencies to provide guidance, classroom modeling, in-house training, and resources in order to assist in achieving the mission. For example, an open-enrollment charter school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania used a research based program / agency from San Francisco, California called the “Developmental Studies Center” (DSC). The DSC trained the faculty, provided resources and provided ongoing support in order to achieve the school’s mission and goal. In fact, the school bases its philosophy on a democratic model that gives students a voice, which promotes and fosters the students’ academic, social, and emotional growth. Significantly, this school recognizes the existence of multiple intelligences and diverse learning styles. One program that addresses the choice of students and multiple intelligences is the choice of electives for all of the student population once a week. They also incorporate a “service

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Features learning program” to assist in molding stewards of the community (Service Learning Programs, 2008). Similarly, in Houston, Texas, “KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) Academy Houston,” whose mission is to “help... students develop academic skills, intellectual habits, and qualities of character necessary to succeed in high school, college, and the competitive world beyond” is a very successful charter school that services grades 5-8 (U.S. Department of Education 2008). Texas recognized it as an “exemplary school” every year since 1996, and the U.S. Department of Education recognized it as a “Blue Ribbon” school. The dedication of its teachers and administrators, including being on call by way of cell phone 24/7 to address the

academic needs of students led to this success of the charter school (U.S. Department of Education 2008). This innovative dedication would not be something conducive to the public school sector.  In view of the fact that employees of mainstream public schools, are subject to collective bargaining and union contracts, have set hours and specific responsibilities in their contracts and do not deviate from them. By employing the flexibility of the charter program and by working outside the traditional eight hours of instructional time for students, the American Youth Works in Austin, Texas is a charter school that is able to better focus on the unique needs of its students. The school allows students half a day to pursue employment opportunities,

to participate in work study programs or to take care of family members, including the students’ own children. The school requires the students to fulfill only four hours of traditional instructional time in order to accommodate the individual’s life experience (Terry and Alexander 2008, 4). Other charter schools may extend the school day in order to improve academic achievement or may extend the school year to expose the students to supplemental material and expanded learning. Equally important, a mission aimed at addressing the varied learning styles through the theory of multiple intelligences may be the goal of another charter school. There are even charter schools that focus on the arts, architecture and design, leadership, and literacy. Charter schools generally do not fit the traditional model of the mainstream public school; instead, they find ways to educate children and stimulate learning based on innovative ideas and strategies. When a charter is operating, the entity will receive direct funding from the state and the federal government. However, charters do not receive funding for their facilities, so it is up to the charter school to raise money, solicit donations, apply for startup grants from the federal government or choose to borrow from private lenders (Terry and Alexander 2008, 5). Terry states, in a “GO San Angelo” article, that charter schools may not charge tuition, teach religion, discriminate, or cherry-pick students (Terry 2008, 1). To elaborate, if a charter school encourages families to volunteer 20 hours of their time to help with various needs of the school such as painting, helping in the classroom, making packets, cleaning, etc., the school cannot in any way enforce this as a “requirement.” If a family is penalized in any way, such as a student being removed from school for incompletion of hours, it would be considered payment for education. Moreover, charter schools may not discriminate in the enrollment of students or cherry-pick, select a student based on academic performance, behavior, or other preferential selection, its admissions.. Charter schools require different regulations compared to traditional public schools (Terry and Alexander 2008, 5). An example is that charter schools, as opposed to mainstream public schools, require teachers

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to provide parents and guardians of students in their school with a written notice of their qualifications. Another example of the differences in regulation is under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Federal Regulation Part 300, which reauthorizes the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA). Originally, law required charter schools to provide and complete academic testing for a child within 60 school days from the date of a request from a parent or guardian, while it required traditional public schools to provide and complete the same within 60 calendar days. Under the reauthorization, the requirement changed to 60 school days for both public and charter schools. Before this became universal for both mainstream public and charter schools, it was a disadvantage for the charter schools to adhere to the time restraint because it was more difficult in terms of the high cost of academic testing and limited funding. To be sure, accountability is universal for district public schools and charter schools, as the pressure of No Child Left Behind impacts both sectors of education. Both are required to administer standardized tests, and all students must test at their current grade level rather than their level of ability. For instance, an eighth grader who is reading at a third grade level must take the eighth grade reading standardized test. According to the article “Texas Charter Schools: An Assessment in 2005”, produced by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, “when student performance is evaluated on the basis of test scores, students in Texas charter schools perform on the average lower than do students in traditional public schools. However, when changes in test scores are used to judge performance, academic gains by charter school students can be demonstrated” (Patterson 2005, 5). This means that even though some charter school students’ performance does not exceed the performance of traditional public schools according to standardized test results, the students are individually making better academic progress in the charter schools. In addition, because most charter schools typically specialize in helping disadvantaged youth, many students in charter schools identify as an at-risk population for dropping out of school and come from low income homes which could hinder their test performance (Terry and Alexander 2008,

5). Accordingly, basing decisions of success on standardized test scores is an unfair assessment of charter school performance. Currently, the government enforces some regulation on charter schools that forces them to shut down if they have two consecutive years of undesirable performance, which typically measures by standardized test scores. This is harsher and inequitable compared to the five years allowed for the mainstream public school districts (Terry and Alexander 2008, 5). For example, a charter school may be able to improve a fifth grade student whose reading level is equivalent to third grade but still fail with unacceptable performance because the student failed the fifth grade Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test reading section (Terry and Alexander 2008, 1). During the 2007-2008 school years, 113,760 students enrolled in charter schools in Texas, and an estimated 16,810 students were on a waiting list (Terry and Alexander 2008, 4). Houston’s regional charter school’s waiting list was the largest at 7,415 students; coming in second was the Dallas / Fort Worth region at 5,896 students, and Rio Grand Valley had 2,110 students. Furthermore, the Austin region had a waiting list of 623; the Corpus Christi region had a waiting list of 159; and the San Antonio region had a waiting list of 488 students (Terry and Alexander 2008, 4). According to Robelen, since these numbers stem from a survey in which only half of the schools participated, the actual number of

students on a waiting list for charter schools in Texas is likely higher (Robelen 2008, 1). The large number of students on the waiting lists for charter school enrollment demonstrates the significant demand for educational options, which is the fundamental purpose of the legislation for charter schools. The rapidly growing number of students on waiting lists demonstrates the need for lawmakers to lift the cap limiting the number of charter schools in Texas. When a charter school has more applicants than they can allow, an enrollment lottery determines which students will be attending the upcoming school year.  Terry asks readers to “imagine parents, whose child is trapped in a low-performing public school, crying for joy that their child is randomly selected to attend a school with a track record of serving at-risk students with innovative strategies” (Terry 2008, 1). On the other hand, one can imagine the cries of a parent whose child is a student in a low-performing public school when their child looses the enrollment lottery.  There are four different types of charter schools: open-enrollment charters, district charters, university charters, and home-rule district charters. Open-enrollment charter schools service the largest population, 89,156 students as of the 2007-2008 school year. Open-enrollment charters are by definition independent school units and can have multiple campuses. The school district operates the district charter schools that consisted of 23,275 students in the

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Features 2007-2008 school years. University charters are generally in operation at public senior university or college and consisted of 1,329 students attending 19 different university charter schools in 2007-2008. Furthermore, a home-rule charter means districts have the ability to convert into charter school status which includes an extensive voting process. There is no cap on the number of district charters; however, there are no home-rule charter schools operating in Texas (Terry and Alexander 2008, 3). Open enrollment charter schools do not drain financial resources from mainstream public schools because they do not receive state funding. In fact, the excess money in the state education budget applies to the student’s home district and the neighboring school where the child resides. For example, in the 2005-2006 school year, the cost per student in Texas was $9,629; charter schools were given approximately $1,500 less per student (Terry and Alexander, 2008a, 1). Thus, operating a charter school saves the district money in educating a child because charter schools expend less money per child.

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Because charter schools receive less money per student compared to mainstream school districts in Texas, it is necessary for charter schools to incorporate fund raising into their fiscal plans. Moreover, charter school fundraising brings more dollars into the public sector. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, in Illinois the total of public and private funding for charter schools brought in a total of $11 million dollars to help educate the youth. In addition, charter schools introduce new resources into public education. Grants provide funds designed for charter schools phases such as, planning, development, and initial implementation which are not available to the public school system if charter schools were not in existence (National Alliance for Public Charter Schools 2008). It is incorrect for the districts in Texas to believe that charter schools negatively impact their bottom line or hinder their budgetary plan. In the event of the opening of a new charter school, the state provides the district with short term financial aids in order to prevent an impact on the school district revenue (National Alliance for Public Charter

Summer 2009

Schools 2008). Because charter schools typically enroll a diverse student body with a variety of characteristics, the fiscal impact is a factor of enrollment only (National Alliance for Public Charter Schools 2008). In addition, public and charter schools receive a percentage of money for students with disabilities; therefore, the public district receives an even higher amount than the $1,500 per special education student. Finally, socioeconomic factors dictate funding for individual students and services offered (National Alliance for Public Charter Schools 2008). Districts can easily reduce expenses to adapt to charter schools. The National Alliance for Charter Schools, reports that school districts can often adjust to student enrollment fluctuations-where there may be some key adjustments the first year, the following years have little to no impact on the school district (National Alliance for Public Charter Schools 2008).    The National Alliance for Charter Schools also believes that if a charter school is thriving, and the district cannot adjust to the fluctuation in enrollment, it is likely due to the district’s own failed policies

and rules (National Alliance for Public Charter Schools 2008). Charter schools in Texas increase the employment of teachers in the district as well. Many teachers struggle to obtain a teaching position once they graduate and charter schools open the doors for many of these qualified teachers to find a job in education. The state law only requires teachers to be state certified to work in a charter school if they specialize in special education or bilingual education (Terry and Alexander 2008a, 6). The state government in Texas does not require charter schools to employ certified teachers, but many choose to do so, especially with the shortage of teaching opportunities. Story supports this by stating statistics that show charter schools employ 26 percent of new teachers in the field compared to traditional public schools, which employ a mere 7 percent respectively (Story 2007, 3). In addition, charter schools can impact the traditional school district in a positive way by reducing the need for districts to hire new teachers by eliminating overcrowding, which reduces the average cost of hiring and training a new teacher, estimated to be about $8,000 per teacher (The National Alliance for Charter Schools 2008). The impact of charter schools in the community’s economic and social growth is rapidly increasing. As stated earlier, charter schools do not receive funding for facilities from the state, however the districts that have charters schools receive and excess of approximately $1,500 per student that attends a charter school.  Therefore, without the funding for a facility, charter schools renovate, remodel and/or rehabilitate existing property within a community in order to accommodate students. Having a charter school residing in a neighborhood has the potential to generate tax revenue and increase the value of real estate (National Alliance for Public Charter Schools 2008). The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools also suggests that if charter schools are successful in educating students, it can reduce the dropout rate in high schools and increase college admissions and graduates. Texas seems to have a high dropout rate, and those students who graduate do not have the communication and math skills necessary for college and require remedial math and reading programs to qualify for admission to college (Terry and Alexander 2008, 4).

One of the most successful schools in Texas is a charter school that reduced their dropout rates dramatically under the direction of the mission of their charter. These charter schools often provide a safe haven for youth by providing aftercare and tutoring. Importantly, charter schools often give communities a sense of pride. Many charter schools offer Boy Scouts of America, sports, and other programs in order to facilitate teambuilding, self esteem, and help foster a sense of community, and growth in a child. Some charter schools open their doors for tutoring and mentoring on Saturdays to offer extra assistance as well as a safe setting for young learners. However, these programs are uncommon in the traditional public school district setting mostly because of the contract and collective bargaining processes of the districts. Charter schools have the ability to add the extra touches that impact students without the political constraints that traditional district schools face. While charter schools do not seem like they would pose a significant threat to the financial operations of the public school system in

Texas, there are some risks associated with the existence of charter schools. Because most charter schools operate like a business, there is a risk of misappropriation and improper allocation of funds. In addition, misconduct of administrators, teachers, and entities involved with a particular charter school could lead to a negative reputation of charter schools as a whole. However, limiting the number of charter schools based on isolated incidents of illegal activity, inappropriate behavior or misuse of power could prove to be harmful to the education system. Misconduct can develop in any entity, including public school districts. Research shows that students from a traditional public school who attend charter schools for a period of two or three years improve more rapidly than students in the traditional public school district (Terry and Alexander 2008, 5). Not using a growth based system to measure the amount of growth, a student is able to obtain in the course of a year in the state accountability system is causing charter school to seem deficient (Terry and Alexander 2008, 5). Research from the “Texas Charter Schools: An Assessment in

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Features 2005” produced by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, shows that students who left traditional public schools to attend charter schools performed better on average than they would have if they were still attending the traditional public school (Patterson 2004, 32). Thus, the correlation of charter schools and student achievement is significant, and students will benefit from the removal of the charter school cap in Texas. Charter schools provide competition with the mainstream district schools which provides an unwanted positive impact on the district schools. It forces district schools to exhibit more accountability of staff and teachers and puts pressure on them to increase student performance. If the schools are functioning at low levels, parents or guardians will feel the need to remove their child from the district school by applying to a charter school. If lawmakers remove the cap and more options are available to parents and guardians, more choices for education will be accessible to students and parents. In addition, the competition between charter schools and public schools will cause school districts to increase their overall academic performance. Patterson asserts the bottom line for charter schools in Texas as follows:

Charters are especially effective with disadvantaged students (Patterson 2005, 1). Charters challenge traditional public schools to improve student performance (Patterson 2005, 1). © Bob Smith

Conclusion: The benefits a charter school can provide to the district public schools, parents, students, and the community significantly outweighs any negative impact charters may cause. The Texas legislature should eliminate the cap of 215 charter schools which prevents charter schools to operate in a free market (Terry and Alexander, 2008, 1). The 16,810 or more students on the waiting lists for charter schools prove the demand for charter schools. This demand, viewed in light of the current issues facing traditional public schools, proves that charter schools are working well in improving the quality of education. Many education analysts believe that the quality of a charter school education will increase overtime. Unless this demand meets the supply, tens of thousands of students will remain in an environment that may not promote academic, emotional or social growth. Equally important, these students will not thrive in their current placement and could regress to the extent of becoming an at-risk youth who could potentially drop out of high school, leading to a grim future. This

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The bureaucracy that places a barrier to student learning and student performance is unconscionable. A simple solution to the education crisis Texas is facing would be to lift the cap while continuing to monitor all educational institutions. It is in the best interests of the child to allow parents and guardians to make the choice of where their child should attend school to get the best free, appropriate public education possible. The main purpose of the charter school legislation in 1995 was to give that choice to Texas citizens. That freedom no longer exists for thousands of citizens in Texas because of the cap on charter schools. Given the overwhelming evidence that charter schools are socioeconomically beneficial, lawmakers in Texas should increase or remove the cap altogether and make charter schools available to all of its citizens in 2009. About the Author:

Charter schools are a valuable alternative to traditional public schools (Patterson 2005, 1).

Charters do a better job with high school students and alternative education programs (Patterson 2005, 1).

proposed reform of lifting the cap could be an immense opportunity for Texas to become a leader in the charter school movement. The Texas public school system could stop the increase of real estate taxes to invest money in failing districts and make the choice to provide additional educational resources for the children of the state.

Summer 2009

Education • PhD in Public Administration – University of Texas at Dallas (Richardson, TX) (In progress) • M.B.A in Management – Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, OH) • B.S. in Business Administration, honors – Georgia College (Milledgeville, GA) Certifications & Memberships • American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) (2008-2009) • Conference of Minority Public Administrators (2008-2009) • CUPA-HR (provides global leadership to the higher education human resources profession) (2008-2009) • International Public Management Association for Human Resources (2008-2009) • National Human Resources Association (2008-2009) • Society of Human Resource Management member • SAP Certified • Registered Organizational Development Professional Certified Honors and Awards • The National Scholars Honor Society (2007-2008),(2008-2009) • Georgia College & State University Minority Academic Student Award • Who’s Who Among American Colleges and Universities • Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society • Case Western Reserve University’s - Weatherhead School of Management Minority Scholars Honoree • Georgia College & State University Youth in Business Internship • Outstanding Young Man Award • Hampton University PhD Project/Minority Scholars Internship • Georgia College & State University Deans List 5 times O V E R V I E W I have a BS and an MBA, both emphasizing human resources. I am currently pursuing a PhD in Public Affairs. I am certified as a Professional in Human Resources, and in the SAP Human Resource software solutions. I have worked on twelve plus system implementations. My project experience includes project management, and HR consulting in all HR subject areas. My work experience is highly concentrated in practical human resources in several industries, including healthcare, oil & gas, utilities as well as public sector.


