Tuesday, July 05, 2011

School Braces for Hard Truth

A VERY bold, important experiment is about to get underway in Harlem, as Barbara Martinez describes.  Kudos to Democracy Prep for taking on this challenge!

In a ceremony this week, Harlem Day Charter School celebrated its 13 fifth-graders who are moving on to middle school. They represent roughly one-third of the class.

The other two-thirds will have to repeat fifth grade.

That hard truth is one of many that the teachers, students and parents of Harlem Day have been confronting in recent months as the school prepares to become the city's first attempt at a takeover of a failing charter school.

Only five of 32 teachers will be returning in September. About 100 of all 247 students in the elementary school are being held back. And administrators are having tough conversations with parents about the true state of their children's academic progress. Parents are being told that students, who for years were passed from grade to grade, lack basic skills.

At Harlem Day, no students were held back last year, despite recent state tests that showed only 20% of students were on grade level in English and 25% were in math.

"The students of Harlem Day have not had a culture of consistent excellence for nearly a decade, and they are long overdue," said Katie Duffy, chief of staff at Democracy Prep Public Schools, which will take over Harlem Day in August. The school will be renamed Harlem Prep.

The new school will have a longer school day and school year. Teachers will have to cut their summer vacation down by one month and work roughly two hours more daily. In some cases, they will be paid more, but they will also have larger class sizes, more responsibilities, more scrutiny of their performance and more accountability. Of the 32 teachers at the school, only 13 re-applied for teaching jobs.

"It's going to be a shock to many of the parents," said Mona Davids, president of the New York Charter Parents Association. Harlem Day was more "laid-back," she said, while Democracy Prep is "more rigid, with more structure." She predicts there will be student attrition once school starts and parents realize the school's fundamental model has changed.


School Braces for Hard Truth


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