Charter Network Makes the Grade in N.J. School
The district asked KIPP, an established charter network, to take charge starting with last school year. Turning around a failing school in a poor, high-crime neighborhood is notoriously hard, but initial data provided by KIPP suggest that relaunching the site as Life Academy, for kindergarten through fourth grade, is paying off.
"Before there used to be chaos," said Caleb, a fourth-grader. "Teachers didn't push us to persevere. Now they do."
Critics often say that charters skim the best students, leave the hardest-to-teach children in regular public schools and in doing so polish their records for achievement. Charter schools dispute that claim.
When a traditional school such as Bragaw converts to a charter, it is possible to track how the same students fared after a change in management, staff and philosophy.
Most children from Bragaw started Life Academy in the fall of 2014 nearly a full year behind in math and reading, judging by a widely used test called Measures of Academic Progress. The network said that by spring, students on average had roughly hit grade level in math or surpassed it, depending on the grade. In reading, on average they had almost caught up.
Parents said their children used to run loose in the hallways and fights among students were common. Now, they say, the school feels safe, disciplined and more rigorous.
Caleb's mother, Tiara Kelley, said his new teachers were more adept at dealing with her son's attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. "I want him to be in an environment where they're not there to get a paycheck only, but they really want to see the kids change and grow and learn," she said.