Beyond the Idea Examining Charter School Law Written by Tiffany Nichols Before the creation of charter schools, only local school boards were allowed to start public schools. When charter law was created, the right to found and run a charter school was extended to other entities outside of the local school board. The laws that govern charters are vital to create a standard by which they are run and allow for student success to be more attainable.

underperforming and cannot receive the government aid that it needs to reform its practices and policies, it has no alternative to revive itself. This puts Nevada at a disadvantage as it is easier for an outside entity to start a charter school in a location where some resources, such as facilities and supplies, are already available. It is exponentially harder to find space and re-staff an entire charter school from scratch.

Currently, charter laws determine who can start and run a charter school; who can approve applications to start charter schools; how charters are funded; what rules charters must follow as public education institutions and what rules are waived; what experience and certification is required for charter school officials and faculty; and how charter officials and faculty will be held accountable. These laws need to allow for a wide range of institutions to create charter schools, both public and private. Quality charter laws should also provide funding to public charter schools at a level that is comparable to public schools while also maximizing efficient operation. 1 The issue that arises is that charters are not subject to the same laws universally, and therefore the quality of charter schools varies between states, counties, and even within counties.

It can’t be denied that the charter school movement is still gaining momentum and some states provide more fertile ground for their establishment than others. Attaining start-up funding is often one of the biggest barriers to opening a charter school. Yet, of the 40 states with charter laws, the only states to mitigate this hurdle by providing startup money are California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania.2

The difference between states’ charter specifications varies greatly. For example, all states allow their public schools to be converted to charter schools, except for Nevada. This means that in Nevada, if a school is 1 National Alliance for Public Charter Schools,

In matters of accountability, every state requires their charter schools to be subject to the same assessment standards as its public schools as dictated by the state. This requirement provides some continuity in standards within states, but does little to stabilize variances between states. However, a positive aspect of state testing requirements is that it promotes healthy competition. Officials at public schools are pushed to step up to the plate and offer high-quality education for fear of 2 Education Commission of the States, Issues%2FCharterSchools%2FCHDB%5Fintro%2Easp

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Spotlights losing some of their students to charter schools that are achieving higher test scores. Similar to the assessment standards, all states require some teacher certification (with some states having specific guidelines), with the exception of Arizona, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Georgia, and Texas. 3The issue of whether charter school teachers should be subject to No Child Left Behind’s definition of highly qualified teachers, or whether administrators should be able to use their own discretion in determining what are acceptable teaching credentials, is debatable. If teachers in traditional public schools are required to be certified, but students are still not performing at grade level, it is worth evaluating whether experience or alternative teaching programs may give a teacher more credibility than a degree alone. 4 In Arizona, of the 11 schools statewide in 100 percent of students passed 10th grade reading in the 2006-2007 school year, nine were charter schools. Similarly, in the same year, of the seven schools statewide in which 100 percent of students passed 10th grade math, six are charter schools. 5 The issue of charter independence from these requirements is an interesting one, however, because although charters need to be able to operate according to their own standards in order to try new techniques and implement cutting-edge teaching methods, charters 3 Education Commission of the States 4 Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 5 Arizona Charter School Association, ArizonaOutperforming.pdf

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also need to be held to some standard of accountability to ensure that they are actually meeting state standards for education. More than half of the 40 states with charter laws and the District of Columbia require that their charter schools submit periodic reports to a greater governing entity to assess student progress and teacher performance. Yet, the issue that exists with reports and assessments alike is that they do not examine the progress that schools make with the entire child. The reports and exams cannot show what is happening in the household of a student, nor is there a scientific measure for self-esteem or motivation. In areas where charter schools exist as alternatives to failing education systems, these improvements are just as important as any academic improvements. What is needed in order to ensure charter quality is continuity across states and counties. Teachers must be held to some standard of accountability. Even if states do not want to require that teachers have certification, there should still be some requirement of teaching so that teachers lacking formal education training have the skills and opportunity to teach students if they wish. Although charters should be able to create their own standards and assessments to evaluate students and teachers, there needs to be a governing body that is keeping track of which schools are excelling and which schools are not, in order to avoid mismanagement and continued failure. When schools are given quality teaching staff, quality curriculum, quality funding, and held to high standards, performance will no longer be reserved for charter schools in affluent areas, but will extend to all charter schools willing to set the bar high.

Midwest & West

Buckeye On-line School for Success A Virtual World of Opportunity Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Jim Barlow Students from 79 Ohio counties attend school in a small, northeastern Ohio town, but they never physically go there. All 1,928 students in 2008-09 will complete their studies online with the 50 teachers of Buckeye On-line School for Success (BOSS). BOSS is located between Canton and Pittsburgh in East Liverpool, Ohio, near the Pennsylvania border. The school was chartered in 2004, after an application was submitted. The school was modeled after an online school across the Pennsylvania line, where Director Randy Calhoun worked for one summer. The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School was the creation of Dr. Nick Trombetta.

When BOSS opened in 2004, the school had 161 students and nine employees. Today, BOSS has over 100 employees and every BOSS teacher is highly qualified. The teachers all live in the Columbiana County community or within 50 minutes from the facility, with an additional office located in Columbus, Ohio. From the school’s five-story, downtown East Liverpool building, a former bank data center, teachers instruct in the virtual classroom setting from their desk. The building’s 50-by-50 foot server room alone is larger than the school’s first home, a 40by-40 foot office space that housed 11 staff

members. To avoid computer outages, a diesel-powered backup system stands at the ready. Marked Improvement A glance at the state-published 2007-08 Report Card would suggest troubles for the school. The Report Card shows BOSS on “academic watch,” meeting three of 30 academic indicators and failing to achieve Academic Yearly Progress. Calhoun notes, however, that the Report Card also showed BOSS met the state’s “Value-Added Measure” for above-expected

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Midwest & West academic growth for at least two consecutive years. Every student who did poorly on the March 2008 Ohio Graduation Test, which covers five subject areas and must be passed to graduate, showed dramatic improvement, surpassing state averages, when retested in October. One-on-one tutoring, as well as group sessions, are available daily from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. The school is addressing its watch status by working with all K-12 students. Teachers contact each student on a regular basis to monitor their progress via telephone, email and discussion boards, said BOSS Assistant Director Madelaine Friebe. Meeting assessment standards required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, is difficult, Calhoun said. “NCLB, there are times when I think of it as No Child Can Get Ahead. We live with it. We try our best to understand the thought behind it, but it is hard for any school to comply. Our growth has been huge, but 40 percent of the kids we test are new to us.”

BOSS Students and Curriculum BOSS caters to a wide variety of students, as the school’s population shows. Comprised of 88 percent Caucasian students, 48 percent of the school’s population is economically disadvantaged and 13 percent special needs. The student body also includes seriously ill students, dropouts over age 19 trying again, previously home-schooled children, kids of parents who travel frequently, and children whose athletic participation in Amateur Athletic Union events keeps them on the road. BOSS also has a student who is a national champion horseback rider. This year’s fifth graduating class included a student who already has 42 college credits and others with 25 to 30 credits. Through agreements with Kent State University and several community colleges throughout Ohio, BOSS students can elect to take collegelevel courses. Over 50 percent of graduating Seniors are attending a two or four year college.

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Midwest & West “We have students going on from here to colleges everywhere,” said Calhoun, who went on to name institutions in several states. “Our students have proven to be independent, self-paced learners. To my knowledge, none have been turned down for college admission.” Students and their parents choose from among four curriculums, picking one that best meets their needs or that best matches needs gleaned from a skill assessment administered to incoming students, said Dana Vulgamore, director of teachers. The Virtual Classroom is a curriculum option that provides live, real time instruction. Students attend classes at a designated time, interacting with the teacher and other students via the internet. Each student is issued a headset and an electronic tablet, allowing for teacher-student interaction or for students to collaborate in groups. Special-needs students are linked individually to a special education teacher. Fellow classmates are not made aware of the presence of a disabled student or of his or her special education teacher.

“We have students going on from here to colleges everywhere, our students have proven to be independent, self-paced learners. To my knowledge, none have been turned down for college admission.” ~Randy Calhoun

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Video and audio are streamed on the Web to students logged in at their homes, where they can view the teachers, instructional material and films and even play games that teachers make available, said Nikki Beadnell, director of virtual classrooms at BOSS. Classes begin each hour, starting at 8 a.m. with that last commencing at 2 p.m. daily. “Each class is recorded,” Calhoun said. “So a student struggling in a class can hit a button and watch that class over again

or go back and review before a test.” Self paced courses are available to students as well. Students can enroll in them, log in anytime and proceed at their own pace through the material, which includes instruction, supplemental materials and tests. One of the curriculum options is provided by NNDS. This curriculum is Lincoln Interactive, a digital education programming approved by the University of Pittsburgh’s Tri-State Area School Study Council. Other curriculum options include the Marylandbased Calvert School, a 100-year-old home-school-based curriculum used by more than 400,000 students worldwide; and online coursework formulated by the University of Missouri Center for Distance and Independent Study. BOSS is currently developing curriculum of their own closely aligning with the Ohio content standards. BOSS also has special programs for the fine arts, tutoring using specially designed technology through Amvonet, and physical education guidelines so students meet Ohio requirements through BOSS-approved local programs. Educational materials are supplemented by BOSS staff to assure they meet Ohio educational standards, and are updated continually, Calhoun said. For the school’s various insurance requirements, BOSS turns to

The McCamon-Hunt Insurance Agency

is an independent full service agency that enjoys relationships with a variety of quality insurance companies. This enables us to market your insurance needs with our different carriers to bring you the best service and coverage at a reasonable price. We are committed to maintaining a high standard of excellence and continue to maintain the highest standard of “Elite Broker” with Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

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Midwest & West McCamon-Hunt Insurance Agency which offers competitive pricing for a variety of insurance plans that best suit the school’s needs. Though BOSS operates in the virtual world, students are given opportunities to meet throughout the year. Several field trips are conducted monthly at different locations, where students and parents can come together to interact. A recent trip to the Newport Aquarium drew 100 students. State-mandated assessment tests are held at various locations, the most recent being the Ohio Achievement tests in April that brought school officials to 46 different sites in one week. A school’s participation requires that 95 percent of its students attend, a task that is not easily met by a virtual school. Calhoun anticipates that the school will continue to meet standards and attract more students as the benefits of distance learning are recognized. The virtual world of education where BOSS resides offers unique opportunities and certainly a degree of flexibility that cannot be matched in a traditional setting. In an increasingly techoriented world, it is undeniable that BOSS is bringing education into the 21st century.

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Sacramento Charter High School Turning Around Expectations Produced by Hanim Samara & Written by Jim Barlow Along a hallway in Sacramento Charter High School there is a “Wall of Fame” adorned with college acceptance letters and college pennants, representing the school’s mission to prepare its students for college. All this is from a school that not too long ago was slated to be a thing of the past.

is the highest in the school’s history and the school is ranked 10th on a 1-10 scale when compared to high schools in California with similar demographics. Quite impressive for a school that was once widely noted as dysfunctional and headed for shut down at the end of the 2002-2003 school year.

The school’s 920 students are subdivided into four themed schools that focus on arts, business and communications, law and public service, and math, engineering and health sciences. Some students from Sac High, as it’s known by locals, currently hold part-time jobs or internships at area businesses. More than 80 percent of the 2008 graduating class went to college; in fact, graduates of 2007 and 2008 headed to 92 institutions in 23 states and the District of Columbia including Stanford University and MIT. The 2009 graduating class has so far received acceptance letters from 31 California institutions and schools in 24 other states, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Sac High’s Academic Performance Index

The school, located in Oak Park, is the second-oldest high school west of the Mississippi River. Before being founded as a charter school, it was spiraling out of control in a crumbling neighborhood of high unemployment, drug use and criminal activity. Violence, high absenteeism, a 20 percent college-acceptance rate and a culture of “nobody cares” had become the school’s trademark. Sac High was cornered into a case of fight or flight. The public school district’s superintendent announced that Sac High would close unless local residents could garner enough support to convert it into a charter

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school and change its course. The Turn Around Kevin Johnson, a 1983 Sac High graduate and retired National Basketball Association all star, led the charge in Sac High’s charter movement. Johnson was already helping with an after-school tutoring program as part of St. Hope, a non-profit community development corporation he had founded in 1989 to revitalize inner-city communities through public education, economic development, civic leadership and arts enrichment. St. Hope took over Sac High and its feeder pre-school and K-8 school. One step at a time, beginning in fall 2003, Sac High was revitalized, and last November Johnson was elected Sacramento’s first black mayor. Sac High’s turnaround took time, said coprincipal Daniel Prakash Diffenbaugh, also known as PK, first joined Sac High as a substitute teacher when it opened as a charter school. The Stanford-educated Diffenbaugh said the first two years were marked by

“It was a school with a history of low expectations. Students felt that you come to class or you don’t, and no one really cared. When we came in, we had to fight to take control of the school and provide some structure and order." ~Daniel Prakash Diffenbaugh 96 | Charter Schools Today

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numerous fights and uncertainty as students acclimated to a new school culture. While a majority of students from the old Sac High enrolled, only two staff members stayed. Because of lawsuits by two local teachers’ unions, final court approval for St. Hope’s charter did not come until less than one month before school started. Teachers were recruited in barely two weeks. Today there are 70 employees, including about 50 teachers. “It was a school with a history of low expectations,” Diffenbaugh said. “Students felt that you come to class or you don’t, and no one really cared. When we came in, we had to fight to take control of the school and provide some structure and order. One of our pillars is high expectations, which we implemented right away in terms of behavioral expectations and how you treat teachers and other students. It was a real struggle.” Worth the Challenges Today Sac High has a $2 million budget overseen by the St. Hope board of directors. Just

"One of our pillars is high expectations, which we implemented right away in terms of behavioral expectations and how you treat teachers and other students. It was a real struggle.” ~Daniel Prakash Diffenbaugh

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Midwest & West this year, aging portable buildings were eliminated and a new wing with 25 new classrooms opened. Sac High’s student body is 56 percent AfricanAmerican, 23 percent Latino and 7 percent Asian, and over 60 percent of students qualify for the Federal Free or Reduced Lunch Program. It is a school that has no entrance requirements other than students and parents filling out an application and signing a Commitment to Excellence contract. While many of the school’s sports teams have excelled, academics take first place as is seen in the success of the class of 2007, thus forever closing the book on pre-charter Sac High. During the 2007-2008 school year, Sac High jumped 83 points in its academic performance index, the biggest growth among any high school of its size in all of California.. Contributing to this turn around is the fact that, since fall 2006, uniforms

have been mandatory, providing formality and reinforcing the new culture. Students take five 77-minute courses and a 30-minute advisory class each semester. Challenging academic requirements include credit loads per semester that equal one year in a traditional high school. Standards also tightened; all students were required to pass courses with a grade no lower than a C- and meet admission requirements for the University of California and California State University systems in order to receive a diploma. “You have to see our school to believe what has happened here,” Diffenbaugh said. “Our campus is immaculate. We have college banners everywhere and a college Wall of Fame. The goal of our school is to prepare all of our kids to go onto a four-year university. We try to have a physical space represent our goals as a school. People who come in are shocked, because what they see is not what they expect to see in an urban school.” Sac High’s four schools have agreements with outside entities to grow each school’s theme. The business school’s program partners with Wells Fargo who brings 30 bank employees to the school to mentor students.

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Midwest & West Deals with the University of California Davis Health System allow Sac High students to go to campus, where they learn dissection techniques and shadow doctors. “We’ve even had our kids witness an open-heart surgery,” Diffenbaugh said. Another partnership with the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law helped facilitate Sac High’s turnaround and also developed the school’s law-themed curriculum so it is appropriate for high schoolers. Having evolved over the last few years, the program today focuses on a Street Law program taught by McGeorge law students. The program culminates in a mock trial that gives each student the opportunity to do opening and closing statements and play the role of the witnesses, prosecutors, and defenders. All of this takes place in front of a real judge and jury. “While this is a ‘mock’ trial, it is treated with great seriousness and the students come away with great understanding of and respect for the legal system,” says John McIntyre, Assistant Dean for McGeorge School of Law. Sac High also works with Action Learning System which provides the school with research-based strategies, training, coaching, and intervention programs to help it cater to the unique needs of its students. This is

another reason Sac High has been able to elevate its student achievement. Recently, Sac High was awarded a grant of $300,000 over three years from AT&T to reduce dropouts and create a smooth transition from middle to high school. While Sac High’s teachers for core classes are highly qualified under No Child Left Behind, some pursued their teaching careers through alternative ways. “Ultimately, if you want to do something different, as we have done, it requires a different type of staff. Leaders need flexibility to pursue avenues that may not fit the criteria of No Child Left Behind,” Diffenbaugh commented. St. Hope’s board of directors has a compatible philosophy and believes that accountability is necessary, but not solely dependent on standardized testing. “You need to hold administrators and teachers accountable for the overall success of a school. If a school is not performing, I believe that it is in the students’ interests and the parents’ interests to find a change -- whether that’s finding a new administration, shutting it down or pursuing other options. You have to give the people involved the power to lead, but hold them responsible. Accountability really lies at the school site.”

