charting the charters

Two more New York City charter schools poised to open in 2016

PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki

Piano lessons and merit bonuses are key elements of two charter schools poised to receive approval this week to open in New York City in 2016.

The two schools, the New York City Charter School of the Arts and the Bronx Charter School for Excellence 2, have both had their applications recommended by officials at the SUNY Charter School Institute. If approved by the institute’s board of trustees on Oct. 15, the schools would bring the total number of city charter schools set to open next year to 26.

The City School of the Arts, whose three founders worked together on an arts education program in the Bronx, plans to open next August with about 100 sixth graders. The middle school will place a heavy emphasis on music, with new students spending nearly three hours on piano instruction and learning to read music every week, according to a summary of its application posted online.

The application also addresses some contentious enrollment issues. It notes that the school will “backfill all vacant seats at all grade levels” and that it will not require an audition or portfolio for admission — a given, since charter schools must enroll students through lotteries, but perhaps a nod to how the school will differ from the city’s many selective district middle schools.

Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College, has agreed to join the school’s board. Levine said he had been impressed with the “tenacity” of founder Jamie Davidson to open her own school, since many prospective charters receive extra points for being replications.

“She is a person who dreamed of a school and then made it happen,” said Levine, now president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. “She didn’t make it happen through one of the charter chains.”

Davidson declined to comment before the Thursday vote.

The school wants to open in Lower Manhattan over the objections of local elected parent councils. The Community Education Council in District 1, which covers the Lower East Side and Chinatown, has written a 42-page opposition memo that says the application lacks specifics about its enrollment policies and argues there is not enough demand in the small district to justify its opening.

The parents are also asking questions about whether public notification rules were followed.

The city education department missed a deadline to hold a hearing on the proposal by three weeks. City officials held the hearing on Oct. 1 and comments were sent to SUNY four days later, a SUNY spokeswoman said.

The comments were not reflected in SUNY’s official recommendation.

“To invite public comment on the one hand but exclude it on the other really speaks to a broken process,” said Luke Henry, a District 1 council member.

SUNY spokeswoman Mahati Tonk said the comments would be available soon, but insisted that city officials were the ones who were late.

“The Institute always summarizes comments, even those received after requested deadlines,” Tonk said in a statement.

The city did not immediately respond to questions about the process.

The other school under consideration would replicate the Bronx Charter School for Excellence, an elementary school that is one of the highest performing in that borough. On last year’s state tests, 48 percent of students were proficient in English and 62 percent were proficient in math. The rates were double the averages of the Bronx’s District 11, where the school is located.

The application for Bronx Charter School for Excellence 2 notes that teachers and staff will receive bonuses based on student performance, but does not offer additional details. Representatives from the school did not respond to emails and calls on Tuesday.

The new schools would add to the growing number of charter schools in New York City, where 205 charter schools are open this year and another 24 are already preparing to open their doors in fall 2016.

That has posed a political challenge for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has been cool to charter schools’ growth since taking office and believes district schools — which still serve the vast majority of the city’s student population — deserve more attention. Success Academy Charter Schools CEO Eva Moskowitz and allied groups like Families for Excellent Schools have countered that the district school system is incapable of dramatically improving public education and that the city should extend its support for an expansion of charter schools.

Still, de Blasio is on the hook to accommodate the space needs of new charter schools because of a state law passed in 2014.

The City School for the Arts plans to request space inside of a city-owned building in Manhattan’s districts 1 or 2. If denied, the city would have to reimburse the school for costs associated with operating in private space, which could reach $2,800 per student next year. (The Bronx school has already decided to open in private space, which disqualifies it from being eligible for rent reimbursement from the city, according to SUNY’s application summary.)

The two schools would be the first approved by SUNY in over a year. The Thursday meeting will also be SUNY’s first since its board chair Joseph Belluck vowed to block new charter schools from opening if the institute didn’t receive additional funding — comments he backed down from in an interview Tuesday.

“The process was sort of underway at the time I made the comments and I felt it was not appropriate to punish these two schools, which both seem very strong, because of our concerns with funding for the institute,” Belluck said.

The two schools would mark the fewest approved by SUNY since 2006 come just one year after the institute approved a record-high 24 charter applications, 14 of which were for new schools in the Success Academy network.

The small number of approvals underscores the uncertainty that has surrounded New York’s charter-school governance in the last year.

It wasn’t clear until June that SUNY would have any New York City charters left to approve, since it had neared its limit under the state’s charter-school cap. A last-minute legislative deal gave more charters to SUNY, but left little time for operators to prepare their applications.

Some operators previously applied through the state’s other charter authorizer, the State Education Department, which had more charters to approve for the city. The department abruptly rejected all applicants in March and although it is considering three charter applications for the city next year, some say their next try will be through SUNY.

“I applied through SED because it was the only option,” said Voice Charter School Principal Franklin Headley, who wants to open a second school. “I know more about SUNY’s process and I’ve heard positive things about their relationship with schools. Now that SUNY has charters, I think there’s an opportunity for us to apply through them.”

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff
Elementary students at Moving Everest charter school read about fossils.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a  cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less five year olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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