The Equity Project Charter School (TEP)
An Insideschools pick for Special Education
MANHATTAN NY 10040 Map
The Equity Project Charter School (TEP)
The Equity Project Charter School made headlines even before it opened in 2009 because it promised teacher salaries of $125,000 a year, plus the chance to earn annual bonuses of $25,000. But spend a day with the teachers and you’ll learn that the thing they like best is not the money but the chance to work with interesting colleagues who help them perfect their craft. “Last year I grew more as a teacher than I had in six years teaching before,” one teacher told us on our visit.
The school, which serves grades 5 to 8, has solid academics as well as daily classes in music and physical education. Many children enter 5th grade with weak reading skills, some are just beginning to learn English, and others need special education services. But teachers are flexible in their approach, adapting their lessons to what the children seem to need, rather than insisting they conform to rigid rules and regulations. For example, in a science class with two teachers, one teacher explained concepts in both English and Spanish. When one child had an emotional outburst, the other teacher took him for a long walk on a running track outside the school until he calmed down.
Teachers have a pleasant rapport with children and seem eager to make sure they have fun. Although the school has no gym, a physical education teacher improvised a game of Dance Dance Revolution to give kids aerobic exercise on the rainy day of our visit. An attendance teacher hands out alarm clocks to help ensure kids arrive on time—and will even drive to pick up a child who misses the bus in the morning. The school’s high attendance rates reflect the fact that children like coming to school, says Principal Zeke Vanderhoek. Classes are held from 7:45 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Vanderhoek, who taught for three years at the now-closed IS 90, says investing in high-quality teachers is more worthwhile than any other educational reform, such as reducing class size. Recruiting and retaining the best teachers means valuing them—not just in terms of salary but also in less tangible ways. “Talented people want to be in an environment where they can grow,” said Vanderhoek, a Yale graduate with a master’s from Teachers College who founded a successful test prep company, Manhattan GMAT. “Talented teachers learn from one another. We give them the chance to observe one another.” Teachers have time to reflect on their practice during a six-week “summer development seminar,” which Vanderhoek describes as a “relaxed environment without kids.” He has attracted an experienced staff from as far away as Hawaii.
Temporarily housed in 15 red trailers on the grounds of the George Washington Educational Campus in Washington Heights, TEP has purchased land about a half mile away and will build a permanent facility once the needed funds are raised.
The school had disappointing test scores its first year but the scores have been steadily rising. Vanderhoek is hopeful that scores will continue to improve without resorting to drill-and-kill test prep.
Special education: TEP has more extensive special education services than many charter schools. One teacher who came from Manhattan School for Children, a pioneer in special education inclusion, says TEP has been successful in moving children from “self-contained” classes in elementary school to general education classes at TEP. The school offers SETSS (special education support services) in the early morning, so children do not need to miss regular class time. The school offers occupational therapy and physical therapy. Each grade has its own social worker, who stays with the students as they advance from grade 5 to 8.
Admissions: Children are admitted by lottery held in April. Preference to District 6. (Clara Hemphill, March 2011, updated March 2013)
At a glance
Number of Students 487
Average Daily Attendance 97%
INCOMING STUDENTS' PROFICIENCY: 2.86 2.80 CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Safety & vibe
DO STUDENTS LIKE THE SCHOOL?
How many students say their teachers inspire them to learn?86% 66% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
How many students say this school offers enough programs to keep them interested?94% 75% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
ARE KIDS NICE?
How many students complain about bullying?82% 71% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
How many students say students at their school respect one another?81% 56% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
How many teachers say order and discipline are maintained in the school?72% 77% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
DO TEACHERS LIKE THE SCHOOL?
How many teachers say the principal is an effective manager?86% 80% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
How many teachers would recommend this school to other parents?62% 80% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
ARE CLASSES BIG?
Number of students in an average english class31 26 CITYWIDE AVERAGE
How many students are chronically absent?5% 25% CITYWIDE AVERAGE