Girls Preparatory Charter School of New York
MANHATTAN NY 10002 Map
Girls Preparatory Charter School of New York
Founded in 2005 as the first school in the Public Prep charter school network, Girls Prep Lower East Side sees its mission as cultivating the vision that girls can do anything. It fosters this attitude by giving girls the foundation of a strong community. "Our school is a safe space for our girls to take risks," said Anne Lackritz, elementary school principal from 2008 to 2013.
Girls Prep is structured by clearly defined rules and behavioral expectations. Elementary school classrooms have behavior charts, and each girl is given a daily rating that goes home to her parents. In middle school, girls graduate from behavior charts to "campus cards," a weekly assessment that girls also take home to their parents.
Good behavior is publicly acknowledged at monthly meeings with awards to girls who demonstrate one of the school's four core values — scholarship, merit, sisterhood and responsibility. Families are expected to be very involved in their daughters' education and to respond to communication from the school within 48 hours. Teachers contact them with good news as well as disciplinary issues, and visit students' homes before the start of each school year to establish rapport.
The rules serve to keep school culture consistent; however, Lackritz explained, there is flexibility: "We have systems but we know one size doesn't fit all," she said. The mostly-female staff is friendly and welcoming. Girls Prep has never asked a girl to leave the school, said Lackritz.
Girls are held to rigorous academic standards. Kindergartners through 8th-graders complete daily homework. Middle school students say they have about an hour of work each night. Girls in grades 3 and up have test prep “camp” during spring break and every grade has a monthly syllabus that outlines learning goals and allows parents to keep up with what's happening.
Elementary students go through a weekly rotation of Spanish, music and art class. Middle school students get art, technology class and a special enrichment period which might be “etiquette” or extra help in core subjects.
Girls Prep has a strong college-going culture and teaches young women to speak their minds. Each classroom is named for an inspirational woman such as the civil rights activist Dolores Huerta or Brenda Berkman, the city's first female firefighter. Middle schoolers go on trips to visit colleges and are encouraged to develop "confidence, voice and identity," said Kaitlin Seaver, the middle school principal.
The Regents algebra exam is offered in 8th grade, giving students a jump on high school math. The 2012-13 school year marked Girls Prep’s first graduating 8th-grade class and students had some impressive high school plans; one young woman won a full ride to Phillips Exeter, a private high school in New England. Others chose LaGuardia, Brooklyn Tech, Millennium and Beacon.
Lackritz left Girls Prep to pursue a doctoral degree after the 2012-13 school year. Replacing her is Versha Munshi-South, a teacher who came to Girls Prep LES in 2007. She worked closely with Lackritz and isn’t planning big changes. “We want a lot of continuity in the school,” Munshi-South said.
Seaver, a Teach for America alumna, came to Girls Prep middle school in 2011 after working as an instructional coach for the Department of Education. Growing up, Seaver attended all girls middle and high schools and believes the single sex setting allows girls to “just focus on the topic you’re learning about, so the matter of gender disappears.”
The elementary school is housed on East Houston Street in a building shared with PS 188 and PS 94M, a small District 75 school for children with autism. Classes for girls in grades 5-8 are 20-minute walk away, in an East Village building shared with East Side Community High School. Relations are friendly in the shared buildings, administrators say. One downside is that the elementary school is about half a mile away from the nearest subway stop.
Another downside: Many Girls Prep teachers move on after a few years of teaching. Lackritz explained that is because they don’t plan to be life-long educators —instead they come to Girls Prep because they are drawn to the school’s social justice mission to give girls access to a prep school education. “And that’s ok with us,” Lackritz said, adding that they are all very committed and very smart. Some go to faraway places like Japan or Costa Rica to teach, said Munshi-South, but they stay connected. “People never really leave us,” she said.
Girls Prep has a sister school in the Bronx and the charter network has plans to open a boys-only school in 2014.
Special Education: The school offers Integrated Co-Teaching classes, with two teachers, one who is certified to teach special education.
Admissions: By lottery. Preference to children from District 1 and siblings of current students. Elementary school students are guaranteed a middle school seat and any remaining slots are filled by lottery. (Anna Schneider, June 2013; Catherine Man, February 2009)