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Applying to charter schools? Here's a rundown

Success Williamsburg is one of the soon-to-be 20 schools in the expanding Success charter network. Success Williamsburg is one of the soon-to-be 20 schools in the expanding Success charter network. Photo by Gail Robinson

Charter school applications were due on April 1, but some may still be accepting them and have space. Here are descriptions of some of the best-known charter networks and schools, and a few that are opening next fall and look promising.

We list the networks first, followed by the “mom and pops.”

The big networks

KIPP NYC is one of the city’s first charter organizations, opened in 1995. It operates four elementary schools, five middle schools and one high school in New York City. KIPP NYC is affiliated with the California-based KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) network, which now operates 125 charter schools across the United States, most in low-income neighborhoods. Students typically enter the KIPP system as kindergartners and remain in the KIPP system; new faces are now rare in middle or high school. KIPP NYC’s philosophy emphasizes rigorous academic instruction, longer school days and a focus on core values designed to foster good citizenship. Discipline is structured to make students understand the consequences for bad behavior, while good behavior is often rewarded (everything from T-shirts to class trips). KIPP teachers are typically young and energetic—necessary qualities in a demanding environment. They employ a mix of traditional and progressive teaching techniques.

Success Academy, probably the city's most controversial network, was founded by former city council woman Eva Moskowitz. By this fall, it will have 20 elementary schools in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn. Success students, dubbed scholars, wear orange and blue uniforms. They score high on standardized tests, and the schools offer a varied and engaging curriculum, including science, technology, art and movement. The program is demanding and disciplined, with a nine-hour school day and little down time. Critics charge that the school's discipline is excessive -- even kindergarteners can be suspended--and that the schools try to push out challenging students, a claim Success strongly denies. While many parents love the Success model, critics complain that Success schools aggressively seize space from existing neighborhood schools. There's a mix of traditional and progressive teaching techniques.

The Democracy Prep Public Schools network runs six schools in Harlem and East Harlem and will be opening two new schools—an elementary and high school—in the fall of 2013. Democracy Prep Charter School includes a middle school and a high school, serving grades 6-12. Harlem Prep Charter School includes an elementary school and a middle school, serving grades K-6. Democracy Prep Endurance Charter School opened in the fall of 2012 with a 6th grade class. Democracy Prep Harlem Middle School includes a middle school for students in grades 6-8 but will be grow to include the new elementary and middle schools in 2013. All schools are structured and challenging. Students are called “citizen scholars,” and the schools emphasize civic engagement and college readiness. Students may travel, including recent trips to Washington D.C. and South Korea. Priority in admissions goes to Districts 4 and 5. The online common application is accepted, as are paper applications by mail or in person.

The Harlem Village Academies network runs traditional five schools under two charters in District 5. The Harlem Village Academy Leadership Charter School includes an elementary and middle school, and the Harlem Village Academy Charter School includes an elementary, middle, and high school. All schools have uniforms, a strict code of conduct and an extended school day. Students are held to high expectations in their academic performance and behavior. Available seats are awarded by lottery, and priority is given to District 5 residents. Call the school for an application.

Uncommon Schools, started in New Jersey, now operates about 15 schools in Brooklyn, mostly in low-income neighborhoods and extending from kindergarten through grade 12. The network includes two single-sex schools -- one for boys and one for girls. Taking a no excuses approach, teachers believe that all students can meet demanding standards and go to college, and they have high expectations for students and their families. The schools generally feature high quality teaching and engaging and innovative lessons. But they also have a long day with little down time and a number of rules and routines, such as a tightly structured lunch period, that may not work for all students. Very traditional teaching techniques

Achievement First has six elementary schools that feed into five middle schools and one high school, all in Brooklyn. Some parents appreciate the sense of order and back-to-basic curriculum, but others complain that the network's "no excuses" discipline is too strict. Teaching techniques are very traditional.

Ascend: Launched in Brooklyn in 2008, Ascend will have five schools in the borough by September 2013, all eventually slated to serve students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Unlike many charter networks, Ascend does not locate in Department of Education buildings but instead has its own facilities. The school has a no-excuses philosophy and sets high expectations for its students. It uses the SABIS curriculum, a highly structured and demanding step-by-step program designed to prepare students for college and eliminate the achievement gap. While the approach ensures all students will cover key areas, some classes we visited seem scripted, with little opportunity for spontaneity. The long days and rigid routines may not be right for some students.

