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Nora Kern

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CSP Funding Profile: Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women

A Mission to Serve

The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women (BLSYW) was founded on a simple goal: to give public school students the same quality education and opportunities as their peers in private schools. The school’s all-girls environment prepares the young women of Baltimore city for success in college and life through a strong school culture and innovative teaching practice.

BLSYW cultivates strong habits of mind and a sense of community by educating the whole young woman—emotionally, physically and academically. Its college preparatory model emphasizes science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM); fields in which women are underrepresented. Other specialized programming at BLSYW includes small class sizes, leadership opportunities, Peer Group Connection mentoring to ease the transition from middle to high school, a week-long Bridge program in the summer to get new students acclimated to the culture at BLSYW, and annual college visits for every student.

From Vision to Reality: How CSP Funds Enabled BLSYW to Open

BLSYW was approved to open in 2008. Its plan was to start with a single 6th grade class comprised of 120 students, and there were over 200 applications for the inaugural class. The school received $550,000 in startup funds through the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP), which was used to supplement the funding for the first year of the school. The funds were used to pay teachers during the planning year of the school, to develop curriculum, purchase textbooks and technology, and recruit new students.

Even starting the school with just one grade, the startup funds were not enough to sustain a school. That said, Executive Director Maureen Colburn noted that without the CSP startup funds, the school would not have been able to open. The startup funds were used for basics as well as bringing the initial staff—six teachers and two administrators—together around BLSYW’s mission and develop the school culture. The school received a second $200,000 CSP grant in 2011 to help align mathematics and English language arts curriculum with Common Core State Standards.

Principal’s Office

All of the senior leadership at BLSYW—Maureen Colburn (Executive Director), Brenda Hamm (Principal), and Heather Skopak (Assistant Principal)—attended all-girls schools. So for them, the school mission is personal. Ms. Colburn helped found three all-girls public schools in New York City during her seven-year term as the Executive Director of the Young Women’s Leadership Network. On the all-girls learning environment, she notes that, “I believe so much that this is a choice that should be available to parents and families in the public school system,” and should not just be accessible to those who can afford private single-gender schools. “It’s been my career to make that possible for underserved, under-resourced kids.”

Principal Brenda Hamm came to BLSYW as a career educator and administer in all-girls private schools. She said that the ability to provide this quality of educational experience in the public school setting is, “…an opportunity that should be available to all kids. Why is it that we can’t somehow create that environment for every single for every single young man and young woman at least from the perspective of having great teachers, great courses, high expectations, great support system, bringing people together and saying ‘you can do this!’ and we will provide you with a wonderful environment.”

Heather Skopak, Assistant Principal, speaks to her connection to the school model: “I went to an all-girls school myself, and the environment and the academics provided me and with really everything that I have today. And I attribute it to that. So being able to provide our girls in Baltimore with the option of a single-gender school was really important for me.” Ms. Skopak further notes that the single gender model, “helps teachers target instruction to the ways girls learn best. Our teachers become very qualified in being able to identify the different strategies and techniques that they can use in the classroom just for girls. We’re also able to look at incentives for girls and what makes them work hard to get to college.”

Heard in the Halls: Teacher and Student Perspectives

  • “Here at BLSYW, they promote leadership and sisterhood. And in the classroom, teachers show us how to become leaders globally, and our sisters are there to influence each other and remind each other that we’re going to transform Baltimore one young woman at a time.”—Cyrena Lawrence, 10th grade
  • “I learn something every day from the students. I also teach something every day which is a reward itself to know that I have affected some students’ lives in some way.” —Atom Zerfas, Algebra I and Geometry Teacher
  • “2016 will be our first graduating class. It’s exciting and scary all at the same time…Being a new school, there’s a lot that has to happen with this senior class. They will actually put us on the map. So it’s exciting when talking to colleges; and colleges are excited because it’s a whole new crop of students.”—Paula Dofat, Director of College Counseling
  • “I like schools where people know me by my name. And I found that ever since [my daughter Cyrena] started, people know me as Mrs. Lawrence.”—Donnet Lawrence, parent
Nora Kern

