Fahari Academy Charter School
Fahari Academy Charter School is bursting with energy and enthusiasm for learning, a spirit befitting its name, which means “pride” in Swahili. The students are well-behaved and appear to be both challenged and supported by the curriculum, which has been dramatically revamped since Principal Stephanie Clagnaz took over in May 2013. The school, which is located in East Flatbush and serves grades 5–8, shares a building with MS 246.
Fahari has been plagued with challenges since its founding in 2009. High student and teacher turnover combined with low student achievement led to a threat of closure from city education officials in 2013, just after Clagnaz’s arrival. Clagnaz, who has a doctorate in education and 25 years of experience, told us she has worked hard to remove the “dark cloud” that hung over the faculty, starting with a staff retreat and hiring new deans and assistant principals. The school adopted a “restorative justice” approach to discipline, designed to involve students in “repairing the harm” done by disruptive behavior.
Test scores have gone up dramatically during Clagnaz’s tenure: The 2013-14 School Quality Guide showed that students are meeting or exceeding all of their targets for growth in test scores, although still have far lower proficiency rates than the citywide average.
Fahari administrators and faculty attribute this progress to greater collaboration among teachers as well as the new curriculum, which devotes three 45-minute periods per day to English and three to math. In both subjects, one period is devoted to independent work in a traditional classroom setting, one involves collaborative work in teams led by student captains, and one enables teachers to work with small groups of students with similar skill levels and needs.
In a math class, long stretches were entirely silent as students completed multiple-choice questions of the type they might see on the state test. But this class also inspired several robust conversations about student work. Teacher questions like, “Why do you think it would be advantageous to do it this way?” were met with dozens of hands in the air and enthusiastic responses starting with “I would like to add…” or “I disagree because… .” This class, like most at Fahari, was co-taught, and led on that day by its special education teacher while the math teacher circulated among students to offer individual help.
In a science class tackling “viscosity,” students talked in pairs and then as a whole group about their hypotheses for how quickly different liquids would travel through jars. All students used scientific terms and “real world” evidence to defend their answers and received a flurry of silent signs of approval or disagreement from their peers around the room. In the words of one student, the teachers “want everyone to participate” and they “don’t give up on you.”
Students participate in daily 15-minute “restorative circles” designed to build community and social-emotional awareness that will extend beyond the classroom. One student said he feels comfortable talking about his feelings and “what’s going on in life” in his circle because he knows it will “stay here in the circle” and that their teachers will work to “help him feel better.” Community meetings for the whole student body each Wednesday offer another chance to build camaraderie through games and cheers.
Extracurricular clubs include jewelry-making, chocolate-making, boxing, African drumming, hip hop, chess, martial arts and meditation. But some students complained about the length of their school days (7 am to 4 pm each day except Wednesday, when classes end at 1:15), especially when they also attend after-school clubs until 5:30, then face an average of two hours of nightly homework.
Ninety-five percent of Fahari graduates pass all their classes in their freshmen year of high school, an exceptionally high percentage compared to students at Fahari’s peer schools. Each year approximately one-quarter of Fahari 8th-graders take and pass a high school Regents exam. The school employs four full-time counselors, one of whom is dedicated entirely to helping students make the transition to high schools that suit them. Victory Collegiate and Midwood High School are popular choices.
ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS: Faced with an influx of English language learners, Fahari has hired four additional reading teachers. Students who are at least two years below their grade level in reading are placed in a highly structured program to help them make up one year’s worth of progress in half a year.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Twenty percent of Fahari students receive special education services, including 11 out of 14 “homerooms” that are co-taught by a content specialist and special education teacher. ELA and math proficiency scores on standardized state tests by Fahari special education students still lag far below the average scores of middle school special education students citywide.
ADMISSIONS: By lottery each April. Prospective families are encouraged to visit classes or attend one of the open houses listed on the school’s admissions website. (Nicole Mader, December 2014)