The small networks

Harlem Children’s Zone, founded by Geoffrey Canada, has two elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. This very popular network is nationally recognized, with visitors from all over the country. Families may enter the "zone" when their children are toddlers.

Public Preparatory Charter Schools include an elementary and middle school in Manhattan and an elementary school in the Bronx. Founded in 2005 as the first all-girls charter school in New York City, Girls Prep cultivates the attitude that girls can do anything. Girls and their parents are empowered to speak up and embrace sisterhood. Back-to-basics lessons, uniforms and a color-coded system for behavior may not appeal to all families. A fourth school, Boys Prep, slated to open in 2014. Test scores are average but parent and teacher satisfaction is above average.

The Beginning with Children Foundation established one of the city's first charter schools, Beginning with Children, in Williamsburg in 1992. It now operates two schools in Brooklyn and added a third school in fall 2012. The schools blend a traditional approach with field trips and hands-on activities and electives. A leadership change at the flagship school in 2011 sparked some criticism and high teacher turnover.

The stand-alone charters: Brooklyn

Community Roots unabashedly embraces progressive learning. Students in the Fort Greene school call teachers by their first names, often gather in halls or other clusters and approach learning through projects and interdisciplinary studies. Every classroom has two teachers. The school, which has been attracting increasing number of affluent or white children, expanded to include a middle school in 2013. Priority to District 13.

BUGS: Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School: A new entry to District 15's middle schools, BUGS opens in September 2013 with a sixth grade. It promises to use the city as a classroom, and the location -- near both Greenwood Cemetery and Prospect Park -- is just right for that purpose. Founded by local parents and teachers, BUGS has already attracted a lot of buzz.

Brooklyn Prospect: Brooklyn Prospect Charter School offers a close-knit community and a demanding International Baccalaureate (IB) program. After a successful launch to its middle school, and a move to a permanent location on Fort Hamilton Parkway, Brooklyn Prospect expanded to include a high school in 2012. Many middle-schoolers are choosing to stay on for high school, saying they like the personal attention that goes along with being part of a new, growing school. Priority to District 15.

Hebrew Language Charter School: The only school in the city to offer instruction in Hebrew, the small elementary school in Midwood has attracted children of many different faiths and nationalities. The school day is long; no new children are admitted after second grade. The school will move to a new location in Mill Basin in 2014. Priority to District 22.

Hellenic Classical Charter School, a K-8 school in Park Slope, offers instruction in Greek language and an introduction to Greek culture. Teaching is traditional and includes lots of worksheets but families say it is "rigorous yet nurturing." Priority to District 15.

Stand alone charters: Queens

The Renaissance Charter School in Jackson Heights is a progressive K-12 school that engages students through frequent projects and field trips. The school does a good job accommodating students with a wide range of disabilities and provides students the opportunity to learn and to show their understanding in a variety of ways. Renaissance accepts one incoming kindergarten and 5th-grade class each year. Priority is given to siblings of enrolled students and then to residents of District 30. Available seats are awarded by lottery. Some seats may be available in grades 1-4, 6-8, 9-12. Renaissance Charter uses the online common application for charter schools. Applications can also be handed in by mail, fax, or in person.

Our World Neighborhood Charter School is a large K-8 school in Astoria that balances a structured curriculum and traditional academics with a great art program. Students frequently do collaborative and project-based work. Spanish is offered in grades K-8, and Mandarin Chinese is offered in grades 5-8. Admissions are determined by lottery, and preference is given to students from District 30 and siblings of current students. New students are accepted each year K-7. Both paper applications and the online common application are accepted.

Academy of the City Charter School was opened in the fall of 2011 with a kindergarten class and is growing by one grade each year until it includes grades K-5. Established by the founders of Our World Neighborhood, Academy of the City also offers students the opportunity to do lots of projects and group work. Currently located in Long Island City, the school will move to a new building in Woodside in August 2013. For the 2013-2014 school year, it will be accepting students for grades K-3. Available seats are awarded by lottery, and preference is given to students in District 30 and those with siblings at the school. The online common application is accepted, and applications can also be submitted by mail, email, or in person.

Voice Charter School of New York: If you're into music and live in District 30 in Queens, check out Voice. Days begin with an "all school sing" and music is incorporated into many lessons throughout the day. The principal understands the connection between music and math, and early test scores for the school which opened in 2008, have been above city average in math and reading. A downside for many parents is the early lunch hour in the shared building, especially because the school day is long.