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CSP Funding Profile: Thurgood Marshall Academy

A Mission to Serve

Thurgood Marshall Academy (TMA) Public Charter was founded by law students and attorneys at Georgetown University Law Center’s DC Street Law clinic who wanted to offer underserved students more academic and social development opportunities. The school’s mission is to prepare students to succeed in college and to actively engage in our democratic society. Its challenging academic curriculum is infused with the theme of law and justice. The foundational legal skills—argumentation, negotiation, critical thinking, research, and advocacy—will prepare students for success in any career.

TMA offers specialized programming, including: a Summer Prep program to help transition 9th and 10th graders from other schools to its rigorous academic environment; an annual portfolio assessment process that requires students to examine their academic achievements and struggles and present their plans for the future to a panel of teachers, staff members, volunteers, and parents; and a year-long Senior Seminar with intensive coaching on the college application process.

From Vision to Reality: How CSP Funds Enabled Thurgood Marshall Academy to Open

It is important to remember that for public charter schools, funding from the local government does not kick in until students are enrolled in the school. As Dr. Alexandra Pardo, the school’s Executive Director, notes, “When we got our charter, what we had was a piece of paper. What we didn’t have was a building, furniture, textbooks, any resources for our students. And that’s when CSP funds became critical for TMA.”

Thurgood Marshall Academy received a $540,000 startup grant in 2001 through the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). These funds were used for mission critical, yet basic, operations—like purchasing a curriculum and textbooks, hiring staff, partially funding facilities, and equipping the school with desks and whiteboards. Without CSP funds, the founders would not have been able to build a school from the ground up.

Thurgood Marshall Academy opened in the 2001-02 school year in the annex to the Congress Heights United Methodist Church. The school immediately knew that to operate a full high school program, it would need new facilities.

In 2005, TMA acquired and renovated the long-vacant Nichols Avenue School, a historic building in southeast D.C. The new facility opened in 2005, and over the years, TMA has raised an additional $13.5 million in grants and loans from the D.C. government, businesses, and foundations for full renovation.

Principal’s Office

Dr. Pardo was drawn to TMA due to its mission and its ability as a public charter school to have the flexibility to make choices for its students that have immediate impact. She notes that the most rewarding part of her job is, “Seeing our students every day in the hallway, seeing their struggles, seeing their success when they hold a Thurgood Marshall diploma. And most importantly when they hold a college degree four years after leaving us.”

Dr. Pardo believes that Congress plays an integral role in supporting public charter schools. First, this is done through its protection of charter school autonomy at a national level. The second piece is looking at equal funding for charter schools. On national average, charter schools receive 20 percent less funding than district schools. As more and more students enroll in charter schools throughout the country, Congress can ensure equity between charter and district school funding because they are all public school students.

Heard in the Halls: Teacher and Student Perspectives

“Our students come from challenging histories, but they are resilient and forward-thinking. It gives me hope for the future and these kids become our leaders in the states and globally. It makes me feel like the world is in good hands.” — Karen Lee, Social Studies Department Chair

“Thurgood Marshall Academy has proven that schools serving the students most at risk can be successful when we lift up all the excuses and barriers.” — Dr. Alexandra Pardo, Executive Director

“Receiving an education helps you answer all your questions. When it’s a great education…you can explore for yourself.” — Sydni Foshee, 12th grade

“We offer our students the opportunity to recognize that anything is possible with hard work. You don’t have to settle for the choices that might be given to you despite your circumstances.” — Sanjay Mitchell, Director of College and Alumni Programs

Nina Rees

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Don’t Throw Testing Out With the Bath Water

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

The start of the new Congress has sparked renewed focus on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, better known by the name given to it at its last reauthorization, No Child Left Behind. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the new chairman of the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has been vocal about the need to reauthorize the law, and with the pragmatic Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., serving as the committee’s senior Democrat, many education insiders believe this is the year the law could finally be reauthorized.Read more here.

