Inwood Academy for Leadership Charter School
Manhattan NY 10034
Students study one theme in depth
Cramped quarters, lack of play space and uncertain future location
UPDATE OCTOBER 2015:In the 2014-2015 school year, Inwood Academy expanded to include high school grades, beginning with 9th grade. The school is growing one grade per year until 2017-2018 when it reaches a capacity with 850 students from grades 5-12. Founding Principal Christina Reyes is now executive director and Stacey Woodard is the high school principal in residence. Valerie Hoekstra is principal of the middle school. Inwood Academy is now housed in two different locations, a few blocks apart. The high school is in a building adjacent to Good Shepherd Services at 108 Cooper Street, 212-304-0103; the middle school is in another building at 433 West 204th Street, 646-665-5570, no longer housed in portable buildings behind PS 152, as it was on our last visit.
OCTOBER 2011 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 schools first year, Reyes and her staff regrouped. The school uses the Core Knowledgecurriculum 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 kindergartenincoming 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 Wiesels 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 thats 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 schools 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; updated 2015)