Achievement First Endeavor Charter School
BROOKLYN NY 11238 Map
Achievement First Endeavor Charter School
AF Endeavor is part of a network of charter schools that has a strongly imposed “no excuses” culture. Achievement First’s mission is to prove an urban school can succeed at a low cost and prepare students for college. School officials say fulfilling the mission takes a strict, no-nonsense approach to learning. “We have a lot of work to do, we’re closing the achievement gap,” said Devyn Humphrey, an AF spokesperson.
The hard work pays off in high middle school math scores on state standardized exams. Reading scores are significantly lower, a challenge the school is addressing with four hours of daily literacy instruction.
All AF schools have a strongly imposed culture – students are called “scholars,” half the lessons involve building “character values” and new families are “on-boarded,” and expected to be actively in their child’s education. Posters saying “No Excuses” and photocopies of inspirational quotes from Malcolm X and Mahatma Gandhi and other historical figures line the walls. Desks are organized in tidy rows and the building is sparkling clean.
In 2010, AF Endeavor middle school moved from a shared building in Bedford Stuyvesant to its own renovated six-story building on a factory-lined block of Clinton Hill. The Robin Hood Foundation and Civic Builders, a non-profit that specializes in charter school building, transformed a former ice cream factory into a school. The facility features elevated playing fields and bright floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the quickly gentrifying neighborhood.
In fall 2011, AF Endeavor, which began as a 5-8 middle school in 2006, opened a lower school with kindergarten and 1st grade and will grow to 4th grade. All students wear uniforms color-coded by grade.
The elementary and middle schools are technically two different schools, each with its’ own principal and administration. “They are two separate schools that happen to be in the same building, different floors,” said Mel Ochoa, another AF spokesperson. But, 4th graders who graduate from AF Endeavor elementary may automatically continue on to Endeavor middle school and eventually high schools within the charter network. Class sizes for both schools average about 27 students.
The middle school principal is Tom Kaiser, a Teach for America alumni and former AF Endeavor teacher. Every middle school student learns an instrument and plays in the school's jazz band, and there is an optional, after school orchestra program as well. Other than music, enrichment is generally confined to field trips, such as to the Alvin Ailey Dance Company and local colleges. Stucents can "buy" using Scholar Dollars, earned through good behavior and work habits to other activities such as laser tag and other field trips.
The founding principal of the elementary school, Stephanie Blake, is a former teacher who smiles and says “Awesome!” a lot but has strict expectations: “College starts the first minute of kindergarten,” she says. The longer school day is packed with literacy and math instruction and Blake expects her students to have, “hands folded, eyes on the teacher.”
All elementary classes have two teachers, one leading the lesson and another providing individual support or quietly working at a desk in the back of the room. That way Achievement First can more easily accommodate special needs students, says Humphrey. Some middle school classes have two teachers as well. Children are assessed every six weeks to measure their learning levels so teachers may provide targeted learning interventions when necessary.
The Achievement First has received bad press in the past for harsh disciplinary tactics and there are many suspension – 115 at the middle school in 2009-10 school year. Humphrey said that about 12 percent of students leave for other schools each year, a number she hopes to reduce to 5 percent.
Admissions: Lottery. Priority to District 13.
Special Education: The school has a lower rate of special education students than the rest of District 13, a discrepancy AF says they are working to reconcile. Students who need extra attention receive help both inside and outside the classroom. (Anna Schneider, May 2012)