Nina Rees

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Put Money Where Your School Choice Mouth Is

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

One of the outcomes from last week’s midterm elections was the success of school choice. According to the American Federation for Children, “the 2014 midterm elections will go down in history as the election cycle in which parents rose up in support of educational choice.” Despite more than $80 million dollars of expenditures by the teachers’ unions, choice advocates saw supportive governors re-elected in states such as Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin, and newly elected in Massachusetts, Illinois and Maryland.

Never before has there been more momentum behind efforts to expand school choice – a reform that places parents in charge of their child’s education. This presents both an opportunity and a challenge for Republicans at the federal level. On one hand, congressional Republicans generally support efforts to give parents more authority to decide which school their child will attend. On the other hand, many Republicans oppose federal investments and mandates in education as a violation of their principles of spending restraint and local control of education….Read more here.

Nina Rees

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A Real Threat to the Status Quo

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

Campbell Brown, the journalist-turned-education-reformer, has been in the news a lot lately. Her Partnership for Educational Justice recently filed suit in New York, challenging the city’s teacher tenure laws. The organization is chaired by David Boies, who represented Al Gore in the contested presidential election of 2000 and recently argued against California’s ban on gay marriage. Brown and Boies have pledged to file several other suits around the country, focused on upending the status quo in education.

Opponents have already cried foul, questioning Brown’s credentials and the motives of her funders. But what Brown brings to the table is not only an ability to fight in the court of law but to win in the court of public opinion. That explains why her advocacy has attracted such vitriol by opponents – they see it as a real threat. For education reformers, the work is encouraging, since she has the potential to galvanize public support…. Read more here.

Nina Rees

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Charter Schools Deserve Equal Funding

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

While all eyes in New York are on a lawsuit challenging teacher tenure, another suit stands to have an even larger impact on the future of the state’s low-income and minority students – and it could set a precedent for other states. Five families in Buffalo and Rochester have filed suit challenging the state’s persistent underfunding of public charter schools. The Northeast Charter Schools Network is assisting the families with the suit, which seeks equal funding for all public school students, whether they attend a charter school or a traditional district school.

The gap in funding between the two types of public schools is sometimes startling. In Buffalo, charter schools receive about $9,800 less per pupil than district schools; in Rochester the gap is about $6,600. This difference is largely due to the fact that charter schools, unlike district schools, have to pay for their facilities costs. Renting space, changing light bulbs and keeping the plumbing in working order all diverts money that should be used for instruction….. Read more here.

Nina Rees

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School Improvement Done Right

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

Today, 15,000 U.S. schools are considered persistently low-achieving. The Obama administration has invested heavily in a portion of these schools through a program called School Improvement Grants. Since 2009, nearly $3 billion in improvement grants has been directed at about 1,700 schools. (Fiscal year 2014 funding for the grants is $506 million, and the same amount is expected in fiscal year 2015.) But the grant program’s record has been underwhelming: A third of schools that were given major cash infusions to boost student achievement actually regressed.

While disconcerting, the results shouldn’t be entirely unexpected, nor should they put a nail in the program’s coffin. Overhauling an institution is always hard. In fact, 75 percent of efforts at restructuring in the private sector end up failing, partly because changing cultures and habits is difficult and the private sector is not patient enough with many change management efforts. Put simply, it is easier to close and start over than to restructure… read more here.

Nina Rees

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Education Is A Primary Issue

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

Public charter schools and other education reforms have proven to be pivotal issues in several primary elections from coast to coast, with more to come this summer and fall.