Growing up Green, also in Long Island City, has an emphasis on the environment and gardening. It also has a very involved parent body who praise the school for its emphasis on fresh air and hands-on lessons. "This is a great school for children who love animals," says one parent. It's an elementary school which gives priority to District 30.

Stand-alone charters: Manhattan

The Equity Project, a middle school in Washington Heights, has a nice mix of progressive and traditional teaching techniques. The school offers very good salaries for teachers and has attracted staff from across the country. District 6 priority.

Inwood Academy for Leadership, a middle school, has strong leadership and high levels of satisfaction among both parents and teachers. It has a diverse group of teachers—young, old, male, female, black and white. Unfortunately, it has cramped quarters. It shares a building with another school and children have little access to the play-yard until after 2:30 pm. District 6 priority.


New York French American Charter School teaches elementary school children to be fluent in both French and English. It had a very rocky start, with rapid turnover of leadership, but on our visit this spring, the new principal seems strong and parents are hopeful the school is on the right track. District 3 priority.

East Harlem Scholars Academy Charter School, a K-8 school, combines an extra-long school day--and a longer school year--with highly structured routines and lots of personal attention from teachers. Spanish, music and physical education are offered each day. District 4 priority.

The DREAM school is a small (50 students per grade) independent charter in East Harlem affiliated with Harlem RBI, a sports-minded youth development foundation. DREAM features two teachers per classroom, an extended school day and a mandatory six-week summer program — all of which have contributed to enviable academic results. DREAM encourages parental involvement but also stresses firm discipline and core values. District 4 priority.

The Renaissance Charter High School for Innovation, opened in 2010 in East Harlem, is modeled on the Renaissance Charter High School in Queens. It provides a supportive learning environment for its students and offers them the opportunity to do lots of hands-on projects. The school fosters a progressive and supportive learning environment; students do not wear uniforms, and they call teachers and staff by their first names.

The stand-alone charters: Bronx

New York City Montessori Charter School opened in 2011 in the South Bronx. The school emphasizes multi-age groupings and hands-on learning with special Montessori materials. The school is off to a pretty good start in a lovely space but not all the teachers have Montessori training and they grapple with how best to serve a higher than average number of children with special needs compared to other schools in the district. Principal Gina Sardi taught for 20 years at The Caedmon School on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. (Too new for data). District 7 priority.

Heketi Community Charter School: Heketi, meaning “one” in Taino (the language of the indigenous people of the Caribbean), is a loving school with a strong sense of unity. Teachers seek to instill pride in South Bronx children and to offer them social and emotional support along with hands-on lessons and projects. Opened in 2012 Heketi will grow by one grade per year into a K-5 school with 300 students. A Spanish-English dual language program is part of the plan. Principal Cynthia Rosario is a long-time educator and bilingual Bronx native. (Too new for data). District 7 priority.

Bronx Preparatory Charter: One of the first charters to open in the Bronx and to secure its own building, Bronx Prep Charter has over a decade of experience in the South Bronx. The secondary (grades 5-12) school has established itself as a school that students genuinely enjoy attending, kids go off to college and the charter works well with its population. District 9 priority.

Grand Concourse Charter: Located in its own building with plenty of computers, cubbies and musical instruments, Grand Concourse Charter is anoasis for elementary school children of this South Bronx community. With District  9 preference, the school attracts a large number of students learning to speak English and still boasts higher test scores than neighboring schools. The environment is safe and happy with a supportive and caring staff and small classes. District 9 priority.

Bronx Charter for Excellence: Located in a quiet neighborhood of mostly private homes and doctor’s offices, Bronx Charter School for Excellence doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside is a colorful, well-constructed facility where students enjoy spending their time. The reading and math grades are very strong and the arts are a part of the regular curriculum. It serves children in grades K-8. District 11 priority.

Children’s Aid College Prep Charter opened in August, 2012 in partnership with the Children’s Aid Society to provide complete wrap-around services such as medical, mental, dental and family support to its students. Children’s Aid Charter gives preference to students with special needs and those in foster care. The atmosphere is relaxing and supportive, though firm. District 12 priority.

Who did we leave out? Let us know in comments below!

(Additional reporting by Skip Card, Lydie Rashka, Gail Robinson, Jacquie Wayans and Pamela Wheaton)

Last modified on Wednesday, 03 April 2013 12:29

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