AT&T’s business is to connect people – we’ve been doing that for more than 100 years, and we work hard to do it better every day. It’s also important to us that we make connections in ways that are meaningful and relevant to both our business and the communities we serve. For decades, the AT&T Foundation has been committed to advancing education, strengthening communities and improving lives. Supporting education is a major focus for AT&T because we believe that investing in a well-educated workforce may be the single most important thing we can do to help America remain the leader in a digital, global economy. Last year, we announced the largest education initiative in our company’s history – AT&T Aspire – a $100 million commitment focused on high school success and workforce readiness to help combat the U.S. high school dropout crisis. Here in Sacramento, we awarded over $700,000 in AT&T Aspire grants last year, including support for St. HOPE Public School’s program to help prepare 9th grade students for college and industry-themed education. We salute St. HOPE’s top-quality, college preparatory education and great success in increasing high school graduation and college acceptance rates. AT&T Aspire supports the great work of educators - whose passion and commitment helps students succeed each and every day. Working together, we can help students make the connection between education and future life success.

Santa Barbara Charter School Nurturing Innate Abilities Produced by Hanim Samara & Written by Lauren Muscarella Nurturing a child’s innate abilities is intrinsic to a student’s educational experience and is also something that Santa Barbara Charter School (SBCS), a kindergarten through eighth grade school founded in 1993, prides itself on. SBCS was started by a group of parents and one teacher to provide alternative education options for the Santa Barbara and Goleta, California areas. The founders built the school on the importance of parental involvement as well as individualized learning. “All parents sending their kids to SBCS carefully select our school,” said Director of Operations, David Weisman. “We don’t have any ‘default’ students, who are here only because the school zoning mandates it,” he added. In addition to the school’s accommodation of students’ innate learning styles, the school emphasizes teaching to “multiple intelligences,” a theory that stresses the need to address a broader range of human potential with a multitude of methods. SBCS’s small class size, 20 to 25 students per class, allows for students to receive more individualized attention and is just one of the ways teachers enhance the practice of these principles. Another key is integrating the arts into more traditionally academic subjects. For instance, the school’s Fiber Arts Program teaches students to weave fiber textures in rows and columns which can help foster great mathematics skills in students. This Fiber Arts Program, developed at SCBS, was picked up by University of Southern California’s Teacher Education program and added to its text materials. Known as a “Constructivist” program, the school endeavors to aid students in figuring out how they learn best by allowing them to interact with a rich array of materials, while also having the guidance of well-mentored teachers and caring parents. Students can also discuss what they are learning amongst themselves. “Learning should be contextual not only memory-based,” Weisman added.

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A PHD For the Young The school’s year-long Project Heart’s Desire (PHD) program is a vehicle that allows eighth grade students to study something they feel passionately about. Each student finds a mentor and works to create a presentation that will be unveiled for peers and industry experts. One student started doodling cartoons in kindergarten and then pursued animation for his eighth-grade graduate PHD. He is now studying animation at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film, and Television to pursue a career path that sparked at just five years old. This student also happens to be the son of the school’s Director Weisman. Nepotism aside, his son’s success is the direct result of the school’s fundamental parent-involved model. “Both students and teachers are inappropriately pressured when standardized tests are the only measure of assessment. The tests do not measure student learning as they purport. Moreover, standardized tests are supposed to be administered to a representative cross section of students. Families have chosen SBCS to serve children based on their learning styles, and some chose the school because those styles may not be consistent with what is measured by the tests. This breaks down the standardization,” Weisman believes, “Many public school teachers would say that the system is too simplistic, and that multiple measures need to be used to establish student success and teacher efficacy,” he continues. According to Weisman, state administered, high stakes tests also do not measure how students get along with peers and authority figures. This discourages many traditional schools from committing any time to student relationships. Conversely, SBCS uses a comprehensive conflict resolution methodology, which is used by all teachers, aides, and parent volunteers who work with students. The teaching philosophy, as well as the learning environment, enhanced by non-violent conflict resolution, attracts well-trained and highly motivated faculty. The school’s proximity to both the University of California Santa Barbara and Antioch University provides SBCS with an opportunity to mentor teachers. “Teachers learn a great deal while at university only to then face pressure to leave much of what they learned behind to comply with a high stakes, standardized testing mandate at public schools,” Weisman said. “Since some of our teachers also teach at Antioch University, and because the teaching philosophies are complimentary, several Antioch students do their student teaching with us. As a result, our turnover isn’t very high. Teachers are mentored here and they tend to stay.” In addition to fully credentialed teachers, SBCS’s program uses “specialists,” who may be parents with a specialty in a particular subject, or who may be community members with a particular skill. Teachers run the show at SBCS: “Something drives a person to go into teaching,” Weisman said. “People don’t go into it for the money. They must go into it for some greater reason, which is why our school prides itself on allowing the teachers to make decisions about curriculum and teaching methods. The teacher is the one in the classroom day after day, not the administrator.” To complement the dedicated teachers, the school’s parent group, known as The Parent Alliance, provides extra support, both in the classroom and with the operation of the school. When the founding teachers and par-

Midwest & West ents sat in a room together to decide what type of school they wanted, they decided that the arts were important not only for enrichment, but also because they allow the school to cater to multiple learning styles. The founders also wanted to create and emphasize the importance of building and strengthening relationships among the students, teachers, and parents. The self-monitored and selfgoverned volunteer program contributes to the school’s philosophy. At any given time, up to three parent volunteers may be assisting teachers and teaching assistants. “Their participation is completely flexible,” Weisman said. “Parents can choose to be in the classroom, contribute from home, work on the weekends, or they can put in extra time during the summer.” “In 2006 the Santa Barbara School Board, our charter school sponsor, declared SBCS’s present location as our permanent location, allowing us to invest in capital improvements,” said Weisman. “This month we began renovating the playgrounds with a new play structure. All of the ‘bake sale’ money that SBCS has accumulated over 15 years of strong parental involvement and financial contributions, now

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allows us to make some of the changes we’ve been wanting. The founders wanted to create a certain feel,” Weisman said. “Now, we all want nicer amenities to support that and to provide students with an atmosphere that encourages learning and creativity.” The school started as a parent teacher cooperative and parents continue to make up the majority of the school’s charter school board. Parents also are encouraged to work in their children’s classes. “One of the ways that we have found that parents of middle school students can be positively involved is with a study skills class,” Weisman says. “We find that it contributes to the dialogue between parents and teachers, and it helps kids with organizational skills. We try to create an alliance between the teacher and the parents. Parents don’t want an adversarial relationship with their children’s teachers and schools and we work hard to prevent that.” Students at SBCS certainly benefit from exactly what the founders set out to accomplish: a school that offers parental involvement and a creative outlet that caters to each student’s potential.

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Golden Eagle Charter School Personalizing the Learning Experience Produced by Hanim Samara & Written by Holly Alexander Golden Eagle Charter School (GECS) serves Siskiyou County, an area in northern California made up of small, scattered rural communities. GECS provides its students with a personalized learning program which is a combination of homeschooling, enrichment classes, and use of resources from the greater community. GECS is a public school, funded by the state like any other public school, and all students have access to the same special education resources that other county schools have. The school was founded in 2004 by a group of dedicated parents and teachers. GECS currently enrolls 306 students in K-12, and employs 19 credentialed teachers. GECS has five enrichment sites scattered throughout the county. When Kathryn Mc Cotter, the School Coordinator, was asked “what is unique about GECS?” she replied: “Golden Eagle assesses each child’s talents, abilities, needs and interests and makes a unique educational plan for each child, each year. The curriculum is ordered for each child individually, and the outside resources, like math classes, music lessons, science tutors, etc. are also arranged depending on the needs of that particular child. All GECS student plans are geared toward that student making adequate progress through his or her grade level state standards, while at the same time, pursuing his or her unique interests and abilities.” Students at Golden Eagle fit into three main groups. The first is made up of traditional home school students, fully supported in their educational endeavors by their parents, who complete the bulk of their children’s schooling at home. Parents are guided in their roles as educators by a credentialed teacher who works for Golden Eagle. These students also have the opportunity to take enrichment or core classes such as science, literature, music, or math at GECS sites in

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OASIS has played an integral part in customizing our student information system to meet our ‘personalized learning’ approach to education. Their customer support is outstanding.


OASIS is a great software program and we greatly appreciate the quick response, support and “out of the box” thinking that comes from working with the staff at Innovative School Solutions. PAM RENTZ DIRECTOR OF STUDENT RECORDS - RIVER SPRINGS CHARTER SCHOOL

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We have been using OASIS as a Student lnformation System since January 2005. It has been a very satisfying experience from the beginning. Innovative School Solutions is always quick to respond to our needs and is always upgrading to make sure we are CSIS compliant. OASIS is a very user friendly system for teachers and staff alike, and we enjoy working with such efficiency. Service excellence!


Innovative School Solution’s (ISS) OASIS has transformed how we manage the student data of over 4,000 students. ISS has provided outstanding customer support to our school, including multiple trips out to our school sites and extensive customization. STEVE GOOD SAN FRANCISCO SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - 5 KEYS CHARTER SCHOOL

several communities. The second group is comprised of hybrid students who are partly homeschooled, but also looking for a blended program that includes classes and enrichment activities provided by learning centers and other community resources. Credentialed teachers are involved with hybrid students, providing curriculum, assignments and assessments as well as assisting with comprehensive administration of the student’s learning process. The third and fourth groups are comprised of independent study students, generally those who are considered at risk and who have not been successful in traditional public school. Some are bored and need more challenging curriculum, while others are struggling and benefit from extra support to meet their educational goals. These students may attend classes, or one-on-one tutoring sessions, and meet with their credentialed teacher weekly to receive instructions and to get new assignments and feedback on work they have completed. GECS has added an Online Program and a Project Based Program in the last three years. The online program “meets” each morning for check in and later for math classes via elluminate – a two way virtual chalkboard. The online group gets together in person for monthly field trips, and are all on individual learning plans coordinated by their online teacher. The Project Based Program is run on the Ed Visions model, promoted by the Gates Foundation. These students meet at school every day and

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create projects to fulfill their state standards and credit requirements. They are assisted and supported by their assigned on–site teachers. It’s a business model in that the students generate project plans and submit them for approval to the teacher. Once approved, they start work on them, and when the project is complete, they make a presentation to the other project-based students and teachers. Every GECS student is given a standards-based diagnostic test at the beginning and end of the school year, and certified teachers review tests and other work at each student/teacher meeting. Teachers develop standards-based monthly reports to track student progress on a monthly basis. Students are required to take all state mandated tests. GECS employs a high school counselor to assist in graduation/ college and career planning. Students can take a limited number of community college classes, at no cost, earning college credits while still in high school. Parent and teacher involvement in the collaborative leadership of the school can be witnessed in the Leadership Team and the Governance Council. The Leadership Team develops and fine tunes school policy and procedure. The leadership team is made up of four teachers, the school’s Director, Shelly Adams, the School Coordinator, Kathryn Mc Cotter, and two parent volunteers. The Governance Council acts as the school board and reviews, approves or denies that policy and procedure. The Governance Council is made up of volunteer members of the community at large. GECS is a public non-profit, 501(c)3 corporation.

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Personalized Learning Network Association Since its’ founding in September 2002, APLUS+ (the Association of Personalized Learning Schools & Services) has grown to a membership of more than forty Personalized Learning charter schools and more than two dozen educational services providers, collectively serving more than 25,000 K-12 students who reside throughout California. APLUS+ is exclusively dedicated to advancing Personalized Learning as a critically important and successful model for 21st century K-12 education, and to representing and supporting high quality Personalized Learning schools that are committed to academic excellence and the highest standards of integrity and accountability. To this end, APLUS+ requires that its members demonstrate tangible measures of high quality in both their operational and academic administration, including independent accreditation, meeting Federal and State mandates, individualized academic assessment and tracking of student progress, and API/AYP results. APLUS+ promotes the value and benefits of the Personalized Learning model for the growing number of K-12 students, who for various reasons, seek a more flexible alternative approach to the traditional, more limiting, full-time classroom based learning model. Personalized Learning is often viewed like a college or university model applied to K-12, where students may attend teacher-delivered courses for up to a few hours per day, and then further their learning in other supportive learning environments or through other delivery avenues. APLUS+ has become the recognized voice to advance the Personalized Learning movement in public education.

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Midwest & West The California state budget continues to be of concern to Golden Eagle, as it is to all schools in the state. Budget adjustments required cutting $93,000 in spending last year, and more cuts are expected throughout the state budget again this year. In some ways, Golden Eagle has been ahead of the game, because the school has always been thrifty, is flexible, and keeps a healthy reserve. Should California proceed with deep school budget cuts for several years, Golden Eagle might need to consider some consolidation of facilities. McCotter hopes the school won’t need to curtail staff training, but GECS has already limited travel. One bright spot in California is that there are many charter schools, and there are several strong charter school organizations. GECS participates in regional meetings and conferences with A Plus, a Personalized Learning Consortium that provides best practices and school-to-school networking for Personalized Learning Schools. GECS also attends conferences and trainings with the CSDC – Charter School’s Development Center – an originating force in California Charter Schools. The CSDC workshops, as well as periodic publications, keep GECS abreast of changing laws and regulations in the field. They also offer training in all aspects of starting and running a California Charter School. “What makes us unique? Golden Eagle Charter School is as unique as the students it serves. And that makes us pretty special,” says Kathryn.

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School for Integrated Academics and Technologies Inspiring Hope for the Future Produced by Hanim Samara & Written by Tiffany Nichols It is an often overused clichĂŠ, that everyone deserves a second chance; however, this saying could not be truer when speaking of the School for Integrated Academics and Technologies (SIATech). SIATech was known as Guajome Park Academy until July of 2004, at which time it became an independent charter in the Vista Unified School District in Southern California. SIATech has a unique partnership with several federal Job Corps centers, providing an accredited academic diploma program on each site. Job Corps provides the workplace readiness skills, social development, and life skills necessary for success in the post secondary work world. Job Corps is a federal program that provides outreach to disadvantaged youth who have either dropped out of high school, or are experiencing circumstances that make learning in a traditional high school environment nearly impossible. As students

participate in the Job Corps program, they have the option of enrolling in SIATech’s innovative classrooms to simultaneously finish high school. SIATech has expanded to accommodate students at all of the California Jobs Corps centers in San Diego, Long Beach, Inland Empire, Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco, and Sacramento. SIATech schools have also been chartered in Arizona, New Mexico, and Florida. Currently, SIATech is working with CW Ferrell Construction to renovate their school buildings in Florida. The school currently serves about 2,000 students in California alone and an additional 1,400 students at sites outside of California. The program has proven to be a unique opportunity for students who were previously labeled dropouts to earn a high school diploma and gain valuable life skills. From 1998 to 2008, more than 7,500 students who initially dropped out of school have

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Midwest & West Dr. Linda Dawson, Chief Educational Officer and superintendent of SIATech with 36 years of experience in the education field, is beginning her 10th year with SIATech. In 1987, Dawson began her work with at-risk youth, and has been working with this population ever since. She started as a teacher, moved into being an administrator, then an assistant principal, and eventually a principal. Dawson encourages similar professional growth in her staff. Although she does hire staff from outside the school system, she emphasizes that she also values staff that have experience working within the SIATech community and moving up through the ranks. Many SIATech principals and regional directors were once SIATech teachers. Often, their experiences teaching at SIATech allow them to help teachers build on students’ individual learning needs and life experiences. “This is an open entry and exit system, so our teachers only have a limited amount of time to reach students. They have to use techniques such as mediated learning to keep students in discovery mode and find new ways of solving problems. Our environment is much smaller than a traditional public school, so there earned their high school diplomas through the SIATech program. The relationship between SIATech and Job Corps is a key component to student success. The school provides a standardsbased, core academic curriculum as well as a focus on high tech software as a delivery model. Job Corps is responsible for providing what would be the elective curriculum in a traditional school. Together, they form an accredited high school diploma program. Teacher-directed instruction is coupled with computer-assisted instruction to produce an individualized learning environment that caters to the needs of each student. The students at SIATech enter at different ages, most between 16 and 24, and at different academic levels, so it is imperative for SIATech to tailor the program specifically to fit the needs of each student. Students learn the necessary English, Math, Science, and Social Studies, as required by state standards. In addition, an emphasis is placed on life and job skills, as well as comprehensive computer training. Use of high tech delivery systems, an extended school day, clear individual learning plans for each student, and gifted teachers, promote accelerated learning for all.