In California, incumbent State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson will head into a November runoff with Marshall Tuck. Tuck was the first head of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a body set up by former mayor Demcoratic Antonio Villaraigosa to help improve some of the city’s most struggling schools. Tuck is also a former president of Green Dot Public Schools, a widely acclaimed network of charter schools.

The upcoming general election battle will be fierce, with Torlakson benefiting from heavy support by the powerful California Teachers Association, the state’s largest union. Tuck brings a track record of educational innovation in a state that has proven open to reform. And as the Los Angeles Times noted in endorsing him, Tuck successfully worked with unions at both the Partnership for LA Schools and Green Dot. While the superintendent position holds little policy-making power, the race will be an important barometer of the popularity of charter schools and other education reforms in California…read more here.

Nina Rees

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‘Brown’ at 60: Time to Fulfill the Promise

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

Just as the nation marks the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, which officially barred segregation in public schools, we have new evidence that schools are failing to give all students the best start in life.

Results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as “the nation’s report card,” show that the performance of high school seniors in reading and math has stagnated in recent years. Only 37 percent of seniors are reading at grade level and only 26 percent of seniors are doing math at grade level. Even worse, the achievement gap between white and black students in reading has widened since 1992. In math, there’s been no improvement.

The stark reality is that despite two decades of education reform efforts, high school students on the whole aren’t registering better results. The effects are potentially catastrophic…read more here.

Kim Kober

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National Alliance testifies before Congress on the importance of the federal Charter Schools Program

Earlier this month, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing, “Raising the Bar: The Role of Charter Schools in K-12 Education,” to highlight the growth of charter schools, their positive impact on K-12 education across the country, and the role of the federal Charter Schools Program. The hearing allowed members of the charter school community to showcase the ways federal policy can impact charter school growth, encourage best practices, and foster district-charter collaboration. Deb McGriffFive charter school leaders from across the country were invited to testify, including the National Alliance’s Chair of the Board, Dr. Deborah McGriff. In her testimony, Dr. McGriff stressed the importance of the federal Charter Schools Program. “I don’t believe the public charter school sector’s growth to meet parental demand for educational options would have occurred the way it has without the presence of dedicated federal funding. Let me say that again to be perfectly clear: while public charter schools are inherently local, the movement would not have achieved its current success had it not been for the federal Charter Schools Program.” Dr. McGriff was joined by other charter school leaders and advocates who added unique perspectives to the hearing discussion:
  • Board Chair of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) Lisa Graham Keegan focused on they ways the charter school authorizing process has improved, as authorizers build and identify best practices. Keegan emphasized the key role authorizers play to ensure quality, and close low-performing schools.
  • Alan Rosskamm, Chief Executive Officer of Breakthrough Schools, highlighted the organization’s collaboration with the City of Cleveland to strengthen public education for all students. As the highest rated charter network in Ohio, Rosskamm attributed much of Breakthrough’s success to their strong partnerships with families—a defining characteristic behind the mission of public charter schools.
  • Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, Chief of Innovation and Reform at Denver Public Schools, provided the perspective of a school district administrator who works to ensure that district schools and charter school collaborate and complement each other to provide families with quality public school options.
  • David Linzey, Executive Director at Clayton Valley Charter High School, spoke of his work in converting a district public school to a charter school and the high demand for this school – with a waiting list of nearly 400 students for the upcoming school year. Last year, the school experienced the most academic achievement growth for a large high school in the state of California, with a 62 point jump on the state’s API in a single year.
The hearing was a great opportunity for the charter school community to share its most promising practices with the committee. Board Chair McGriff summed up her opening remarks with a request to Congress: “The number one message that I bring you today is that the CSP is working and that both the Congress and the administration should prioritize funding for the program to help us meet the demands of parents and ensure funding equity for students who attend public charter schools.” Want to build on Dr. McGriff’s request? Make the ask yourself with a quick email to your members of Congress.

hearing

To view an archived webcast and all witness testimony, click here. Kim Kober is the federal policy and government relations coordinator for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.