Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Carl Icahn Charter School honored

Kudos to NY's Carl Icahn Charter School for being one of seven charter schools nationwide recognized in this US DOE report, K–8 Charter Schools: Closing the Achievement Gap. (FYI, Sy Fiegel is on the board of this school.)  
To read about and download the report, see:
The specific report on the Carl Icahn Charter School is at: http://www.ed.gov/admins/comm/choice/charterk-8/report_pg11.html#icahn, which begins:

Mission and Founding

Known as a "turnaround" principal, Jeffrey Litt has been working in the same five-mile radius of the South Bronx for most of his 38  ears in education. "I won’t take an easy assignment," he says. "I always work  with the population that most people run from." Given the opportunity to build a charter school from scratch, Litt jumped at the chance and has created a new elementary school based on E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge curriculum, which focuses on key concepts of western civilization in mathematics, language, science, history, music, art, and more. With the financial backing of billionaire Carl C. Icahn, the eponymous school received its charter in March  2001 and opened in September 2001 with grades K–2.

Constructed in three months out of modular portables on an empty lot, the Carl C. Icahn Charter School has outgrown its original space.  As of 2006–07, the child care and K–1 classrooms were located across the  street in the Icahn Homeless Shelter* while the school was completing building  an $11 million, five-story facility that will accommodate eight classrooms, a  library, and multipurpose rooms. Once this building is finished, the school will be able to expand from a K–7 to a K–8 school.

* This shelter also is funded by Carl C. Icahn but as a separate entity from the school.

The school’s portable buildings are protected by a locked metal fence with curled barbed wire at the top. A television monitor in Litt’s office enables him to view the entire campus at any time. Understanding that, as he puts it, "A reputation is everything in the inner city," Litt has worked tirelessly to ensure that the school has a good reputation and commands  respect. Prior to opening the school, Litt walked floor to floor in neighboring high-rise housing projects to introduce himself, spread the word  about Icahn Charter School, and encourage parents to send their children to  the new school.

Litt sets high expectations for school and students alike. The  school’s mission is to prepare its 278 students to be productive citizens through rigorous academics. As Icahn Charter School board member Seymour  Fliegel, president of the Center for Educational Innovation, underscores, the school is dedicated to giving kids from the South Bronx the chance to succeed at high levels: "Carl C. Icahn has a big thing for poor kids," Fliegel  explains. "He cares about the leadership of the school."

Based on Litt’s previous positive experience with the Core Knowledge program at another school, he selected it as the path to implementing the school’s mission. Visiting a model Core Knowledge program in Florida, Litt was told the curriculum would not work in the Bronx because "the  kids are too poor." Undaunted, Litt listened and learned, ultimately choosing to use the curriculum, but to make some adaptations that would render it more  accessible to his particular inner-city students. For example, Litt made sure to emphasize minority history and culture and connect those areas to mathematics and science. In addition, Litt decided to extend both the school day and the school year (September through July) to increase teachers’ opportunity to teach necessary skills and instill a love of learning in students.

As the school looks forward to initiating an eighth grade, it intends to prepare students for the New York City high school admissions tests  for selective public schools, as well as for applications to prestigious boarding schools, such as Connecticut’s Choate Rosemary Hall. Students accepted to Choate may apply to become an Icahn Scholar, thus receiving full  scholarship.

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