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is a chance for developing a professional relationship with students that will reignite their love of learning. Teachers are the most important part of our program. They are the geese that lay the golden egg.” Dawson is passionate about quality professional development for teachers as a means to better educating at-risk students. SIATech has created a culture where at-risk students are actually considered “at-promise” of success. Through the Reaching At-Promise Students Association (RAPSA), SIATech staff have created a forum where like-minded educators exchange ideas for the at-risk student learning community. The organization seeks to be a key resource for educators working with at-promise learners who have not responded well to traditional learning methods in the past. The Reaching AtPromise Students National Conference will be held in San Diego, February 19-21, 2010, and is expected to be an enlightening opportunity to learn hands-on strategies and techniques for addressing the needs of the at-risk student population. In finding a teaching model that works

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Midwest & West best for her students, Dawson has based her own beliefs on her past experience. She finds that her students learn best when using a hands-on, project-based approach with a clear “end in mind.” This is particularly important at SIATech because many of its graduates go on to college or advanced vocational programs such as culinary and advanced auto mechanics. For example, when teaching science and math classes, PLATO is used because it is very interactive and customizable to the school’s curriculum needs. Math programs are taught using AutoCAD (Computer Assisted Drafting software) so that students have an interactive way of learning mathematical relationships. To gradually improve students writing skills, they begin with writing projects that focus on personal experiences and expand into other genres. It is also a good way to meet the student at whatever literacy level they posses when they first start at SIATech and Job Corps. From that point, students are then taught to address a wider professional audience and engage in writing assignments where they learn to write business letters and resumes. Through numerous Adobe programs like Dreamweaver and Flash, students learn advanced web development skills in Creative Technology. The program culminates with five Senior Projects in which students showcase their learning through presentations to their peers and an online Webfolio with a resume. The program aims to teach the core academic concepts while integrating applications that will help students succeed in today’s workplace and higher education. When Dawson was asked about her thoughts on “pay for performance” for teachers she expressed concern that not having specific criteria that described success would be difficult to manage equitably. Since SIATech is a public school, it is required to meet Adequate Yearly Progress requirements. Dawson thinks SIATech should be held to some of the same standards as public schools, but she also says the standardized tests do not assess what students know as well as they should. NCLB and generic “one size fits all” standards for more traditional schools do not work well for alternative schools like SIATech serving 100 percent dropout populations. She advocates for an individual student growth model for measuring success of schools and for only counting students who dropout once. No only would this be statistically more accurate, it would provide more schools and districts incentives to recover dropouts rather than to cut their losses when students leave school without completing their diploma. The staff at SIATech encourages all of their students to go to college or pursue advanced training programs. This is very important when serving a population that is, according to Dawson, “100 percent minority, 100 percent poverty, and 100 percent dropout.” Inspiring hope in the future is one of the school’s top priorities. Across the country, SIATech serves primarily minority populations. The Southern California SIATech classrooms serve mainly African American and Hispanic students while the Northern California campus student body has a larger proportion of Asian students. It is altogether different in New Mexico, where there is a significant percentage of Native Americans and in Florida where the make-up is mostly Latinos. “The common denominator for all of our students is

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that they are all underserved by the traditional system and in need of specialized assistance,” explains Dawson. “In two years, I want the numbers we serve to double. We have a serious dropout problem in this country. I want people to stick together and get the message out there. I really want to emphasize the importance of dropout recovery schools like SIATech that offer students a choice and voice that would otherwise have none, “says Dawson. “This is the quintessential value of what we do. How great is that? To be able to offer students a choice that initially had no choice?” Very great, indeed. Visit them on the Web at

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Global Youth Charter School Where Progress and Success are Within Reach Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Tiffany Nichols Global Youth Charter School (GYC) in Antelope, California is an innovative charter school where progress and success is attainable. GYC was founded in 2004 with the hope of serving the community and providing a diverse educational approach where students would have the opportunity to find their passions and be free to pursue them with pride. When Addie Ellis, current principal at GYC, wanted to found a small independent school, the superintendent at the time was more than helpful with providing any resources necessary. The school initially started with 17 students, one of which was Ellis’ son. Word of mouth continued to spread news of this new

school and today it has an operating budget of $500,000 per year, eight personnel and 87 students, 20 of who graduated this spring. GYC shows that there is still something to be said for a small independent school, providing the necessary time and resources that cater to the particular needs of each student. GYC received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to start the American River Community College, Early College High School. Through this program, GYC students can start taking college courses for credit at the local American River Community College. Every freshman student takes a course as an introduction to college coursework called

“College Discovery.” After taking the course, freshmen create their own plan of action and decide whether they feel ready to proceed with college coursework, or focus strictly on the required high school coursework. All students eventually take college courses, but it is a matter of when students are ready, “not only academically, but also ready in their maturation and emotional processes,” explains Ellis. This program provides students with the advantages of the counseling and guidance provided through the community college, while also providing high school teachers who are available to critique their papers, and guide them through the process of completing college coursework, a comfort that is usually

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Midwest & West not available to college students. It is important to the faculty at GYC to introduce its students to higher education in a way that does not pigeon-hole them, but rather allows them to form their own goals after assessing the possibilities and options available. Some GYC students will be the first in their families to graduate from college, and having a guaranteed two years of college complete and paid for by the time they graduate high school makes the task of graduating from a four-year college much less daunting. Fifty-six percent of the students at GYC qualify for free or reduced lunch, and the school is 27 percent Latino, 38 percent African American, and 22.6 percent Caucasian. Some students enter GYC on grade level, while others do not, but it is a goal at GYC to meet students where they are rather than forcing them to fit into a certain mold. “We want to allow our students to be okay being who they are,” declares Ellis. In keeping with this mantra, students are taught about vocational programs and specialized programs such as hotel management and funeral service education, in addition to being offered

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traditional college courses. Ellis shares that most students graduating with two years of college credits use them to transfer to a four year university, while others go straight into the work world. When asked about teacher accountability and progress requirements as measured by the Adequate Yearly Progress assessment under Title I, Ellis gave very frank and enlightening insight that any school principal can appreciate and relate to: “[Testing] is not the only aspect of a person. I have a student that is brilliant, creative, wellrounded, capable, but not in a traditional English/math test-taking sense. He tends to bomb them. It’s not his area of strength. The tests discount people who are bright, but not great test-takers. I have several students like that.” Ellis started this mission with the hope that she would create a charter school with a nurturing environment. She went to high school in the Sacramento area herself, just four miles away, and started her career as a counselor at a charter school, eventually deciding that she wanted to open her own charter school. “My passion is young people, and helping society understand that they’re not empty vessels that we pour things into. They will perform. When we tell them they are empty shells and without us they can’t do it…that’s when they buck the system. They can be leaders now! There is a vacancy of thought with people who get caught up in ‘we have to get scores up.’ We are not looking at what they already know. We teach them thinking skills instead of knowing and regurgitating data.” Impressively, GYC students have met their testing standards every year. Ellis attributes the success of GYC to the expectations of her staff. She is an avid proponent of constantly strengthening her youth development network. She stresses the importance of constantly encouraging students; making courses relevant to their lives so that they value the material; and ensuring that courses are challenging their potential. Students who want to attend the school are asked to apply and interview to be sure that the school is the correct fit for their learning needs. This system will continue until the school reaches capacity, at which time a lottery system will be implemented. When asked where she sees the school in five years, Ellis’ reply was simple, “It will be our 10-year anniversary. I see our students coming back to teach and assist new students in their growth. I see a renovated or new facility with 400 students. I see a strong youth development network. I cannot stress enough the importance of a youth development network, even if that network is one adult saying, ’You can do it.’ They need that.”

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Arroyo Paseo High School Leveling the Playing Field Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Tiffany Nichols Ann Marie and Bill Wellhouse were shocked when they heard the statistic that reported “by 2008, jobs requiring a technical degree are projected to grow at three times the rate of occupations in general, yet African Americans represent only two percent of all scientists and engineers, and only two percent of Hispanics are employed in science.� The Wellhouses bring much to the table, Bill alone with 30 years of teaching experience and 10 years of charter school administration experience while Ann Marie taught for 7 years at River Valley.

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When the Wellhouses submitted an application to open Arroyo Paseo Charter High School (AP) it was with the intention of creating a school that would serve the most economically disadvantaged students, helping them to excel in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in a challenging academic program. The Wellhouses wanted Arroyo Paseo to be a small, intimate school with a high teacher to student ratio to ensure that classes provided strong individual attention for each student. They also wanted to emphasize the importance of building the

Summer 2009

foundation necessary for students to succeed in academically rigorous coursework. The Wellhouses, along with a group of teachers, formed a team and together they applied for the charter and funding for the project. They applied for the federal money available for start-ups through the California Department of Education and received $440,000. In addition, Arroyo Paseo received support from the Walton Foundation, which provided $240,000. Teamwork and generous backing have created a charter school that, although still new, is set to make great changes in the

lives of urban children. Arroyo Paseo received its charter in 2007 and it currently serves 160 students in grades 9 through 12 with 14 personnel. ExED provides backing to AP in budgeting, accounting and payroll. AP prides itself on teaching in small learning groups in order to increase individual attention. Demographically, the school serves the most educationally challenged populations: it is 85 percent free and reduced lunch, 70 percent Latino, 25 percent African American (including a great number of Somali Americans), with a small percentage of whites and Asians. Even though AP has the odds stacked against it statistically, in speaking with Bill Wellhouse, who is the executive director, numbers are not a sufficient indicator of the potential success of each student. When asked if he is in favor of funding that is determined by school success, or whether he believes it should be based categorically on need, Wellhouse asserts that performancebased funding is preferable over the long term. “We tested highest in the county in our previous school, but when we came here we were among the lowest scoring schools,” explains Wellhouse. “Charters should be accountable for their

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performance. Not in an absolute way, but they should be accountable in growth and meeting their targets. I have a philosophy: charter schools should be allowed to start-but after four or five years, they should be held to a tight leash.” Wellhouse also believes that a successful charter school must have the backing and expertise of good teachers, but he does wish there was more flexibility under No Child Left Behind, in determining what constitutes

a “highly qualified” teacher. “I would like more flexibility in determining which classes need highly qualified teachers. For example, I would prefer if I could hire an art teacher that is a professional artist, or a Spanish teacher who is a native speaker without credentials. I am currently unable to do that.” Wellhouse makes sure that two hours per week are set aside for professional development. This time is used to share approaches that are working, as well as to examine and rework those techniques that are not working. This time is also used for “backwards design,” a lesson planning technique in which teachers look at the standards and create assessments before beginning to map their instruction. AP places a great deal of emphasis on its fairly traditional approach in direct instruction teaching. The school has four parent meetings a year in which parents are invited to meet with teachers and discuss student progress, but Wellhouse says that parental involvement is an aspect of the school’s programs where AP continues to struggle. Many of the parents do not speak English well, if at all, and so outreach efforts to involve them are all the more challenging. As originally stated in Wellhouse’s plan for AP, technology is the center of the curriculum. There is a computer lab, and

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Midwest & West computers are present in every classroom. Students are invited to do their assignments on the computer, with the hope that frequent use will familiarize them with widely used computer programs. This opportunity is extremely important for students who come from low-income families and may not have computer access in their homes.

hopes to one day expand his school to serve between 300 and 400 students. Wellhouse is also looking to other successful urban charter schools for examples of how to accomplish his goals.

The school is still developing and improving its science and technology program. AP recently received a grant for a state-of-the-art science lab from the Pfizer Foundation that will be in place next year. In order to ensure that Wellhouse has the right guidance in scientific affairs, AP has a governing board with members from the local science community. One of its members is head of the local community college program in biotechnology, two are involved with the San Diego Super Computer Center at the University of California San Diego, and two other members are the CEOs of biotechnology companies. Wellhouse is hoping that with such great scientific minds, AP will be on the cutting edge of secondary education in the sciences. He

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Arroyo Paseo has also just received a State grant, which will pay for kitchen equipment. The school is currently developing a program where the students will learn culinary arts and operate the school lunch program as well as a student entrepreneurial program. The student entrepreneurs will be encouraged to start companies in the food industry such as a bakery, student run café, and catering. The school is hoping this will draw students into careers in business, food science and biotechnology as well as provide training for students who do not intend to go on to college. “There has to be a hook for these kids, but we haven’t found it and we are developing programs to do that. We want to create a caring, stable situation for them. It is important to have personal connections between students and teachers so they feel like they are in a caring environment. I would like us to continue to serve a diverse low-income community, I want to make our kids employable when they come out; or have goals that are higher than that, for four year or community college.”

Guidance Charter School Developing the Whole Child Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Tiffany Nichols The Guidance Charter School (GCS) is a breath of fresh air, using innovative learning techniques to challenge and engage its students. The school, which was chartered in 2001 by Mr. Kamal Al-Khatib and the late Mr. Gaber Mohamed, was founded with the vision of giving students a quality education in Arabic language and cultural studies, as well as computer technology. The inspiration for GCS was sparked when one of Mr. Al-Khatib’s sons was being bullied in public school. He did not want him to fight back against those who were antagonizing him and private school was too expensive; so Mr. Al-Khatib started his own school. As president of the American Islamic Institute, he used his connections to garner support for his school. However, two months before GCS opened, the September 11th attacks happened, and the backlash against

Muslims posed a challenge. Mr. Al-Khatib’s connections proved critical to gaining the trust and respect of the school district. “I have a lot of good friends. The Mayor of Palmdale is a great friend of mine. They know who we are. We were able to prove ourselves to the community and the district. Every promise we made, we delivered. That’s why they extended our charter two times,” says Mr. Al-Khatib. The first year of operation of GCS, Mr. Al-Khatib was Executive Director Volunteer though he now oversees the entire operation. GCS currently serves 230 students, in kindergarten through eighth grade, and takes pride in keeping its classes at no more than 20 students. The GCS curriculum focuses on the development of the whole child, which includes critical thinking abilities, social and emotional maturity, and the skills necessary for positive citizenship. It was founded in

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Midwest & West conjunction with the Palmdale School District in 2001 and opened its doors on November 1st of the same year. At the time, Mr. Al-Khatib and Mr. Mohamed only had 16 days to open the campus, which included hiring teachers, and ordering furniture and text books. Equipped with a vast reservoir of perseverance and determination, it did not discourage these two innovative educators that the school year had already begun, and therefore their students had a great deal of material to cover. These two dedicated men, along with passionate staff members and students, gave up their Saturdays to catch up. Most students would rather be doing anything else than learning on a Saturday morning but the enthusiasm and zeal of GCS teachers trickled down to its students. Mr. Al-Khatib’s partner, Mr. Gaber Mohamed, died in 2004 and the school computer lab was named after him, in honor of his memory. Guidance Charter School serves a very ethnically and culturally diverse student body. For the 2008-2009 school year, the school is 23.3 percent African American, 22.9 percent Asian, 32.6 percent Hispanic, and 21.2 percent Caucasian. Between 23 percent and 30 percent of the school’s population is Muslim, but Mr. Al-Khatib makes it clear that the school does not ask its students for information on their religious backgrounds. “Some classes have three different levels of Arabic learners. We start with a basic level, but there are three different levels of Arabic learners here,” says Mr. Al-Khatib. It is clear that GCS takes pride in its Arabic language program as Mr. Al-Khatib speaks of a young lady who graduated from GCS three years ago as valedictorian of her eighth grade class. “She used all seven of the languages she knew in her graduation speech. Those are the kinds of amazing students we have at Guidance Charter School.” Students attend school Monday through Thursday from 8:00 a.m. to 2:45 p.m, and on Fridays from 8:00 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Even though the school day is shorter on Friday, the yearly audit on financial and teaching credentials as well as instructional minutes showed that the school performed far beyond its requirements for time spent teaching. The fiscal audit done in June of 2008 also revealed that where the California standard for minutes spent teaching in kindergarten is 36,000, the teaching minutes at GCS are 55,620, proving that the school is prepared to go above and beyond to educate its students. Eighth grade students are required to assemble a PC and demonstrate how it functions, as a requirement for graduation. Instruction on building the PC begins at the beginning of eighth grade, and by the end of the school year students assemble the PC in front of their school administrators, teachers, peers, and families. The children take pride in this accomplishment. Mr. Al-Khatib has even created an instruction manual, which is available through the school’s main Web site, on how to build a PC from scratch. The school is very much committed to upholding its quality of teaching. Most of the teachers are from Palmdale of Lancaster, California and have been teaching at the school for the past five to six years; some have even been there since the school’s inception. Having teachers that have been with the school from the beginning is priceless, the dedication ensures that they are invested in the future of the school and have

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experience actualizing the school’s mission and vision. Teacher progress is monitored using Adequate Yearly Progress assessments, but school administrators also find it imperative to constantly monitor teachers’ enforcement of discipline and classroom management skills. Mr. AlKhatib says that the real monitoring is done by the parents of the students. “Our parents are great evaluators. If you are a bad teacher, they will find you in a second. When the complaints start coming, it is my responsibility to deal with them. In a small school, it is more difficult to let things fall through the cracks.” This same principle applies to students of the school: “Discipline is of high priority here. Students who cause problems have no place in our school,” says Mr. Al-Khatib. A key component that keeps parents and students active and dedicated to the mission of GCS is involving parents with their children’s education and keeping them abreast of student progress and areas in which their child may need extra attention. On the school Web site, parents can register for online reports from the school that will give updates including student academic progress reports, and missing assignments. “My vision is that students will come one day with only laptops and they will not need books. Everything will be on the computer and the students will send everything online. This is my dream,” Mr. AlKhatib says with a smile. This dream is on the path towards realization through GCS’ charter education, as it continues to prepare students for competing on a global stage through computer training and cultural education.

