The Equity Project Charter School (TEP)
Manhattan NY 10040
Well-established middle school with well-paid teachers
Elementary school still growing
The Equity Project Charter School (TEP), opened in Washington Heights in 2009, has unusually well-paid teachers, a longer school year, andalmost unheard of--daily gym and music classes. Originally designed to serve grades 5 to 8, TEP opened a kindergarten in 2016 and plans to add a grade each year until it serves pre-K to 8.
The school pays staff more than double the starting salary of a traditional public school teacher. In exchange for higher pay, teachers take on multiple tasks outside the classroom, including lunchroom duty, supervising tutoring, and coaching sports teams.
Instead of offering a variety of special classes, Principal Zeke Vanderhoek believes in "depth within a discipline." By 6th grade, children pick one musical form, and stay with it for three years, choosing from band, keyboard or choir. We heard children play piano with a high level of skill. During the final period of the day, students participate in activities such as sports, arts, chess and photography.
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. In math, teachers give stronger students more challenging work. In 8th grade there is an advanced math class for top students.
Teachers split classes into smaller groups for writing, middle school director Casey Ash said. Students in all grades participate in debates, and present projects in class, as a way to practice speaking skills.
Teachers have a pleasant rapport with children and seem eager to make sure they have fun. Although the school has no gymnasium, a physical education teacher set up an obstacle course in a small room to give kids aerobic exercise on the cold day of our visit.
Social workers stay with the same class as they advance from grades 5 to 8. Instead of handing out suspensions for poor behavior in class, the student must spend the day with the teacher, so they can work things out, a practice called "teacher shadow."
The school's high attendance rates reflect the fact that children like coming to school, says Vanderhoek. Classes are held from 7:45 am to 4 pm. School starts in early August and there are two, three-week-long breaks, one near the end of October, the other in late February.
TEP pays teacher salaries of $125,000 a year, plus the chance to earn annual bonuses of $25,000. 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. He is a Yale graduate with a master's degree from Teachers College, who founded a successful test prep company, Manhattan Prep.
TEP graduates get strong high school guidance and attend a range of public, private and Catholic high schools. A few students are admitted to top private schools like Dalton and top public schools like LaGuardia, Bronx Science and Beacon.
Classes are held in red trailers on the grounds of the George Washington Educational Campus in Washington Heights. A new facility about a mile away will be complete in August 2018.
The elementary grades are housed at 4280 Broadway on a renovated floor in the Social Securities building. We saw four kindergartens in the school's first year. The tone felt more structured than at the middle school. Children were prompted to make eye contact, sit up straight and respond to chants if their attention wandered during lessons. Vanderhoek said it works best to open a school with firm, clear routines. Kids let off steam in recess and gym five days a week and enjoy free choice activities at the end of the day.
As part of the Core Knowledge Language Arts program, 5-year-olds learned about Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, of Spain, and their support of Christopher Columbus' 1492 voyage. The delivery of lessons was more or less engaging depending on teacher expertise, but all teachers were kind and upbeat.
Attendance is excellent. Every day counts in the school's structured reading program, the reading specialist said. Most kindergartners were reading by our February visit.
There is no outdoor place space for the elementary school students but a room has been set up to serve as a gymnasium with lots of equipment.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: TEP has more extensive special education services than many charter schools, including ICT (Integrated Collaborative Teaching). The school offers SETSS (special education support services) in the early morning, so children do not need to miss regular class time.
ADMISSIONS:Children are admitted by lottery held in April. Preference to District 6. There are 120 seats for incoming kindergartners, and 5th graders, and about five times more applicants than seats.(Lydie Raschka, March 2017)