chartering territory

SUNY green-lights 17 more city charter schools, 14 for Success Academy

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer
Families for Excellent Schools organized a rally in Foley Square in Manhattan that drew thousands of charter school students and parents last week.

The city’s charter school sector, and its largest charter-school network, got a big boost Wednesday.

A State University of New York committee unanimously approved 17 additional charter schools to open over the next two years, with 14 of the charters going to Success Academy, the city’s largest and most controversial network. The other three charters went to Achievement First, a Brooklyn-based network of schools.

Together, the schools are projected to serve more than 11,700 students, according to proposals for both networks — growth that will have major implications for the de Blasio administration, which is facing new budget and space pressures. Under a new state law, the city is required to find the new schools space inside its own buildings or pay the schools a rent subsidy.

The city hasn’t yet decided where it will place any of the planned schools, and the administration has its own plans that will require space in city schools: pre-kindergarten programs and its community schools initiative, which will add health and career services to some struggling schools. Denying the new charter schools public space would mean spending millions on private space under the new law, which was partially spurred by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision in March to block three Success Academy schools from moving into public buildings.

There are hundreds of district school buildings where existing vacancies would make co-location a cost-effective option for siting new schools,” a Success spokesperson said in a statement.

The 17 newly-approved charter schools come after SUNY and the state’s Board of Regents, the state’s other charter authorizer, approved 13 additional charter schools earlier this year. That means just one more charter school can be authorized by SUNY to open in the city under state law. The Board of Regents still has 27 city charters left to approve.

While mostly effusive in their brief remarks about the charter proposals, SUNY officials expressed some concern about the size and oversight of charter management organizations, which now serve similar numbers of students as small school districts. Success Academy’s 14 new schools will add to the 32 that Success currently operates to bring the network to 50 schools—roughly the size of the Savannah, Ga. school district, for example.

SUNY Charter School Institute Executive Director Susan Miller Barker, SUNY trustee Joseph Belluck, and general counsel Ralph Rossi as the authorizer approved 17 city charter schools on Wednesday.
PHOTO: Geoff Decker
SUNY Charter School Institute Executive Director Susan Miller Barker, SUNY trustee Joseph Belluck, and general counsel Ralph Rossi as the authorizer approved 17 city charter schools on Wednesday.

“We need to start thinking about how we authorize and monitor and review networks that are this large,” said Joseph Belluck, chair of SUNY’s charter schools committee.

Belluck directed Susan Miller Barker, the director of SUNY’s Charter School Institute, to look into ways SUNY could monitor how charter networks were serving their high-needs students, work more collaboratively with nearby district schools, and replacing students who leave the school—a contested policy known as “backfilling.”

Belluck also took some credit for Success Academy’s recent offer to host a professional development day for district-school principals. Another idea Belluck floated was for networks to share special-education teachers and resources across schools in the same way that districts do. Such a change would require revisions to the state’s charter school law and had encountered opposition from teachers unions in the past.

Miller Barker said that some changes were already underway. She said Success Academy officials told her that they planned to begin replacing students who leave the school at all grades, which would be a dramatic shift from the network’s current policy of only replacing students who leave through third grade.

Critics of Success often cite the network’s backfilling policy as a contributor to its impressive state test scores, since the policy means its elementary schools serve fewer students as they reach tested grades—and many of the students who leave for various reasons might have struggled.

Noah Gotbaum, a member of the District 3 Community Education Council, speaks to press outside Tweed Courthouse, protesting SUNY's decision to approve more charter schools.
PHOTO: Jessica Glazer
Noah Gotbaum, a member of the District 3 Community Education Council, speaks to press outside Tweed Courthouse, protesting SUNY’s decision to approve more charter schools.

A Success spokesperson confirmed the network was changing its enrollment policies, but would only say that it would be filling empty seats up to fourth grade, up from its current cutoff of third grade, in the 2015-16 year. (A spokesman for SUNY later clarified that Miller Barker misspoke about Success backilling in every grade).

Meanwhile, in an illustration of how divisive charter schools remain in the city, and how divisive Success Academy is in particular, parents and City Councilmembers stood outside the Department of Education headquarters on Wednesday to protest SUNY’s approvals. There is too little oversight of how charter schools spend their money, they said, and traditional public schools that are co-located with charter schools remain underfunded, with arts programs cut, occupational therapy sessions held in hallways, and science labs scaled down. They also pointed to enrollment data from SUNY showing that 13 existing Success Academy schools were under-enrolled last October, including three by more than 27 percent. (The Brooklyn parents group, WAGPOPS, compared charter enrollment targets obtained from SUNY via a FOIA request with enrollment figures from education department space-sharing documents.)

“We have a right to say what happens with taxpayer dollars,” said Tesa Wilson, a parent who heads District 14’s Community Education Council.

“This is about oversight. This is about accountability,” said Daniel Dromm, chair of the City Council’s education committee. “This is about creating better public schools in New York City.”

Jessica Glazer contributed reporting. 

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the approvals will bring Success Academy to 50 schools. 

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”