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University High School A Cornerstone of Music and Performing Arts Produced by Hanim Samara & Written by Tiffany Nichols In 1999, shortly after the advent of the charter school law, the dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at The University of California, Fresno in response to new literature on the value of liberal arts decided to push for the creation of a high school on his campus. At that time, he noticed that none of the area high schools required a comprehensive college prep curriculum for graduating students and all were serving a very large student body of about 3,000. The dean attempted to remedy the problem by creating a small charter school that would offer students the option of attending a high school on the college campus where all students would be required to complete a solid liberal arts education including four years of math and science. In response to studies at the time extolling the virtues of music education, four years of music theory and performance was also required. The Dean developed the proposal for the charter and took it to Fresno Unified to get sponsorship. As with most new quests, however, they were initially rejected. It was not until the dean sought a school district in the foothills

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that the university received approval, and University High School (UHS) was born. The first class started with the 2000-2001 school year and by 2008 US News and World Report, in its first ever high school rankings, listed it as the fifth best charter high school and the 36th best public high school in the nation. The school’s curriculum was the by-product of a cadre of community educators who came together to create the four year curriculum. Some classes are pretty standard such as English but the science curriculum is based on the idea of moving from the “general to the specific,” said Head of School, James Bushman, who takes pride in the structure of the curriculum at UHS. Students begin with the more general physics as a freshman and move to the specific, biology, in junior year as an alternative to the widely used approach that introduces students to biology and algebra their freshman year and progresses the curriculum to physics and Algebra 2. Because of this shift, students take both physics and Algebra 2 as freshman which resulted in a minimum requirement for

admission to the school that entering students have completed algebra in middle school, so they are prepared to do this different math and science sequencing. Students all take two years of Latin at UHS after which they are required to take two semesters of any language offered at CSU Fresno. UHS also requires students to read one book a month as part of their 48 books program. Students are given the books to keep but each of the books is integrated into the English curriculum. Bushman boasts that having a charter school that is partnered with a university is advantageous because the students not only have the chance to gain experience in the university environment, but they also have the opportunity to earn credits toward

college that hold them to the standards of any other college student. Not only do students earn college credits for foreign language, but they also take a science and history class from the university as well as other electives. The result is that all students graduate with at least a semester of college completed and in most cases a full year. Where most high school students attend school for approximately 18 weeks per semester, UHS mirrors the university schedule; students attend classes for 15 weeks per semester. During the break between semesters, UHS students are able to take elective courses which keep in line with the school’s mission of providing its students with a multi-faceted education. Each elective class schedule is created especially for the semester in which it is taken and teachers are invited to create a curriculum based on their own hobbies. University professors even come in to teach classes, one of this year’s being a criminologist. Past classes include billiards and math, lacrosse, skiing, web design, swing dance, robotics, and digital photography. Equally as important as the academic program is the focus on music and the involvement of UHS students in the various aspects of the school. “At the time the school was created, research indicated that musical

“Have you heard of the running of the bulls in Pamplona? The students are the bulls. The teachers need to be prepared, or they will get run over." ~James Bushman

activity facilitated academic progress on the part of students, so UHS decided to add music to its curriculum,” says Bushman. In fact, the second requirement for admission to the school is that students have two years of music experience either playing an instrument or in choral music. All UHS students are required to participate in one of the school’s five choirs or six instrumental groups. Bushman stresses that this model would not be possible in a traditional public school, and so it is one of the aspects of UHS that he finds most special. This is something that UHS students also find very unique and is part of what motivates students to leave their traditional public schools and enroll at UHS. According to Bushman,

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Midwest & West “some students even participate in two or three performing arts groups. They stay at school from the morning until after 5 o’clock.” Poor discipline is also rare because of the close-knit nature of the school, and students are not ridiculed for expressing their distinctiveness. “Parents underestimate the impact school environment has on students. Students are less likely to self-express in schools were they feel they have to watch what they say and do. That happens less here because we are small and everyone knows each other and the result is that the kids take the lead in many extracurricular activities and clubs as they pursue their interests and hobbies. When asked about how the school chooses its teachers, Bushman’s response was simple: “Have you heard of the running of the bulls in Pamplona? The students are the bulls. The teachers need to be prepared, or they will get run over. Since we attract students that want to learn, they push the teachers. Therefore, we look for smart people who have confidence in their abilities.” Bushman also gave interesting insight on what he looks for in the area of teaching experience: “When you are working with relatively low achieving students, your repertoire and teaching knowledge is important, but when working with our kind of school, where kids already enjoy learning, kids don’t demand as broad a repertoire of instructional practice, but they do demand that you know your stuff. They want professionals: who provide fair and clear expectations, and no playing favorites. My students like a good lecturer. If you get someone who knows their stuff, they will listen.


University High School

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They’re just hungry for information. Oddly, although UHS’ teachers are excellent, the simple traditional instructional practices work well here that would not work at neighboring schools. UHS strives to have the highest-paid and best teachers in the area. “The Board wanted the best teachers so I want them to be the highest paid,” says Bushman. In their quest to help teachers be the best they can be, the school collects large quantities of performance data on each teacher along with student and parent survey data. Bushman testifies that “UHS has the best feedback data system on teacher performance of any school I have ever heard.” Bushman takes pride in the environment created by UHS where teachers seek professional development and mentoring from university professors and collaboration and partnerships are common. “Charter school operators should think about teaming up with other institutions. More and more you are seeing universities develop schools like ours because it is more efficient to start a charter school on a university campus or in conjunction with another organization that has facilities.” UHS is currently working on building a new facility with DKSJ Architects. Arthur Dyson is working on the school design, and Bob Siegrist is providing project management for the job. Indeed, the university partnership model has worked well at UHS: a high school where students are challenged to meet accelerated expectations in order to promote forward-thinking education. The school, of course, will be built on the California State University, Fresno campus, on land leased from the university. From the university’s perspective, this charter has made good.

Palisades Charter High School Injecting Freedom into Traditional Learning Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Tiffany Nichols At first glance, Palisades Charter High School (PCHS) looks very much like a traditional public school. It is bigger than many charters, serving over 2,700 students. The school also has a large number of course offerings, and a very diverse student body. The similarities to a public school education are not simply a coincidence, but a result of the effort made by the school’s founders to create a charter school that offers a traditional comprehensive education, with the freedom and latitude to implement policies and procedures that best benefit their students. Palisades High School was opened in 1963 as part of the Los Angeles Unified School

District but has since become independent as a charter school, renewing its charter in 2002. It added a Mathematics, Science and Technology Magnet program in 1994, in which it now has 400 participants. When PCHS began, it served nine through 12th grade, and added one grade each year thereafter. When PCHS broke from the Los Angeles Unified School District, it also gained financial independence, allowing for more flexibility in spending and program creation. It took the freedom of hiring its own staff, although the maintenance staff remains associated with the school district. It now has an annual operating budget of $24 million.

The school’s establishment as charter school is clearly a positive change: PCHS was recognized as a California Distinguished School in 2005, and it was recently recognized by Newsweek as being in the top one percent of America’s high schools. Amazingly, the school serves students from over 100 different zip codes. PCHS is an example for how to maximize the potential of traditional education. Martin Griffin, principal at PCHS, holds his students to the strictest of standards and believes that accountability and structure are crucial to student success. Griffin taught for 11 years in Buffalo, New York, Birmingham, Alabama, and Los Angeles, California, before

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going back to school to earn his Master’s degree in instructional leadership. Griffin worked as assistant principal at two other schools for six years then served as principal for two different public schools, for three and five years respectively, before coming to PCHS. Griffin identifies “highly qualified teachers” as critical to the success of his students. “I believe that a highly qualified teacher seeks to always become better at the art of teaching and become more knowledgeable in his or her subject area.” Like many other leaders of our nation’s charter schools, however, he believes that the Adequate Yearly Progress measurements are not particularly realistic, because there are many ways in which the assessment is flawed. For example, PCHS’s results have been affected in recent years by the difference in testing scores among its Special Needs students. PCHS has seen growth in its special needs students but there is still the greater issue of growth among some that is not captured by the assessment system. “Students may come in with great educational deficits and progress and improve but the amount of improvement that occurs may

be incremental and may not be as fast as is expected by the auditors of school success,” explains Griffin. One of the special programs offered at PCHS that sets it apart from other schools is its Freshman Transition Program (Pods) which is designed to ensure that, regardless of the number of students enrolled at PCHS, each individual is given a special attention and guidance. In the ninth grade, students select an area of interest that most appeals to them and their future career goals: Technology, History, Art History, Drama, or Media. The subject chosen signifies the students’ “pod” or curriculum, which will incorporate English and World Culture, with classes in the students’ area of interest. Three to five teachers are assigned to each pod in order to offer their expertise in each area and supervise student instruction. Griffin is an advocate of teaching to the needs of the student and using the learning technique that best fits his or her needs. “Use the teaching method that works best for the student. What we do here is use our assessments to guide our instruction. But if that method does not work for the child, we have to find the method that works.”

The Freshman Transition Program (Pods) model is unique because it allows the school to specialize and cater to the needs and interests of each student, even if there is a large student population. Similarly, the Mathematics, Science and Technology Program at PCHS has proven to be a great success for the school in its quest to make education individualized. The program offers challenging coursework to students who are talented in the fields of math, science, and technology. However, PCHS wants all of its students to showcase their academic talents, so those who are struggling in any of their subjects are invited to work with teachers or volunteer tutors before school and during the school day to ensure that every student is getting the attention he needs. One factor in the success of PCHS that the school administration cannot take credit for, but that Griffin stresses is a major part of PCHS’s success, is parental involvement. “Parental involvement helps a great deal. I have been in schools where parents are less involved and expect the high school to take complete responsibility for the continued educational progress of their students. Here, many come by on a daily basis. When students know that their parents are a step away, they step up to the plate. If the students choose not to, we involve the parents on our end to bring the students around.” Parents can stay up-to-date with ParentTeacher-Student Organization meetings and the Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) whose primary mission is to strengthen communication between the school and home through the school’s Web site. The Booster Club is another important resource for the school community. The club consists of parents who meet for a monthly dinner to hear student and faculty requests for funding. Together, the school and parents then strategize to find creative ways to raise money to support programs at PCHS, raising an impressive $250,000 annually. “In five years, I see us in a new campus, making gains in our achievement levels, and trying to be the best charter school in the nation. We have created an educational community that involves parents and the community to help our students succeed. We want our students to be productive and responsible adults so that the cycle can continue.”

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New West Charter Middle School A Jump Start on College Preparation Produced by Hanim Samara & Written by Tiffany Nichols New West Charter Middle School in West Los Angeles, California prides itself on providing a quality 21st century education for its students in grades six through eight. New West stresses that the predecessors to success are high competency, independence, and selfreliance. The goal of their rigorous and character developing program is to prepare students for competitive college preparatory high schools. New West opened its doors on September 8, 2003 and is chartered for 2007 through 2012 through the California Board of Education. The details of the educational program at New West were uniquely devised by an Education Study Panel, which was comprised of educators and parents who visited, studied, and adopted proven successful methodologies and programs from the six top-performing, similarly sized, demographically comparable middle schools in California. The school curriculum focuses on applying classroom knowledge to real-

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world experiences, with each student responsible for applying what they learn in various classes to a community service project. For the current 2009-2010 school year, enrollment is 100 students in both 6th and 7th grades, and 80 students in 8th grade. School staff currently consists of 12 standard education teachers, one special education teacher, two administrators, three office staff, a music elective teacher, and a Spanish teacher. New West has a goal of keeping its class sizes to no more than 25 students, but sometimes classes range to as many as 33 students, depending on available funding. They hope to continue to further reduce class sizes through the use of teachers’ aides, parent volunteers, and Scholars-In-Residence who are under the supervision of New West teaching staff. In recruiting students to attend New West, the school focused on the most overcrowded and ethnically diverse areas in Los Angeles.

Amazingly, they received applications from students in 115 different public and private schools in 57 zip codes. Students are admitted based on a lottery system, which takes place in late March, or early April. The school also provides special education for students with learning differences, and is committed to making special education an integral part of the school and the community. The school operates with several precepts that are the foundation of curriculum design at New West and which staff are committed


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to enforcing in the everyday practice of their teaching. The first is a strong core liberal arts curriculum intended to provide a foundation for secondary learning and college. Classes are offered in language arts, mathematics and science, and supplemented with enrichment offerings in foreign language, visual and performing arts, physical education and health, as well as information technology. The second precept is a program of community service with extracurricular activities that are meant to echo the same beliefs and mentality present in the classroom curriculum. New West’s third precept is the necessary and critical process of carrying out school-wide assessment of student performance in order to uphold school and state achievement standards. Another key to the success of New West is the cooperation and collaboration of a dedicated group of parents and educators who are committed to ensuring the quality education and governance of the school’s students. The school is dedicated to keeping its student body to a small size of 600 students, or less. Lastly, the school encourages each student according to his or her individual learning style and needs from a diversified and integral curriculum.

New West’s success has not come without obstacles and resistance. The current building where the school is housed holds 330 students. In the past six years, the school has invested nearly $1 million dollars of its own money in its success. According to Weir, New West applied for Proposition 39, which is the California facilities grant, in order to get a larger facility to meet the needs of the expanding student body. Though the school was initially denied funding, New West took the district to court and won. “The district does not like the schools outperforming them,” explains Weir, “[New West] has tried to rise above it and move on. They have tried to share their resources and knowledge with [the district], but [the district] has rejected them.” She hopes to improve relations in the future. Weir has worked in education for 23 years which undoubtedly contributes to New West’s success. Before moving to the United States, she worked as an administrator at a magnet school in Scotland. When she first arrived at New West, it was still in a state of transition. She was the fourth principal in 18 months, and the school was desperate for a leader with a vision. New West was happy to find this leader in Weir, who will receive the California Charter School Heart Vision, Leader of the Year Award. In five years, New West hopes to expand to include a middle school with 600 students and a high school with 300 students. After building the facility to expand to 600 students, the Board plans to build up, grade by grade, for elementary and high school, with New West will eventually be a kindergarten through 12th grade school. It is also important to maintain the school population as a microcosm of the greater population, as it is currently 51 percent minority and 49 percent white. Most importantly, New West hopes to serve as an example for the state and other charter schools as a successful institution of public charter education.

New West has consistently met its Adequate Yearly Progress requirements, as necessary under the No Child Left Behind Act. Therefore, the main concern of the school administration is not to contest the requirements, but to make sure that their most at-risk students are receiving the time and attention needed to excel. When students first start classes at New West, they are put on a program to bring them up to grade level. These students participate in a program bi-weekly to help them improve their studies. However, current Principal and Director, Sharon Weir, admits that improving student performance is a constant uphill process, and current conferences are being held to decide how to best help and assess student performance.

