Update on the Lefferts Gardens Charter School
This morning at Brooklyn Public Library, Renee Ciccone led an information session about the soon-to-open Lefferts Gardens Charter School (LGCS). There were about a dozen parents in attendance, as well as a representative from the NYC Charter School Center who was also able to answer some questions about the rules and regulations concerning charter schools. Here is my report from the meeting for those that weren't able to attend.
Nuts and Bolts
- LGCS has been authorized to operate as a charter school for grades K-5 and will begin operations in September 2010. In the first year (assuming full enrollment) it will open with three Kindergarten classes and 3 first grade classes, with 25 students in each class for a total of 150 students. Each class will have 2 teachers for a teacher/student ratio of 12.5:1. Each year the school will add a grade as this year's first graders advance until there is a full K-5.
- LGCS applied to open as a K-8 school but only the elementary school was authorized. They anticipate applying to extend to middle school but will not be permitted to do so until they have been in operation for three years -- and there is no guarantee that the request will be granted.
- LGCS has not been told where it will be housed, but it has been assured that it will be located within an existing public school in District 17(map), which includes all of PLG and a large swath of Crown Heights. They have also been promised that once they are located, the charter school will be able to stay in that location as they grow to the full 6 grades.
- LGCS is currently accepting applications. The application will be available on the school website* as soon as it goes live. This is expected to happen in the next week or so, and when it does, we'll post about it here.
- Applications will be accepted until March 31. If there are more applications than the school has seats, a lottery will be held on April 13 to determine who gets in and who gets wait-listed. Priority will be given to District 17 students. In future years, siblings of enrolled students will get pre-lottery priority.
- The school will have neither pre-K nor a gifted-and-talented program, as those programs are federally funded and the charter school is not eligible for that funding.
- The school does currently have office space, but it is not in the neighborhood. The Charter Center, at 111 Broadway in Manhattan, has generously given the LGCS an office to use. So don't be surprised when the application tells you to mail it to a Manhattan address.
- For parents of students who are too young to attend the school next year but are interested in future years, the school intends to have regular open houses and tours during the school year.
- LGCS will be focused on environmental science and aim to integrate that theme into all subjects and school projects. The school hopes to partner with the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens (which provided a letter of support), the Audubon Center, and other organizations to maximize out-of-classroom learning.
- The program will teach all subjects via the "Scientific Method of Inquiry" in order to teach students how to properly frame a question so that they can be independent learners.
- The curriculum will be designed so that the students get physical education every day, as well as a less structured recess period where students will be able to go outside, stretch their legs, and get a break from the classroom.
- Project-based learning: each class will have a "Question of the day" and "Question of the week" that the students will work toward answering in addition to other specific projects. For kindergarten students, all projects will be done class-wide, but starting in first grade the students will begin working on individual projects.
- Students will have "choice time" in the early morning and after lunch, so students will have the opportunity to help direct their own learning
- There will be no "tracking" of students in different classes. Students within a class of differing abilities will be given "differentiated learning" within a class so that all students' educational needs are met but students will not be segregated.
- LGCS will use the FOSS curriculum for science education.
- Reading will be taught by the Teachers College Balanced Literacy curriculum.
- Math will be a combination of the Everyday Math and Singapore Math curricula. The school chose to use a combination of the two because the Singapore Math curriculum is apparently easier for parents to follow along with, probably because it is more like the way people in my generation learned math.
- The school day will run from 8AM to 3PM. The doors will open at 7:45 and parents will, at the beginning of the year, be allowed to come in to help their children transition to the school environment. Students who arrive by bus (i.e., without parents) will get the priority of the teachers' attention during the transition time.
- LGCS will not have after-school programs during the first year due to the logistical burden of just getting the school up and running. They hope to introduce after-school programs in the second year.
- The school will engage in a six-week progress assessment cycle, using the DIBELS and TerraNova methods. As described, they do not utilize standardized tests; rather computer "games" and/or interviews are used to assess progress.
Faculty and Staff
- LGCS has a School Leader committed to run the school but he has not yet signed a contract, so his name can't be revealed. He is currently working in an independent school and has a background in Physical Education and Biology.
- No faculty has been -- or could have been -- hired yet. The school was not allowed to begin the hiring process until it was authorized and the hiring period for the Fall semester will run from February through April. The faculty application will be online as well, so if you are interested in teaching at the school, keep your eyes open for that. A science background isn't necessary but a commitment to the school philosophy, as set forth above, is.
- The school will be operating outside of the union contract, at least to start. The faculty will be small enough to be outside the UFT contract. By law, the vast majority of the faculty (I believe 80% was mentioned) have to have New York teacher certification. For at least the first few years, the teachers will all be experienced, with the possibility of adding new teachers in later years when they would comprise a smaller percentage of the total faculty.
- Because the school is outside the union contract, teachers can be hired and fired based on performance more readily. The salaries will be slightly higher than the union contract but the benefits package will be less generous.
- The school will have a parents' organization but it is unclear whether there will be room in the budget for a full-time parent coordinator.
Other issues that didn't come up, but which some parents may be interested in include ESL and special-needs programs; none of the parents attending the session apparently had children who needed those services because no questions were asked.
There was also a fair amount of information provided about the charter school application process and the difference between charter schools and regular public schools but this is already too long.