Selected readings on US charter schools
That might not seem like a dream job for some, but the 12 teachers hired for the Utica Academy of Science Charter School can’t wait to start.
“I’m excited,” said Nikiya Pomponi, 24, of Sauquoit, the school’s English as a Second Language teacher.
“I’m more than fine with it,” Pomponi said about working 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, rather than the typical 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“English language learners need extra help,” she said – something she wasn’t always able to offer while substituting at other area schools.
Using its state Board of Regents-approved charter, the Lincoln Avenue school has more leeway than its public school counterparts, offering students extended learning time, college visits, volunteer opportunities and requirements, academic activities and clubs, as well as even home visits.
But it comes at a price, with demand for increased staff and parent involvement.
It’s common for charter schools to do a large amount of parent outreach and intensive professional development, as well as have longer school days, said Andrea Rogers, director of policy for the Northeast Charter Schools Network, a statewide charter school membership organization.
“They do vary in terms of exactly what the different components are from school to school,” she said.
The charter school will have an 8:20 a.m. to 4 p.m. school day, offer club activities Mondays, an hour of tutoring Tuesdays and Thursdays, Saturday tutoring sessions starting in October and optional summer and winter sessions.
Teachers are given the option of working the Saturday sessions and would be given a stipend of about $25 an hour, though the exact amount has yet to be set.
“The longer day … isn’t cut out for everybody,” Rogers said. “We’ve seen a huge segment of the teaching population that’s excited to do it.”
The teachers and staff have spent the last three weeks readying for the students, through training, team bonding exercises, curriculum discussion and looking at improving upon the practices of its flagship school the Syracuse Academy of Science Charter School.
The Utica charter school will take 176 students in grades six through nine, making for class sizes of 22 students – smaller than the Utica City School district, which in some cases is expected to have as many as 30 students in one class.
Pomponi likes the freedom from state mandates and more one-on-one time she will have with students.
“I think it’s great. We follow the standards, but we’re allowed to be more creative,” she said.
The Utica school district expects 170 of its students to attend the charter school, though six still are being confirmed. State aid to the district is estimated at $9,280 per student – about $1.6 million will go to the charter school.
The first installment of $253,653 was paid to the charter school at the beginning of August for the confirmed students, district Business Official Maureen Albanese said. The district will be billed by the charter school every two months. “It will change a little bit every time,” she said. “We’ll adjust accordingly.”
Eldar Mujic, 12, of Utica, who attended John F. Kennedy Middle School last year, said he’s excited to start eighth grade at the charter school even if it means longer school days.
“I think it’s going to be a good school and lead to a successful college,” he said. “I don’t mind staying longer. I think it’s worth it.”
The Utica school district currently is working with the school to provide busing to students who do not live within two miles of the school. Those who live within that distance are required to walk or be driven by their parents.
And that’s not the only parent involvement.
The school staff and teachers already have started home visits, introducing themselves to each student’s family and discussing each individual student’s needs. Parents are expected to work with the district throughout the year and can even become more involved, for example through tutoring.
Veronica Perkins of Utica had her first home visit earlier this summer to discuss her son Hartman Johnson, who will be attending eighth grade at the charter school.
“They let me ask as many questions as I wanted to,” Perkins said. “It was very personal. That’s the way it should be. The parent should be involved.”
Josh Schneider, 32, of Oriskany, who will teach eighth- and ninth-grade math, thinks the increased parent involvement is key to student success. It’s a connection he wasn’t always able to make teaching at other schools.
“We’ve got to complete that triad … so the student sees one cohesive message that education is really important,” Schneider said about parents, the school and the student.
Schneider is mandated to make a minimum of 12 home visits annually and 10 calls to parents a week – or 20 bi-weekly.
“Even though it’s longer hours, even though it’s less pay … it’s really grass roots,” Schneider said. “The kids come first, and I enjoy that idea. It’s not status quo. We’re going to thrive for the students’ sake and constantly reinvent and reevaluate,” Schneider said. “We’ve all got to make sacrifices.”
Source: Utica Observer-Dispatch – by Keshia Clukey