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Banning Lewis Ranch Academy Creating the Next Generation of Leaders Produced by Hanim Samara & Written by Tiffany Nichols Banning Lewis Ranch Academy (BLRA) in Colorado Springs, Colorado is a Kindergarten-8th grade charter school that speaks to the value of creating culturally aware students who will become the future ambassadors and cultural historians of the world. BLRA is also set apart in that it is managed as part of a consortium of schools and is an example of the business model of management in education. In speaking with Chief Administrative Officer Eric Dinnel, one conjures a positive image of what learning at BLRA is all about and how this is accomplished through its unique curriculum and management model. Eric Dinnel was a Social Sciences major at Colorado State University with an emphasis in Criminal Justice. After completing an internship and field experience as a narcotics agent, he began coaching football, basketball, and baseball for a number of years and decided that he wanted to go into education. Dinnel has been an administrator at

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every building level. He chose to work at BLRA because he was impressed with the Mosaica model and the fact that they work with schools all over the world. Additionally, the connection between the Banning Lewis Ranch Development and the school district created an intriguing and unique opportunity. He has remained at the school because of the awesome BLRA families and an excellent staff. “I enjoy working with very supportive parents, wonderful students, and I am blessed with a great staff. Our teachers work a 207 day contract and an extra hour per day. They are extremely dedicated to student success,� he says. BLRA is unique in that it was created as a school for the Banning Lewis Ranch Northtree neighborhood. It sits inside a subdivision on eight acres of land. The school was created by several founding families in conjunction with the local education board in the fall and winter of 2005. Given that the school is part of a housing development, many of the students do come from the neighborhood,

but a significant number also come from elsewhere. The funds for the school building were privately bonded by the developer. Unlike many charter schools that manage the business side of their schools in-house, BLRA is managed by Mosaica Education, Inc. Mosaica is a private operator of several public schools. Mosaica provides BLRA with help regarding business services for day to day operations, an instructional and operational model, and curriculum support. In addition to Mosaica’s assistance, State Bank is where the school’s accounts are held. Mosaica’s Paragon curriculum is what really makes BLRA a unique learning environment for its students. The goal of the Paragon curriculum is to provide a challenging, classical course of study, while at the same time making that curriculum relevant to the modern global environment. Students are taught about history’s greatest heroes, famous and unsung, real and imaginary, in order to teach them about the importance of character, ethics, empathy, and self-esteem. The interdisciplinary approach of the Paragon curriculum model is used to demonstrate to students how each subject they learn is an integral part of their lives. Paragon also focuses on cultivating critical

thinking skills. Students are taught to develop their own sense of direction and the ability to take initiative. The values of teamwork and networking, how to be inquisitive, and how to draw cultural, philosophical, and technological connections are also elevated. “Paragon Nights” create an opportunity for students in every grade level to showcase cultural stories that they have learned through literature, history, theater and music studies. These performances are conducted every eight weeks in front of families and friends. Audiences for Paragon Nights range between 500 and 700 attendees. “Nowhere on any report card will you see this,” declared Dinnel. The Mosaica Web site states the importance of the arts in the Paragon curriculum: “Rather than relegate art, music, and foreign language to the periphery of the curriculum, Paragon’s design integrates them into its interdisciplinary center. Arts, drama, music and dance, interrelated to the core curriculum, draw many marginal students into the center of learning.” Students are assessed, not just by how they test, but also by how well they perform in areas of artistic expression, which is a component that many charter schools try to incorporate, though it is often a

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Midwest & West challenge to integrate it into an already full curriculum. Teacher quality is important to Dinnel as CAO. In order to make certain that teaching standards are maintained, each teacher has an individualized professional development plan. Since all teachers at the school are employed by Mosaica, the first aspect of their training is dedicated to learning the Mosaic model, the Paragon curriculum and conducting professional development workshops. The second part of the professional development curriculum is for teachers to do their own self-assessment and develop long-term and short-term goals for improvement in the classroom. The third portion of training allows supervisors to provide input and advice to teachers and set goals for their improvement. The final piece of the professional development model is putting together an action plan on how to accomplish teaching goals. Traditional assessments are also used to monitor teacher and student progress. The Iowa Test of Basic Skills is given in the fall and spring as a measurement of student progress over the course of the school year. The test also provides a comparison for administrators to compare BLRA students to students around the country. Other tests include DIBELS which is given multiple times a year to ensure that students are meeting benchmarks for reading, and the Colorado Student Assessment Program to measure the school’s success regarding state standards. This year, BLRA met all 12 Adequate Yearly Progress Targets, as required by the No Child Left Behind Act. Study Island provides BLRA with web-based student assessment

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and achievement tools so that students can practice skills at home and evaluate themselves. Although Dinnel agrees that there must be testing as a measure for achievement, he also recognizes that test scores should not be the only indicator. “Colorado is moving in the right direction in measuring achievement with the new Growth Model. The media widely publishes test scores. However, it is rare to see reports on the school’s culture and a student’s overall experience. ” BLRA takes pride in getting parents involved. “Parents are involved in many different capacities at BLRA. We enjoy working together with our parents to ensure the best educational environment is available to our students,” says Dinnel. Two hours per month of service to BLRA is required for each parent. The school has a very active Parent Teacher Organization, Stallions Athletic Booster Club, and Navy League Sea Cadets program. Parents are invited to coach BLRA youth sports teams, assist with Red Ribbon Week and Care and Share, among other ways to get involved. “Parents are encouraged to get involved and use their skills to make the school better.” In fact, the seven-member school board panel is comprised entirely of parents of BLRA students. At BLRA, culture and technology come together to encourage artistic expression and cultural literacy, creating classically educated minds with a modern vision.

Ridgeview Classical Schools Cultivating Minds with the Classics Produced by Hanim Samara & Written by Tiffany Nichols Ridgeview Classical Schools (RCS) takes its cues from the founders of Western Civilization and the American Founding Fathers. Parents of the Fort Collins, Colorado area envisioned a school that would teach all students about the importance and relevance of their tradition’s wisdom. Ridgeview graduates were to be prepared for life by studying the best that has been said and done while emphasizing good character as the foundation of a worthwhile life. Ridgeview’s founders chose words by Goethe to define their school’s mission:

Ashland University in Ohio. Both in Germany and the USA , Hild also spent part of his career working with mentally challenged children and adults. As one of the original RCS teachers, Hild feels honored to be a part of this unique school and is proud to mention that the school grew under Dr. Moore’s leadership to 745 students and 49 teachers. Although RCS has expanded a great deal from its original size, Hild stresses that the school is not interested in expanding its student population or staff much further. The small school atmosphere is a benefit to

“We want to give our students the best guidance that can be offered and steer them towards good things." ~Florian Hild

“If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain as he is; but if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.” This group of parents also realized that in order for students to have the necessary background to study the classics, they must be prepared for this ambitious course of studies from kindergarten on. In 1999, the parents began to work on the charter and then hired Dr. Terrence Moore as Ridgeview’s first principal in 2001 to play a defining role in formulating the curriculum, policies and practices of the school. RCS began serving kindergarten through 11th grade with 373 students enrolled in 2001. The school is now led by Principal Florian Hild who immigrated to the United States from Germany to study philosophy and run track and field for

both students and staff because it allows for more individual student attention and encourages accountability for students and teachers. In cannot be denied that the RCS method is producing impressive results. In fact, in 2008, U.S. News and World Report ranked RCS fourth on its list of top open-enrollment high schools in the country and 4th in the nation on its list of top charter schools. Hild insists that this ranking can be credited to the classical curriculum and its implementation by excellent teachers. “Classical education is what defines us. We see ourselves as a school that articulates a view of human beings as potentially but not necessarily noble, and so we want to provide our students with the best guidance that can be offered and steer them towards the good. This aspiration runs counter to teen culture. We have

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For the past several years we have focused on the impact that cleaning has on our environment and the outdoor air quality of our homes and businesses. This has allowed us to be ideally aligned with our mission to serve as a team of trained and trusted professionals, creating clean, safe and healthy environments, through continuous improvement and recognition of excellence!

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students read Homer and Shakespeare. They study art, science, and music. We have them understand and discuss the significance of the American founding. We believe that there is a certain cultural knowledge that an educated person should have.” RCS students’ education is based on a strong foundation in classic works. The progression of the education in these works is referred to as the “trivium,” and it greatly dictates the academic careers of the students. The trivium is a progression of the learning process through three interrelated stages. The first level is the “grammar stage,” in which students become familiar with a topic and learn basic facts, such as dates, names, and events. Generally speaking, elementary school students will spend most of their time in this stage so that they have the necessary foundation to build on in intermediate and high school. Ridgeview’s classical approach coincides with the Core Knowledge (CK) paradigm and the school has adapted the CK curriculum for grades K-8. But simply having knowledge is not an end in itself: The goal is for students to move on to the so-called “logic-stage” where they question

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what they learn and test it by applying logic to ask “why?” questions. The final stage in the learning process is the “rhetoric stage,” in which students are expected to develop their own perspectives on the studied material and make an argument to defend their opinions. In fact, seniors must write a 20- to 25-page thesis in which they define their view of the good life in a dialogue with the ideas, texts, and events they studied at Ridgeview. They must articulate their viewpoint clearly and precisely and defend it publicly before they hand in their theses. Although education in the classics is an important focus at RCS, Hild stresses that the most important component of the education at RCS is ensuring that students become good citizens who contribute positively to the world. “We take the character and citizenship components of a K through 12 education seriously. We can teach students many facts, but we must make sure they use their knowledge for the good so that we are not just training self-centered smart people. Students must understand that they are part of something

Summer 2009

much greater than themselves. We want students to be of good character because we believe Heraclitus was right when he claimed that “character is destiny.” One way to help students shape a worthwhile destiny is to get them on the shoulders of the intellectual and moral giants who lived before them. Our own characters are shaped by the people we surround ourselves with. At Ridgeview, we want to surround ourselves with good and great human beings.” This sense of participating in a larger destiny and a high degree of responsibility are fostered by the conversations with great leaders and thinkers such as Franklin and Churchill inside the classrooms, the accountability inherent in a small community, as well as a high level of parental involvement. RCS encourages not just parents, but anyone who is interested, to visit any classroom at any time without giving prior notice to the teachers. This open door policy ensures that there is absolute transparency about what goes in the classrooms, and it allows parents to see what their children are doing at school. In addition, RCS has what Hild likes to call

an “elegant” disciplinary system that encourages good behavior. If students are not being polite and attentive in the classroom they receive a pink slip and are sent to an administrator. The Parents are notified and if a student has a third offense, a parent must pick him or her up. When the student returns to school, the parent is required to stay with the student throughout the day, attending all of the classes. The logic behind this approach is to instill in the students both a sense of right and wrong and the accountability that will encourage them to do the schoolwork and cease their disruptive behavior. The school also hopes that parents, seeing RCS education in action, will be impressed with the school so that they will encourage their students to do better in the future. Hild further stresses that what makes RCS successful is not a gimmicky program that is marketed as a fix-all to challenges in education. He attributes the success of RCS to creating a strong foundation for students that makes them successful throughout their academic careers.

Porter Industries’ success as a vendor at Ridgeview can be attributed to the collaborative business environment fostered by Vice Principal Domenic Carpine and the fact that our employee has been assimilated into the staff at Ridgeview and given much of the same respect as any of the professionals in the facility. These relationship attributes have motivated Porter Industries to do our very best for the staff and students at Ridgeview.

“Part of what makes us strong is we don’t have acronym-rich programs to fix everything; we just try to do a good job with the basics of primary and secondary education through highlevel teaching. We want to provide a safe and intellectually stimulating environment for all students. Each teacher needs to be an expert in his or her field and maintain order in the classroom. That is the key to a successful school, not having programs.” Ridgeview Classical Schools does not intend to expand its own student population, but does want to serve as an example for other schools that are looking for guidance on how to better their programs. Ridgeview is working with schools across the country in an advisory role to play its part in the larger education reform movement. Hild says that many charter school administrators have come to observe classrooms and teaching practices at RCS, and he is committed to showing them a school that examines life Socratically and elevates the intellect and character of everyone who is a part of it.

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North Valley Academy Charter School Building Healthy Minds and Bodies Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Tiffany Nichols North Valley Academy (NVA) in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico is a charter where children are not only encouraged to value their education, but where they are also taught to care for their environment and their health. Jerald Snider, Headmaster at NVA, came by his gift of teaching and leadership rightfully. He is originally from Indiana where his father was a high school coach and history teacher, and his mother was a substitute teacher. His sister is also an educator. He has been in education since 1970 and has worked with large and diverse student bodies, as well as small homogenous rural schools. His wife is a principal at a charter school, and Snider says that they both realized that “the cookiecutter model doesn’t fit everyone.” NVA serves as a model for what can be done with a vision and a great management team to reform a school in dire need of

change. When Jerald Snider took over NVA five years ago, he was faced with an uphill battle. Construction of its facilities was not complete, so the school was meeting in a church approximately nine miles away. There were three charter schools in the immediate area that were initially chartered by the same management company as technology schools. When Snider took over, school staff was hostile and some parents even removed their children from the school. Undaunted, Snider got to work immediately, rebuilding the school curriculum and structure from the ground up. The name of the school was changed to North Valley Academy, new programs were added, and the 9th grade was eliminated. The school was configured with a trimester system, a yearround calendar and gender grouping of all Seventh and Eighth Graders, and has been seeing a great deal of positive response from both students and parents. Matthews Fox

Law Firm, or Patricia Matthews Law Firm as it was known at the time, helped with transition and provided NVA with legal representation that assisted in the school’s success. NVA currently has 430 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and a pre-kindergarten program that serves 40 students. The school has a yearly operating budget of $3.2 million, which covers about $7,000 per child. However, the real appeal of the school is the health and wellness theme, which pervades every aspect of the curriculum. Snider prides himself on the way that he has brought NVA out of its established methods to a more progressive way of forwardthinking. “Here’s my philosophy: I want to educate a well-rounded student, one who is pretty good at a lot of different things. We are training a well-rounded student who is well trained in nutrition and fitness…many different areas.” To begin with, the school does not serve any fried foods in its cafeteria. As an insulindependent diabetic, Snider knows the importance of eating healthy. Before he took over the school, the children were served foods like pizza, french fries, and breadsticks, all at the same lunch period. “That stuff has 8 zillion carbs. The kids would be hyper after lunch and then crash,” says Snider. To combat this, he took steps to ensure that lunches would provide students with nutritional value and enough energy to get through the day. Today, the cafeteria only serves whole wheat bread along with foods that are baked not fried, and offers a salad bar, fruit, vegetables and a healthy entrée. The New Mexico’s climate is also conducive to promoting outdoor physical activity, allowing the children to spend a great deal of

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their school day outside. There is an outdoor track where students and teachers are required to walk daily and indoor and outdoor rock climbing walls. Around the track, there are also 14 exercise stations to allow for many students to exercise simultaneously. Equally as innovative is Snider’s use of the campus grounds to teach the students about agriculture and the uses of natural resources. Ms. Candace Cavellier, NVA’s art teacher, recently received the grant money that has allowed students to plant 21 gardens around the school. Each garden has a different theme such as a Peanut Butter and Jelly Garden used to grow peanuts and strawberries, a Body Parts garden that grows skullcap, wolf tail grass, and desert beard tongue; and the list goes on. The truly fascinating aspect of this project is how NVA ties these gardens into the curriculum. The Mr. Potato Head garden was used to begin a study of the Irish Potato famine and the role of potatoes in the Civil War. The Cotton Garden was used to introduce the topics of the New Mexico Sunbelt, and the role of the cotton industry in the Civil War. Some gardens simply teach students how to grow their own food in the New Mexico climate, such as the Companion Planting Garden, which teaches

agriculturally important strategies: that corn benefits from beans, and beans benefit from squash... If that is not impressive enough, the school also boasts 3 outdoor classrooms. The minds of the teachers at NVA are just as important to Snider to stretch and mold

as are the minds of the students. In order to ensure that his students have the best quality teachers available he is committed to assisting any teachers that are having trouble making progress with their students and within the classroom. He has created a mentoring program in which new teachers can gain

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Midwest & West guidance from veteran teachers, who receive a small stipend to encourage this mentorship. Teachers are expected to make progress on periodic, short-cycle assessments including the Brigance and DIBELS exams that are conducted once per trimester, and the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment, which determines whether NVA meets its Adequate Yearly Progress requirements. Even with all of the creative teaching methods employed by NVA, Snider stresses that nothing takes the place of parental involvement. He says that the Community Involvement Association, or as it is affectionately called, the CIA, at NVA plays an integral role in keeping the lines of communication open between school staff and families. In order to try and get more parents involved, Snider has developed the Cup of Coffee with the Principal initiative in which, once a month, he invites parents to come in and have healthy food with him, while asking questions about the school, or voicing their concerns. Snider welcomes criticism and suggestions, but he finds that many parents simply do not show up: “What I find is that, [though] the school’s been here

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six years and I’ve been here five, new parents come and want to know me better and know more about the environment. The veteran parents who have had children here for a long time don’t show up. We’d like to increase the number of parents coming in.”

