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CHARTER SCHOOLS TODAY

Spring 2009

www.charterschoolstoday.com

THE ALEXANDER Freire Charter School COMPANY, INC Great Expectations

Reusing and Revitilizing

THE MAG A ZINE FOR CH ARTER SCHOOL EX ECU TIVES


Freire Charter where they aim to provide all students with a quality private education. While the name of the college preparatory school may leave you wondering how to pronounce it (“Free-air-ee”), it is a deliberate choice. The school is named after the late Paulo Freire, an important educational theorist and Brazilian instructor. His ideas and educational theories influence the school’s teaching philosophy.

Great Expectations Produced by Eric Gunn & Written by Jacqueline Bodnar In 1999, in the heart of Philadelphia, a charter school opened its doors. Today, this school operates from a $4.7 million annual budget, serving 480 students ranging from 9th to 12th grades. If there is one thing that sets Freire Charter School apart from others, it is the fact that they don’t have low expectations for their students. Freire raises the educational bar, which helps guide students to academic success. The problem of low standards in public, often urban, school settings is an issue that Kelly Davenport, Ed.D., the head of the school, cites as one of the biggest problems in education today. Davenport has been with the school since its opening and is passionate about her students and the mission of the school. Graduating as a Spanish major from college, she went on to teach for two years in Portugal, and has earned a doctorate in urban education. “The low expectations put on our kids is such a problem,” says Davenport. “The system of education itself generates low expectations for kids and teachers. And this trend has got to stop.” A Different Approach Freire Charter School takes a unique approach to learning,

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US Executive Journal Summer Edition 2008 Charter Schools Today Winter Edition 2008

Paulo Freire believed a classical education, that being liberal arts and sciences, was not being taught efficiently in schools, and he offered a more effective method. His philosophy is based on the idea that students are not empty minds just waiting for a teacher to fill them up. Rather, he believed that a student-teacher relationship exists where both are in the process of learning from one another. His ideas are practiced at Freire Charter School, as they take on a student-centered educational approach. Using Freire’s approach, students at the school are not treated as passive learners. They evaluate their teachers, help in designing the curriculum, and even have a representative seat at the Board of Directors table. Learning and Beyond “We have no tolerance whatsoever for student misconduct,” explains Davenport. “We expect students to behave appropriately. When they don’t, Freire students learn from their mistakes so that next time they do things better. It’s all about the expectations we set for them.” With disciplinary issues resolved, the school focuses on a variety of subject areas, with college preparatory options at the forefront. The courses students elect to take at their school are what university admission offices look for when they apply for college. Students build a strong foundation of math, biology, English, history, Spanish, and reading. Additional electives open to them include Advanced Biology, Environmental Science, African American Literature, Mass Communications, American Law, and Spanish IV. Students have opportunities to participate in varsity and junior varsity basketball, football, softball, track, soccer, and volleyball. The school also has a wide variety of clubs and activities to enrich the student’s experience, including book clubs, dancing, art, chess,


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drama, singing, business, photography, and student government. Additionally, some student groups, such as the National Honor Society, take part in charity-based initiatives to help those in the community, such as holding a penny drive. Being a college preparatory school, Freire makes sure that its students receive college counseling. They learn about college preparation and admission timelines, and are provided with a variety of tools to guide them through the process of applying to and preparing for college. This one-on-one attention from a career counselor pays off in a big way as 98 percent of the school’s students go on to college.

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Charter Schools Today

Behind the Scenes Every successful school needs committed teachers who make it their mission to help their students perform to the best of their ability. Freire Charter School maintains quality teachers and personnel who have a thorough understanding of its educational philosophy and goals. It also takes routine measures to improve teacher quality and keep up with changing demands in the educational world. “We work in small teams and bring people in from the outside for training,” says Davenport. “That way, we are able to identify any weak areas and help the teachers to address them. Another thing

Winter Edition 2008

that sets us apart - I don’t think you will find another school in the state that cares or works as much for kids as we do.” The school also appreciates the benefits that parental involvement brings, although they, like most schools, have not found a way to increase participation over 35 percent. Thus far, they do ask parents to speak to their kids about school, offer a back-to-school night for parents, and are working all the time to build meaningful relationships with parents. On Being a Charter School One of the ways Davenport recommends that other charter schools help with their


Immerse your Students in the Sights, Sounds and History of Independence National Historical Park Independence National Historical Park is not your typical park, but a 20 city block interactive urban walking museum that makes history relevant. Become a member of the Friends of Independence and you can receive special discounts, educational tools, and other benefits offered to schools and educators. Visit our website www. friendsofindependence.org to learn more about our programs.

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budget issues is to keep their kids excited about, and therefore always attending, school. This, in turn, keeps enrollment up, which is imperative for maximized funding from the state. This may take some creativity, but it will pay off in the long run. When it comes to what Davenport would like to see changed for charter schools in Pennsylvania, she says that they need more elbow room. “Within the state of Pennsylvania, remember to pull back on legislation and allow for educators in the field to create a path for education that is studentcentered,” says Davenport. “Educators need the space to focus most on what matters most- the students. It’s a tragedy when the job of an educator serves legislation more than it serves the kids.” What’s Next for Freire Davenport remains optimistic about the future of the school, expecting continued growth and planning to be there to lead the way. “In five years, I see us being the best school in the city, offering the same amenities, opportunities and qualities of a private school, but funded through the public system,” adds Davenport. “We plan to forge relationships with the local universities and hope to build a center for new and inspiring urban teachers someday. We also have 95 percent teacher retention, and we have impressive alumni and returning-student numbers. I see that continuing and even improving in the future.”

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Charter Schools Today

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SCHOOL AT A GLANCE Established : 1999 Staff : 47 Students: 480 Leading the School : Kelly Davenport

www.freirecharterschool.org

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CHARTER SCHOOLS TODAY

Spring 2008

www.charterschoolstoday.com

Freire Charter School 2027 Chestnut St. Philadelphia, PA 19103 United States

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THE ALEXANDER COMPANY, INC THE MAGAZINE FOR CHARTER SCHOOL EXECUTIVES Great Expectations Reusing and Revitilizing Spring 2009 www.chartersch...

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