Bushwick Ascend Charter Elementary School
Brooklyn NY 11221
Located in its own light-filled and spacious building
Few teachers recommend the school
Ascend Learning is a growing charter network based in central Brooklyn that primarily serves students from low-income backgrounds in poorly performing districts. The first Ascend school opened in 2008 with a strict "no excuses" philosophy but in 2012 the network shifted to a Responsive Classroom model and made significant changes to both culture and curriculum. Responsive Classroom is designed to develop the social and emotional capacities of children and includes rituals such as morning meetings in each classroom and regular goal setting activities.
Network CEO Steven Wilson says there has been a "marked change in the demeanor and joyfulness of students and of classrooms" since the adoption of Responsive Classroom. Rates of suspension and office referrals at Brooklyn Ascend (the network's flagship school) have since fallen by 90 percent, Wilson said.
Teachers at a few Ascend schools gave poor ratings on the 2013-2014 School Survey. At Bushwick Ascend only 14% of teachers said they would recommend the school to other parents and only 39% felt that the school offered enough programs, classes and activities to keep students engaged. Wilson believes that the culture and curriculum changes the network has made will address those concerns.
All Ascend schools have their own buildings, avoiding the challenges that can arise in shared space, and all feature the same color scheme and general atmosphere. Every school has outdoor space, either a yard or rooftop.Bushwick Ascend opened in 2010 in the building of a former parochial school. The building went through an $8 million renovation and has a full gym.
After a sharp decline in test scores following the introduction of Common Core in 2013, the network designed its own curriculum to be fully aligned with the standards. The network is "wildly enthusiastic" about Common Core, Wilson said.
Ascend wants to provide a liberal arts education to all students. Elementary students participate in "literature circle", where teachers use a college-style seminar to discuss themes of the books that students are reading. Books are selected because they present moral and ethical dilemmas and the goal is to enable students to articulate themes in their own voice and discuss them with classmates.
From 5th grade on, students participate in a humanities, writing and arts program twice daily. All students get art, music, physical education and Spanish instruction. Spanish classes are taught entirely in Spanish with three lessons per week. Native Spanish speakers focus on grammar and literature.
Ascend's hours are longer than the average school day. Tutoring is offered daily from 4-4:45 pm for students who need more time on task or support in a small group setting.
Parent Teacher conferences are held three times a year and teachers are expected to have frequent phone contact with all families. Wilson says that parental involvement "is a point of real pride that schools and principals have developed with families."
The first Ascend high school opens in 2015 in the Loew's Pitkin Theatre building with Brownsville and Central Brooklyn Ascend schools. Lottery preference for the high school goes to current students, their siblings and District 23 students.
Special education: Ascend has integrated co-teaching classes in every grade. Wilson said specialists are available to students based on the requirements outlined in their Individualized Education Programme. Every Ascend school has counselors and social workers.
Admissions: Admission is by lottery. Preference is given to students in the district and siblings of current students. New students are accepted at all grades to fill seats. (Ella Colley, phone interview, October 2014)