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The chance to develop a model that broke the mold brought Snider to NVA, and he has surely created a center for education that is out of the ordinary and far from cookie cutter.

Southwest Learning Center Charter School Thinking Outside the Box Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Holly Alexander The melding of a visionary group of administrators and teachers with New Mexico’s positive climate for charter schools to create the Southwest Learning Centers (SLC) in Albuquerque can only be described as serendipitous. SLC is comprised of three separate charter schools: Southwest Primary Learning Center, La Luz Del Monte Learning Center, and Southwest Secondary Learning Center. The schools have a bold mission: “Our vision is to become the best college-preparatory schools in New Mexico by teaching students how to become self-motivated, self-directed, independent, life-long learners…We believe it is essential to pave the transition between academics and workplace competence by providing real-world work experiences.” The school is living up to this objective with almost no dropouts, high rates of students going on to college and consistently achieving high scores on tests required by both No Child Left Behind and the New Mexico Department of Education. Last year, SLC’s fourth graders had the highest achievement test scores in mathematics in the state for the second straight year. These students also scored the biggest increase in test scores in mathematics as compared to its own scores the previous year, again among all schools in the state. Southwest

Learning Center’s students perform well in all grades, said Robert Pasztor, who is the Director of Academic Support and one of the teachers who helped found the three Southwest Charters in 2001. Students are chosen by lottery beginning with fourth grade, and the centers enroll 105 students in fourth through sixth grades in Southwest Primary Learning Center, 112 in seventh and eighth grade in La Luz Del Monte Learning Center, and 270 in seventh through twelfth grades in Southwest Secondary Learning Center. Pupils attend grades four through six in classes similar to other schools, but Southwest Primary Learning Center is committed to keeping classes smaller than average, and using technology more than most schools. SLC also frees teachers to concentrate on teaching, providing aides who take care of attendance and various other needs that are not directly related to teaching. La Luz Del Monte Learning Center offers a hybrid curricular middle school program in which teachers present a number of subjects in classrooms, but also makes above-average use of technology and offers students opportunities to work more independently and learn to self-direct their education with computer-based classes. Students then may submit an application to enter the lottery for Southwest

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Midwest & West Secondary Learning Center for high school if they wish. In the computer-based, self-directed education offered at Southwest Secondary Learning Center, teachers guide students to be sure they take all the classes required for high school graduation. SLC tried allowing high school students total freedom to choose classes for a year or two, but found that students who loved math might come up short in English classes, and vice versa. Students come to school for several 3.5 hour sessions each week to work with their content or supervising teachers, take courses like physical education that can’t be done online and the schools’ elective technology course, SmartLab, designed by Creative Learning Systems. Creative Learning Systems is a company that offers modules called SmartLabs for students to “build a solid foundation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills through applied, project-based learning in a technology-rich classroom,” according to its Web site. The company says its programs are designed to help “students develop critical 21st-century skills. They problem-solve and become critical thinkers. They collaborate and communicate. And they learn to integrate multiple disciplines as they explore, understand and resolve complex problems." This is a good fit for SLC, which Pasztor says is dedicated to “out-ofthe-box and critical, analytical thinking.” SLC offers both traditional science projects as well as projects such as designing a vehicle that could work on land, on water and in the air. The school provides supplies needed for such projects. So far, no one’s been totally successful with the vehicle project, but SLC emphasizes that this is exactly the kind of experience scientists and designers have in the real world. They may explore many hypotheses or ways of solving a problem, learning from both successes and failures before they arrive at their goal or they may change direction based on what they

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similar to those on the popular crime scene investigation television dramas, where people prepare materials, but direct computers to do actual analysis. So scientists today need to know what information to seek and how to set up the technology to find it, but their primary tool is now a mouse rather than a test tube,” he says.

discover. Students have assigned project partners, and present the results of their projects. Thanks to legislative support, students can even choose from a variety of media, from PowerPoint to animation and video, for their project presentations. In La Luz Del Monte Learning Center’s seventh and eighth grades, students are involved in community service learning projects from bagging food for food pantries to visiting and helping with exhibits at museums. These activities are very important for both middle and high school students, said Pasztor, noting that “more than 70 percent of college applications today require students to document personal experience with community service.”

Students who take college classes are another well-deserved point of pride. Ninety out of some 235 ninth through twelfth grade students are now taking classes at one of two colleges, the largest number of students among all high schools in the state. About 180 Southwest Secondary Learning Center high school students a year take classes at either Central New Mexico Community College (CNM) or the University of New Mexico (UNM). There’s no tuition for high school students to take college classes, so they can earn college credits at no cost. Students must pass ACCUPLACER tests, and set scores are prerequisite for CNM classes. ACCUPLACER tests specifically measure achievement in math, English and reading, and were developed by the College Board Company, perhaps best known for the SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test). To take classes at UNM, students must meet its freshman requirements for GPAs and ACT/SAT scores.

Because of the schools’ emphasis on technology, every classroom has laptop carts with a computer for each student. Elementary and middle school students rotate through SmartLab programs at least bi-weekly, and SmartLab classes are a primary tool in high school, allowing students the experience of social learning and problem solving. Students in grades seven through 12 may check out laptops for home use. Asked about how science can be done in online classes, Pasztor notes that most schools are actually behind current science, still using test tubes and Bunsen burners, for example. “Today’s real-world labs are much more

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Two of SLC’s biggest concerns relate to technology. The school needs to update programs frequently to stay on the cutting edge but is facing new barriers. A New Mexico governor’s initiative that previously purchased laptop computers for schools, specifically 7th graders, has been eliminated for the present because of limited state funds. Luckily, excellent maintenance is part of SLC’s program so its computers last longer than most, and the state computer funding hopefully will return when the economy improves. The schools’ primary funding sources are state per-pupil funds and grants. Families don’t pay any tuition or other costs, but do need to provide meals when students are on campus and transportation, though there is a bus system that picks students up at various points around Albuquerque. SLC offers an afterschool program open until 5 p.m. to help meet parents’ schedules. Southwest Learning Centers provide an innovative educational experience that clearly achieves its mission to be a premier college preparatory school while also challenging students to think outof-the-box and engage with the community.

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“Today’s real-world labs are much more similar to those on the popular crime scene investigation television dramas, where people prepare materials, but direct computers to do actual analysis." ~Robert Pasztor

Amy Biehl High School Courage, Scholarship and Service Produced by Hanim Samara & Written by Tiffany Nichols disillusioned with the way local schools were serving students in the Albuquerque, New Mexico area. A number of these schools would lose many students by the end of the school year and very few of the original class would graduate.

Amy Biehl Charter High School (AB) was founded in the belief that all students have the right to a college education regardless of learning ability or socio-economic status. AB was initially chartered by two high school history teachers who were

These teachers decided that these statistics were unacceptable. In 1999, these two educators rallied stakeholders and the community around the idea of a charter school and rented space in a church. The school started with just ninth grade, and increased its enrollment each year. In 2000, charter schools were just cropping up in the New Mexico education system and AB

was one of four schools opened at the time. Charter schools were initially established to educate New Mexico’s most troubled students. Initially, there was a high rate of turnover of both students and staff but over the last nine years school officials have worked to reduce this rate. AB offered a great deal of support to both students and their families, and focused on curriculum development to determine the best way to reach students and eventually make them into successful college students. The school model at AB is “courage, scholarship, service.” Students are taught from the time that they enter the ninth grade

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Transforming Public Educaon that they will all be going to college. The service components of the model require students to participate in community service projects throughout their four years at AB to emphasize the importance of giving back to the community. The scholarship component of the model demands academic excellence of AB students. The third component to the model, “courage,” is important because AB students are taught that it will take courage to pursue their dreams and be accountable for their futures. Shalini Shanker, Director of Advancement at AB, is proud of the strides that have been made. AB has experienced significant and far-reaching success in meeting the needs of its primarily minority student population. Ninety eight percent of AB graduates go on to attend colleges and two percent enlist in the military. This is a huge accomplishment in a state that, according to Shanker, only graduates 44 percent of its high school students, and where only 25 percent of those who graduate high school actually finish college. In order to prepare AB students for college and continue its record of success, AB uses what it calls the “backwards plans”

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curriculum. With this method, the standards are based on the University of New Mexico’s first year student requirements. “Standards are important. We noticed a disconnect between what is required freshman year of college and what is required senior year of high school. Students who had graduated were saying that they did not feel prepared for their freshman year at college,” says Shanker.

Ninety eight percent of AB graduates go on to attend colleges and two percent enlist in the military.

Amy Biehl decided to fix this problem by preparing their students for college, not just to pass exams. Where some classes previously only required students to do projects to earn credit, testing has now been incorporated into the curriculum as a way to train students in testing techniques. AB also involves university professors in their curriculum development to ensure that lessons are targeting the right goals. Although the school is required to meet national and state standards, AB students are also required to take two college courses at the University of New Mexico or Central New Mexico Community College to make sure they are prepared for the next step.

Amy Biehl’s biggest goal, besides making its students successful scholars, is to make them engaged citizens. That is why community service is such an integral part of the Amy Biehl curriculum. Seniors are required to take part in a year-long community service project related to work done at the University of New Mexico and Central New Mexico Community College. The program used to be limited to the 12th grade, but now service projects are integrated in ninth through 12th grades in order to get students acquainted with a cause they may want to commit to. AB is committed to nurturing civic minded young adults. Many of the students develop strong relationships with the non-profits they do service work for and continue to work for them after graduation, either as volunteers or during the summer. Shanker emphasizes that AB “expects as much of its teachers as it does of its students.” Teachers applying to AB go through a rigorous interview process in which they are asked to answer a series of questions regarding their reasons for wanting to teach and how they would manage a difficult and demanding classroom environment. All

“Amy Biehl is a professional teaching environment. We critique one another. None of the classroom doors are closed." ~Shalini Shanker

teachers who pass this step of the interview process are invited to teach a class in which they are observed by administrators, and later critiqued by both the students and the administration. It is most important for teachers to possess a wealth of knowledge in their subject, as well as have effective classroom management skills. If those skills are there, teachers can be mentored and coached in order to improve their classroom skills. Fortunately, teachers have small classes of 12 to 18 students, so they are able to establish close relationships and learn what works best for each individual student. Amy Biehl Charter is also a mentor for the Native American Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico through the Coalition of Essential Schools. School administrators attend their conference every year to learn new teaching techniques that they can then pass on to their co-workers. The purpose of the conference is for teachers to share best practices with one another, and AB believes the lessons learned from the conferences have contributed a great deal to its success. “Amy Biehl is a professional teaching environment. We critique one another.

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Midwest & West None of the classroom doors are closed. I assisted a first year teacher who needed help improving her classroom techniques. I wrote her letters detailing where she was strong and where she could improve after observing her in class. The same was done for me in my first year of teaching and I appreciated the help. As long as teachers can take the constructive criticism, we work hard to make them better at what they do,� explains Shanker. Parental involvement is also important. Parents are required to visit the school four times per year for one hour meetings. Two meetings are done in a student presentation format and the other two meetings are held between students, parents and teachers. In order to make sure that parents attend, students are not allowed to return to school if their parents do not come. Spanish meeting groups were started six months ago, and the response was overwhelming. It quickly became clear that non-English speaking parents wanted to be involved; they just needed an avenue to do so. Administrators

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are willing to meet before school, in the evening, or on weekends to accommodate parent schedules. Together with parents and teachers, Amy Biehl High School

Summer 2009

is committed to helping their students recognize the importance of education, and how they can use their education to make a positive impact on their community.

I Can Do Anything Charter School Providing Healthy Outlets for Creativity Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Lauren Muscarella I Can Do Anything Charter High School (ICDA) in Reno, Nevada graduates 50 students every year in front of an astounding 1,000 beaming audience members. “If someone really wants to understand the heart and soul of our school, I tell them to attend the graduation ceremony,” said Principal Allen Beebe. Held at Reno-Sparks Convention Center, this event does not include the traditional valedictorian and salutatorian speeches. In fact, those honors are not recognized at all. Instead, the evening is an opportunity for students to express their individuality in less traditional forms; some dance and some sing. Every senior has the opportunity to write a story about the person who supported their journey to graduation day. While each story is read aloud, the student finds that individual and presents him or her with a single rose. “It is a two-tissue-box-per-person event,” Beebe says. This is particularly important because ICDA serves many students who do not live with their parents and who are in otherwise disadvantaged situations. I Can Do Anything Charter High School, formed by a team of teachers, administrators and community leaders in 1998, was Nevada’s first charter school. “In the beginning the committee to form the charter showed a broader spectrum of at-risk students,” explained Beebe. “In the last six years, we’ve adopted the Arts as our focus.  It blended in with our curriculum and now we are fully accredited with the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools. NAAS is a non-profit organization focused on working with member school districts to create a culture that incorporates data to improve instruction and student learning. At its core, the school emphasizes small class size to give students the personalized attention they deserve and often need to flourish in an academic setting. ICDA prides itself on providing an encouraging environment for students to believe in themselves. According to Principal Beebe, it is essential to reward student successes, big and small. “It is very difficult for some of these students to think about their future when they have to wonder if they will be able to eat dinner today or tomorrow,” he said. Getting the students to think about the future is one of the faculty’s greatest challenges. Teachers are constantly reminded to celebrate even the smallest feats to foster and further student productivity. Encouraging students is not only beneficial; it is necessary considering the current economic downturn. Northern Nevada’s economy, which thrives on tourism and mining, has seen significant job loss that has in turn affected the community’s youth. Students are witnessing their parents lose their jobs. As a result, some have dropped out of school to help support their families. The at-risk youth of Reno, like many other areas, face adult challenges such as lacking transportation to school, being evicted, and living in unstable homes.  A majority of I Can Do Anything Charter students do not receive

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sufficient family support, if they have it at all. They often live with an aunt, uncle, or friend. In some cases, students are in transition, meaning they live in a motel, a travel trailer, a car, a shelter or on the street. Despite these hardships, much attention goes into maintaining a positive attitude and healthy learning environment at ICDA. The school’s extensive media arts program provides students with a healthy outlet for their creativity and individuality. The school occupies two buildings, one for traditional classroom studies and another facility for the arts. The Jill E. Wells Center for the Arts, dedicated in honor of a former principal and founding member of the school, features a 2,200 square-foot dance floor, holds classes for photography, photo editing, videography, video editing, sound mixing and editing, and various forms of dance. Marty Lewis, world-renowned dancer and choreographer, manages to break students out of their comfort zone with his energetic jazz, hip hop, ballroom, and tap classes. Not only are creative classes popular, but the students are enthusiastic about learning. According to Toni Arell, executive administrative assistant, some students are afraid, embarrassed or uncomfortable with success because it is not something they are used to experiencing. “Students are doing things they never thought they could do before and they feel safe expressing themselves,” said Arell. The dance students, who are often invited to perform the half-time show for the Reno Bighorns, a local semi-pro basketball team, end up with a true sense of accomplishment, which is a great self-esteem boost.   “Given a realistic chance, I believe, inherently kids will strive to succeed,” Beebe said. “It’s in their nature.” Like any other school, ICDA faces bouts of misconduct, and Beebe explains, “The students bring their family values from home here. If we are going to hold them to a higher standard, we need to talk with each student who is acting out to see where the true

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problem lies,” Beebe said. “Nine times out of 10 if there is a conflict, it is the direct result of an issue in the home,” he continued. Additionally, ICDA established a conflict resolution program to give students structure and to hold them accountable for misconduct. “The students look out for one another,” said Arell. “When they know there is a problem with a student, they tell us.” Having a dependable staff and student body helps administrators focus on practical matters like funding. When it comes to financials, ICDA works with their full-time staff accountant. The school is audited every year by its sponsor, Washoe County School District, and the State of Nevada. In terms of expenses, “We’re frugal,” said Beebe. “We pick up donations from the district, whatever we can get.” With an annual budget of $2.2 million and an economic downturn, Principal Beebe still believes complacency should be avoided and is looking to expand. “When it comes to saving money there are things you can do, such as increasing enrollment, negotiating with vendors, applying for grants, and building a solid volunteer base,” he added. ICDA’s foundation of dedicated teachers explains Principal Beebe’s resolve to continue evolving the school’s reach. Six of the 16 teachers have been working at ICDA since its inception 11 years ago. The students and the teachers are close-knit. For example, “Every year, almost all the teachers come to the prom and hit the dance floor with the students,” said Beebe. “And the students really enjoy it!” At ICDA, students, teachers and administrators work as a team to build character and self-esteem while striving to provide an excellent education to give its students a chance. 

