The Relationship School
David Brooks profiles a unionized elementary school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which is doing some innovative stuff. I've heard good things about this school, and it'll be interesting to see if it can replicate its success:
Usually when you visit a school you walk down a quiet hallway and peer in the little windows in the classroom doors. You see one teacher talking to a bunch of students. Every 50 minutes or so a chime goes off and the students fill the hallway and march off to their next class, which is probably unrelated to the one they just left.
When you visit The New American Academy, an elementary school serving poor minority kids in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, you see big open rooms with 60 students and four teachers. The students are generally in three clumps in different areas working on different activities. The teachers, especially the master teacher who is floating between the clumps, are on the move, hovering over one student, then the next. It is less like a factory for learning and more like a postindustrial workshop, or even an extended family compound.
The teachers are not solitary. They are constantly interacting as an ensemble. Students can see them working together and learning from each other. The students are controlled less by uniform rules than by the constant informal nudges from the teachers all around.
The New American Academy is led by Shimon Waronker, who grew up speaking Spanish in South America, became a U.S. Army intelligence officer, became an increasingly observant Jew, studied at yeshiva, joined the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, became a public schoolteacher and then studied at the New York City Leadership Academy, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the former New York Schools chancellor, Joel Klein, founded to train promising school principal candidates.
And here's a letter to the editor from the founder of the school:
To the Editor:
Re "The Relationship School" (column, March 23):
It was an honor to have David Brooks visit our pilot school and share his insights on our model. The components of our model have been explored in different schools.
In many ways, what we are doing is not new; instead, we bring a renewed commitment to exploring how the research-based elements of our model can best function in classrooms, and how we can bring the model to scale without increasing school budgets.
Together with our partners at the New York City Department of Education and United Federation of Teachers, we have created a unique contract that allows for a 15-to-1 student-teacher ratio and higher teacher salaries on a standard public school per-pupil allocation.
As Mr. Brooks described, the cornerstone of our model is relationships — particularly between teachers and students and within the teaching teams. We are firmly committed to proving this relationship-based model, which includes exploring how this educational structure works in other environments, with different teachers and a different principal.
We are very optimistic about our future and remain deeply dedicated to working within the system to change education for our nation's young people.
The New American Academy
Brooklyn, March 23, 2012
March 22, 2012