Inwood Academy for Leadership Charter School

Phone: (212) 942-1450
Website: Click here
Principal: Ryan McCabe
Neighborhood: Washington Heights
District: 6
Grade range: 05 thru 08

What's special:

Students study one theme in depth

The downside:

Cramped quarters, lack of play space and uncertain future location

The InsideStats


Our review

A can-do energy permeates Inwood Academy for Leadership, a small, growing charter school located in a long, low portable behind PS 152. Bright blue trim offsets crisp white walls and matches the polo shirts worn by every student. An outdoor space where kids eat on nice days has the ambience of a garden cafe. A knowledgeable, racially diverse staff works hard to engage every student. The school opened with 5th graders in 2010 and will expand by one grade per year.

Principal Christina Reyes was a middle school teacher at a nearby parochial school, Manhattan Christian Academy. As an after-school tutor for local kids she noticed a lag in their skills and was inspired to offer a different kind of public school choice. She looks for experienced teachers familiar with her student population and cultivates leadership: a skilled communicator became the dean of students; an accomplished math teacher became a part-time math coach.

The staff–all “type A” personalities, according to Reyes–does pretty well with their limited space. During free periods, specialty teachers work unobtrusively behind dividers that separate them from students. The “Art Taxi” and the piano are on wheels so they can be pushed from room to room. Class and activity changes are swift. Skilled teachers draw on tricks of the trade, like “thumbs up if you agree!” and calling on students at random to keep them alert.

Concerned about below-average scores on state English exams in the school’s first year, Reyes and her staff regrouped. The school uses the Core Knowledge curriculum based on the work of E.D. Hirsch, author of Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. It became apparent, however, that the curriculum was too difficult because it builds grade-by-grade beginning in kindergarten—incoming 5th graders were at a disadvantage. “We tried to push too far too quickly,” Reyes explained. To boost reading skills teachers adopted the 100 Book Challenge by the American Reading Company to get kids reading books according to their abilities.

New teachers will continue to receive three weeks of training in Core Knowledge in the summer and will overlap with experienced teachers who will return for an additional week each year. Core Knowledge themes will be followed. So if an English class is reading and writing about the Holocaust, they will also study religions in social studies and depict religious symbols in art.

Teachers still tackle challenging books but at a slower pace. An English teacher read portions of Eli Wiesel’s Night out loud to capture the spirit of the book, stopping to define words. “We never want to dumb it down,” said Reyes. “We want them to be exposed to all that’s good in the world.”

Kids are divided into “houses” of about 60 students each. Half spend 100 minutes in math/science while the other half is in reading/writing and then they switch. A Louis Calder Foundation grant helps fund teacher training, books, globes, maps and other resources. A free afterschool program is available.

The school’s future location is uncertain. In 2012, the school hopes to rent rooms from a local Catholic school, which means it will be in two locations. Eventually administrators would like to lease one space.

Special education: The school offers a range of special education services. To the greatest extent possible, children in self-contained classrooms join those in team-taught (ICT) rooms that have a mix of special and general education students.

Admissions: By lottery. Preference is given to children residing in District 6.  Check the school's website for more information. (Lydie Raschka, October 2011)

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