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Midwest & West

John Hancock Charter School Rocketing to New Heights in Education Produced by Hanim Samara & Written by Jim Barlow The music plays, rockets fly and teachers are heard loud and clear at John Hancock Charter School ( JHCS) in Pleasant Grove, Utah, south of Salt Lake City. Founded in 2001, this one-of-a-kind school keeps their students attention through a variety of tools from music appreciation to “Rocket Day.” JHCS began 2008-09 with a $1.53 million budget that was trimmed in April to $1.25 million by the Utah Legislature. The governing school board is gradually buying adjoining land for a future school, which now is in a white, metal building with 12 classrooms and four offices.

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Next door is the school’s first home, a redbrick chapel of the Church of Latter-Day Saints that was converted by a previous owner into a private school. The building is still used by JHCS for music instruction, lunch and the library. Utah’s first charter school opened in 1999. Today there are some 77 charter schools educating 5 percent of the state’s total public school population with 5,000 students on waiting lists. JHCS’ student body is comprised of 14 percent minority students and 29 percent economically disadvantaged students, though

Summer 2009

the school does not participate in the federal Title 1 program. Music to Their Ears Music is a priority for the 180 kindergartenthrough-eighth-grade students at JHCS, which first opened in 2002 as the state’s ninth charter school. Students entering the third grade learn how to play viola, violin or cello. “In seventh and eighth grades, students have the opportunity to play bass, but we only have one bass so we have to choose a winner each term from those who are interested,” said JHCS Director Julie Adamic.

Adamic was among the parents who met in the summer of 2000 to pursue a charter school. Her education in political science at Brigham Young University helped her lead the necessary lobbying efforts. Having stepped away from a teaching career to help her four children, she saw the need for a charter school when her eldest son, suffering from an anxiety disorder, was shuffled among five teachers in a district that, she said, could not meet his needs.

In addition to gaining a charter for JHCS, she was a founding member of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools. “The music sequence is a big part of our core knowledge sequence. We have a music specialist,” Adamic said. “Every student, K through 8, has music appreciation at least once a week.” JHCS teachers even carry iPods provided by the school. In a recent teacher-training

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program by the California-based Quantum Learning Network (QLN), the school’s 13 teachers -- 12 highly qualified under No Child Left Behind -- learned strategies for using music to enhance learning. QLN, which provides school and business programs in 16 countries, was founded in 1981. “Our teachers learned how to keep students engaged all day by using auditory, visual and kinesthetic teaching methods,” Adamic said. “My teachers came back from the training and

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said it was best professional training I’d ever provided.” In classrooms, teachers’ voices and audio materials are carried via sound systems. “We found that doing this was one of the best investments we have made in equipment for our school,” Adamic said. “The first year we put in speakers, discipline issues went down dramatically, because all of the kids were on task.” JHCS’ Rewarded Success Academics at JHCS are built around the Core Curriculum of E.D. Hirsch. The school is one of 55 worldwide honored by the Virginia-based Core Curriculum Foundation as an official “visitation” school, a distinction which requires 100 percent use of the curriculum and an on-site inspection. In 2007, charter school peers at the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools voted JHCS the school of the year. In April, JHCS was also granted its first sixyear accreditation by the Northwest Accredited Schools Association where JHCS is a voluntary member. Results from the 2008 mandatory state testing showed

About Quantum Learning Education Programs What if every single teacher in your school knew how to tap into and manage optimal learning states in their students? What level of overall academic results would be possible if every student was excited about learning and gave 100% effort in the classroom? Quantum Learning Education generates these kinds of results… and more! Quantum Learning is a research-based, integrated model of teaching and learning resulting in highly motivated students who excel in school. It is a comprehensive approach that incorporates research-based best practices, effective delivery methodology, classroom management techniques, strategies for student engagement, leadership models…and the WHY behind it all.

"We take ownership and pride in our students’ accomplishments. The reason charters exist is because one size does not fit all. There needs to be educational options that best serve the students." ~Julie Adamic

that of the 20 assessments given, JHCS students enrolled in algebra I, fourth-grade language arts, reading and math scored 100 percent proficiency. Students exceeded 90 percent proficiency in five other areas and fell below state averages in only four subjects. At JHCS, success is progress driven, based on growth models and pre-assessments. “Internally, the students’ individual growth is important,” she said, “but to the public the tests are all that matters. We take ownership and pride in our students’ accomplishments. The reason charters exist is because one size does not fit all. There needs to be educational options that best serve the students. Parents need to look at programs and figure out what would best benefit each individual student. The best model meets the needs of your student population.”

The results of an 18 school study in four states found the following: “The Quantum Learning model has demonstrated a consistent pattern of positive impact on student learning in all 18 schools. This impact has included statistically significant and educationally significant gains in reading, mathematics, writing and more comprehensive measures of core academic achievement used in California and Texas. Students who have participated in schools implementing the Quantum Learning model have also shown a pattern of greater gains in achievement than comparison sample students not participating in the Quantum Learning Model.” William Benn and Associates, State of California outside evaluator, California Department of Education After using Quantum Learning:  100% reported being better teachers  94% reported more awareness of students learning styles and needs  86% reported making more meaningful connections with students  83% reported raising their personal teaching standards Programs include: Quantum Learning for Teachers, Quantum Learning for Students Learning and Life Skills workshops and summer camps, and Encore Programs for teachers. Quantum Learning appreciates the privilege of partnering with many charter schools across the U.S.

For additional information, contact Jenifer Gomez at (800) 285-3276 ext 112 or jgomez@qlncom Please visit our website at

Midwest & West Unique Programs In addition to the school’s focus on music, JHCS also employs other unique learning experiences for its students. Academics flew skyward April 24 at the school’s annual Rocket Day, when students walk to a park to watch the launch of model rockets built by fifth- through eighthgraders. A retired high-school science teacher helps students build their rockets and assess any problems associated with performance. “We launch the rockets every year, and we have a blast,” Adamic said jovially. The rocket-building, she added, is part of the science focus of the core curriculum, which is supplemented with other programs, such as Spalding Language Arts Program and Lexia Reading, to help struggling students. For the last two years, JHCS has used Lexia Reading, a component of Massachusetts-based Lexia Learning, founded 25 years ago to help students with dyslexia. Lexia Reading since has grown into an online, interactive reading program in which any student can learn skills in an orderly sequence based on an initial reading assessment. "We use the Spalding Language Arts Program, and we were looking for a support mechanism for it that students can do at home,” Adamic explained. “We found that there is often a disconnect from what children do at school and what parents experience at home, since many parents don’t have the same background to be able to support the phonics-based program that we use. We wanted something that would enhance reading at home, including during the summer, and at school. Lexia’s being online and phonemic based matched our needs.” The school is currently evaluating the program’s impact. Anecdotally, Adamic said, “we believe it’s working great, because what we are finding

is that all our students are reaching proficiency” by the time they reach their middle school years. The school’s non-core academics include exploratory courses taught by parents, who are asked, but not required, to give 60 volunteer hours each year. In 2008-09, 68 percent of parents gave an average of 50 hours each, doing landscaping, helping at lunchtime, carpooling, teaching and making repairs. With its many innovative and stimulating programs, the JHCS community is destined to continue its quality programs in the Utah landscape for many years to come.

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Charter School Strategies Helping Autistic Children Written by Tiffany Nichols There is a heated debate brewing over a potential new wave within the charter school movement: the establishment of separate charter schools that cater to the needs of autistic students. It is no secret that teachers’ unions and public school officials often stand in opposition to the charter system because of the belief that it undermines the public school system, and takes much needed funds from schools that are already in dire need of improvement. The argument for charter schools, of course, being that many public schools are failing to educate their students well and therefore charters are necessary to ensure that children are getting the attention and quality education that they deserve. With the latter principle in mind, several states are moving to create charter schools for autistic children that keep class sizes small and offer professional assistance. According to the Autism Society of Minnesota, autism is “a complex disability that is present from birth or very early in development. It affects social interaction, the ability to communicate ideas and feelings, and

the ability to establish relationships. Autism is estimated to occur in as many as one in 166 people and is four times more common in boys than girls.” Many questions arise when debating this topic. Should charters be established to meet the needs of autistic children when public schools do not have the resources to do so? Will creating charters just for autistic children take funds away from other children with disabilities? Should all students with disabilities then be able to have their own charter schools? Do Autistic children benefit from being in schools only fellow autistic children? Lionsgate Academy in Minnesota was created to further the educational and life skills needs of autistic children who are on the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum. Higher functioning autistic children are sometimes left behind because their skills often place them above most special education classes but this does not mean they are necessarily ready for mainstream classes. Individual Education Plans (IEP’s)

and Personalized Learning Plans (PLP’s) are developed for each student at Lionsgate so that students’ unique abilities are catered to. Unlike traditional public school curriculum for students without autism, Lionsgate Academy incorporates those vital areas that are necessary for autistic students to succeed: functional academics, vocational skills, community-based instruction, and social skills. When talking to the Minnesota-based Star Tribune in December 2007, Dennis Rislove, President of The Adler Graduate School of Richfield which sponsors the Lionsgate Academy, said, “It’s difficult to have a program that focuses on autism in the public schools. A lot of times these students get placed in a special education room, a multiple disability room, with kids that have a lot of other disabilities. These children need calm and quiet, not a lot of distraction or stimulation.” “There are a lot of desperate people out there…We just want them to reach their potential, but we just didn’t see it happening,” Bernadette Waisbren told the Star Tribune in 2007 prior to Lionsgate’s opening. Tamara Phillips and Waisbren were the visionaries for the school and have first-hand experience with the challenges of autism: Weisbren’s son and Phillips’ daughter both have the illness. The women created the school out of frustration with what they call “the illusion of inclusion” that exists in public schools. They felt that their public school system did not have the resources to meet the special needs of their children. Lionsgate receives per pupil funding from the state to ensure that this is not the case. In addition, it also receives special education funds from the home districts of its students. Lionsgate acknowledges that it is not the perfect solution for the education of children with autism living in the Twin Cities area: according to the 2007 interview, an estimated 4,000 children in the twin cities have autism,

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Features and Lionsgate only serves 130 students at a time. The school serves as many students as possible and hopes that it creates enough competition to motivate public schools to increase the support available for autistic children. Similarly, Hope Charter School in Ococee, Florida, organized as a non-profit organization, serves 11 autistic children from pre-kindergarten through second grade. Students are offered occupational, speech, and physical therapy, as well as individualized instruction. According to an article from, one of Florida’s online newspapers, all of the parents of Hope Charter School have been overwhelmingly pleased with the progress that their children have made. The current issue with Hope Charter School is that students above the second grade level are too old to continue their education there. Parents wish to be able to maintain the level of attention and instruction received at Hope Charter School and do not feel that a traditional public school has the tools to provide such specialized education.

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In April of this year, the Miami Herald highlighted another public charter school opening in South Florida under the direction of South Florida Autism Charter Schools. The school had a May 7th application deadline for its few slots. The first year the school will teach nine students in each grade level from grades kindergarten through eighth. The goal is to have 117 students total from kindergarten through 12th grade. Each classroom will have one certified teacher and two paraprofessionals. The school targets children on the severe end of the autism spectrum. In order to keep parents involved with the progress of their children, and ensure that they are continuing the effort at home, there will be mandatory quarterly meetings to review techniques and strategies for parents to use when teaching children with autism. However, just as there are strong proponents of autism-only education, others continue to support mixed disability education. For example, the State Senate of Colorado voted in February to create three charter schools to serve children with autism and other related

Summer 2009

conditions. State special education directors from the Colorado public schools cautioned against this action because it will drain state funding for other students with disabilities, some more severe than autism. In speaking with the Rocky Mountain News in February, Littleton Public Schools director Lucinda Hundley cautioned, “You will be pitting one disability against another.� The bill would allow $30,000 per child to go to charter schools from the funding for state special education. Those on one side of the issue argue that the funding does not take state funding away from charter schools because they are spending the same amount to educate autistic children anyway, while other officials believe that $30,000 in state funds is not being used per child, and that the money is being subsidized with local funds. As the debate continues to unfold and more data is available, these answers will continue to unfold and more questions will undoubtedly arise.

A New Dimension of Learning Exploring University Partnerships Written by Tiffany Nichols Of the many flaws in public education, one of the most significant is the lack of preparation students receive for college. At the age of 18 many future co-eds find themselves woefully ill-equipped for the rigors of higher education; combine this with the newfound independence that college students enjoy and it can be a disastrous result. It cannot be denied that our educational system is cyclical in nature: in order for universities to stay in business, students must stay in school and in order for secondary education to thrive it needs qualified teachers from the universities. A shining example of the potential present when universities and charter schools partner is University High Charter School (UCHS) in Fresno, California. In 1999, the dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at The University of California-Fresno sought to remedy the problem of a lack of quality college preparatory schools in the

Fresno area by creating a charter school that would offer students the option of attending a high school where they would learn with the core values of liberal arts in mind. This partnership uses music and the performing arts as the cornerstone of the curriculum. Head of School, James Bushman, is a proponent of UHCS’ model and has seen the impact it has had on students. Instead of a widely used approach that introduces students to biology and algebra their freshman year and progresses them to physics and Algebra 2, UHCS students complete the curriculum in reverse. It is a minimum requirement for admission to UHCS that entering students have completed algebra in middle school, allowing them to take Algebra 2 right away. Staying true to its dedication of a liberal arts education, UCHS also requires two years of Latin and physical education classes for all of its students. After completing the required Latin courses, students take two semesters of any language offered at UC-Fresno, earning them six college credits. Earning credits in high school gives students incentive to stay in school and continue on to higher education, having already completed work toward their degrees. Also, UHCS students are required to take history classes at the university and use its labs for their science classes, which is beneficial because typically high schools would not have access to the same technology and resources as universities. Additional benefits of the charter school and university partnership brings benefits to the latter given the nature of the university system in the country. Relying on high schools to provide a large number of the students who keep them thriving, Universities, like the University of California-Fresno, turn to the public and private education systems to recruit their future students. If these students are not well prepared to begin their freshman year of college,, this is a detriment for students

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and universities alike. It would be significantly more efficient for university professors to take part in a dialogue with secondary school officials about the educational requirements of freshman year of college. University professors would not only be able to give advice about where most freshman students are having difficulty, but they would also be able to offer techniques that could help improve student performance. Additionally, students would better understand the caliber of work that would be expected of them, before making the transition to higher education. Bushman boasts that the advantage of having a partnership between UCHS and The University of California-Fresno is that students not only have the chance to gain experience in the university environment, but they also have the opportunity to earn credits toward college while being held to the standards of other college students. If students are given more independence and responsibility in keeping up with their studies, while still having the mentorship of their high school professors to help them along, they increase their chances of success.

use university labs and science programs for instruction, rather than having to raise funds to support their own programs.

Another unique opportunity presented by university partnerships with charter schools that is not as available in traditional public schools is that charter schools often operate with a themed curriculum. This is particularly beneficial to universities that specialize. For example, if a university is seeking more students for its engineering program, it can work with secondary-school teachers to begin to introduce students to engineering as early as the ninth grade. Teachers can then create curriculum and programs to introduce students to all fields within engineering, and make sure that the high school’s math requirements are in line with university math requirements in engineering. Conversely, charter schools could

There is a world of opportunity created when universities partner with charter schools. Though it is impossible to know what this unlocked potential could bring to the movement, there are certainly schools that are living this innovative method; and it is certainly a real dream to strive for. University and charter school partnerships are beneficial to the enrichment of both the university and charter school experience, if executed well. It is an investment in the future leaders of America, on the part of both entities. Most importantly, partnerships provide students with the mentorship and guidance they need to not only visualize their futures, but realize their dreams.

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Charter schools and public schools alike face a challenge when it comes to parental involvement. This is certainly another area of untapped potential that could have enormous positive impact for students. Some charter schools serve primarily immigrant populations and have a difficult time involving parents because many are not English speakers. Universities who are partnered with charter schools can offer English classes to these parent populations at a reduced cost, or for free. This would increase parents’ confidence, allowing them to keep in contact with school staff, while also involving parents in the overall school community. Additionally, universities could offer reduced fees for classes to parents of students at the partner charter school. This would encourage parents without college degrees to pursue them, and it would set a positive example for students, reinforcing the importance of higher education.

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“You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives. - Clay P. Bedford"

“All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talent." - John F. Kennedy

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge." - Albert Einstein

“The objective of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives." - Robert Maynard Hutchins

“Good schools, like good societies and good families, celebrate and cherish diversity." - Deborah Meier

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Charter SChoolS today R ocketing to n ew h eights in e ducation THE MAGAZINE FOR CHARTER SCHOOL EXECUTIVES t uRning a Round e xpectations Sa...

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