EDUCATION JCM

Charter Schools
Adventures in learning
by Merlin Ural Rivera
Mar 21, 2014 | 1317 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Charter School
Photo by Douglas Davies
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Charter schools—independent public schools that survive on state funding and private initiatives—started appearing in New Jersey in the late 1990s and have become an important part of state education. Many were founded by educators and community leaders disillusioned with district schools—and parents who retained the belief in a tuition-free and groundbreaking “dream school.”

There are currently 87 charter schools in the state, nine of which are in Jersey City. They don’t receive the same amount of funding as other public schools and depend on contributions, grants, and fundraising to meet their expenses. A charter dictates how the schools will be structured but gives them flexibility in creating academic programs, choosing teachers, and establishing philosophies. Teachers are allowed to swim away from the mainstream and experiment with nontraditional techniques.

Each charter school focuses on a discrete subject or unique theme. Some emphasize performing arts or civic engagement; others a specific language and culture. Many charters require uniforms and offer longer school days than traditional schools.

Charter schools encourage parent involvement, creating a cozy atmosphere where students can concentrate on academics. They select their students by lottery, which has been criticized by some parents as cherry-picking but has helped class sizes remain small. Many New Jersey charter schools boast great socioeconomic and racial diversity as well as high test scores and abundant opportunities for their students. Here is an overview of some charter schools in Jersey City:

Great Futures Charter High School

Great Futures Charter High School, slated to open in the fall with about 125 freshmen, will be Jersey City’s first academic institution focused on health sciences. The school is a joint effort of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hudson County and Jersey City Medical Center—neighbors who share the same vision. The school’s founder, Gary Greenberg, who is also the executive director and CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs, says, “The curriculum will offer a complete immersion into the health sciences. By taking classes in both locations and interning in hospitals, the students will have a mind-blowing experience that will expose them to all the different pieces of the puzzle in terms of healthcare.”

Students may focus on the clinical, technical, or administrative aspects of health care. Through onsite rotations at the Jersey City Medical Center beginning in ninth grade, students will explore various employment opportunities which will help them choose their senior-year internships in “the promised land,” as Greenberg called it. “We want to carry them to whatever they choose their next step to be—college education or a steady career in healthcare,” he said.

State funding, Greenberg said, “is enough to keep us on our feet, but if we want to flourish, fundraising is the key.”

Great Futures has received a significant number of submissions for its ninth- and 10th-grade classes from different parts of the city.

Jersey City Golden Door Charter School

Golden Door Charter School, founded in 1998, is one of the first charter schools in Jersey City. Housed in a beautiful historic building, Golden Door is a second home to about 490 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, the majority of whom are black and Hispanic. The school offers art, mathematics, language arts, physical education, music, science, social studies, and health in a school day that is an hour longer than that in traditional schools. Teachers are regularly required to enhance their skills by attending training workshops, and Golden Door consistently outperforms other public schools in Jersey City. Students achieve high academic performance, and by organizing fundraising events for various causes, they are growing as individuals who are already part of the community.

Chief Academic Officer Brian Stiles noted that the children like coming to a place that is safe, orderly, and attractive. “We put huge emphasis on high standards of behavior without being overly authoritative,” he said. “Whenever our children go anywhere, people always comment on how extremely polite and well-behaved they are.”

Students are chosen through lottery; currently there is no waiting list for middle school.

Beloved Community Charter School

In September 2012, Jersey City welcomed a new charter school inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of the “Beloved Community” where people care about one another, choose love over hatred, peace over violence, and create a more prosperous, fair, and happy society. The school was founded on the idea that students wrapped in a caring school climate would also learn to value themselves and others. By developing academically and socially they will build a brotherly society. The school’s Lead Person Kelly Convery emphasized Dr. King’s conviction that “The ‘I’ cannot attain fulfillment without the ‘Thou.’” She said that creating a strong sense of community in the school, which sometimes might be lacking in the family unit, was crucial. “We teach children how to take initiative and tutor other students—kindergarten kids are matched with third grade, for example. By having them reflect on how this made them feel, we link these children in a community circle,” she said.

Through the Sabis Education System, which is a proven curriculum, teachers can assess gaps in students’ knowledge and skills and ensure they are getting the instruction they need.

The school has 380 students in kindergarten through third grade, and it will add one grade level every year until it grows into a K-12 school. Almost half the students are African-American, and the percentage of English-learning students is high compared to other charters. Seventy-nine percent of the students receive free and reduced lunch.

The Ethical Community Charter School

Founded in 2009, Ethical Community also fosters moral behavior and aims to produce caring citizens. Its vision is rooted in the educational philosophy of Horace Mann, Clara Barton, Felix Adler, and Socrates, whose famous question, “What is the right thing to do?” lies at the core of the school’s ethics classes. The school integrates ethics into a rigorous core curriculum of science, social studies, language arts, mathematics, as well as art, health, music, and physical education.

Family School Association President Betsey Barnum said that TECCS set out to create a sense of morality for students who didn’t have religious or family values. “Our children,” she said, “embrace the strong ideals of social justice and become individuals of integrity and awareness. They are kind to each other and they process their role in society better.”

Geoffrey Renaud, who teaches the ethics curriculum, engages students in lively discussions of moral issues through games and examples from literature as well as their own lives. Throughout the school day, students exercise their ethical reasoning and explore various resolutions of the conflicts they face. They also participate in community work, known as Service Learning projects.

The school has 280 students from kindergarten through fifth grade and will expand to K-8. Emphasizing diversity, Barnum said that there are 50 languages spoken in the school. The annual gala dinner and the Read, Write & Run 5K race help the school cover its expenses.

Jersey City Global Charter School

This is the first school year for Jersey City Global Charter School, which has 170 students from kindergarten to second grade and will add a new grade every year until eighth grade.

The MicroSociety program, which is integrated into the curriculum, transforms the school into one big town where the students vote for a mayor, a governor, and a student president, and hold an inauguration ceremony to swear them in. “Students create a miniature society where peacekeepers maintain order, judges resolve conflicts, reporters track down stories, and entrepreneurs—in their suits and ties—build their businesses,” said Principal Nadira Raghunandan. From 3-4 p.m. daily, the little citizens engage in real-world activities such as preparing a resume, borrowing money from a “bank,” “selling” products, and dealing with the IRS.

The school also provides personalized learning plans where the strengths and weaknesses of students are identified through weekly performance evaluations. “We have a colorful student population representing 28 countries,” Raghunandan said, “and we have no more than 20 students in each class. We also offer art, gym, and Spanish classes starting from kindergarten.” The school accommodates working parents with extended school hours from 4-6 p.m.—JCM

Resources

Beloved Community Charter School
508 Grand St.
(201) 839-5886

The Ethical Community Charter School
95 Broadway
(201) 984-4156

Great Futures Charter High School for the Health Sciences
1 Canal St.
(201) 333-4100

Jersey City Community Charter
128 Danforth Ave.
(201) 433-2288

Jersey City Global Charter School
255 Congress St.
(201) 636-8540

Jersey City Golden Door Charter School
180 9th St.
(201) 795-4400

Learning Community Charter School
2495 JFK Blvd.
(201) 332-0900

M.E.T.S. Charter School
211 Sherman Ave.
(201) 526-8500

University Academy Charter School
2039 JFK Blvd.
(201) 200-3200

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