Success Academy Bronx 1 Charter Elementary and Middle Schools
Bronx NY 10451
Fast-paced curriculum; charter model allows for flexibility in hiring, scheduling, and lessons
School has little physical room to grow, so continued expansion will likely require a move
As its name implies, Bronx Success Academy 1 is the first Bronx franchise of the popular Success Academy network of charter schools that got its start in Harlem under the leadership of Eva Moskowitz, a former chair of the City Council's education committee. All the Success Academy traits are present here, from the plaid jumpers and orange ties students wear to the THINK Literacy teaching model in every classroom.
Bronx Success Academy 1 opened in August 2010 on the renovated third floor of a building shared with PS 30. In its inaugural year the school taught kindergarten and 1st grade and will add a grade annually until it teaches K through 8. [The school subsequently moved to the former IS 183, where it shares a building with the Urban Assembly Bronx Academy of Letters and a MS 203.]
The classrooms we saw during a one-hour visit in March 2011 were alluring advertisements for the Success Academy model. The bright and inviting carpeted classrooms featured new furniture (the charters' iconic yellow modular desks and blue plastic chairs) and sophisticated SMARTboards. Children wearing their Success Academy uniforms were polite and attentive, and many seemed to be performing above grade level.
In a 1st grade classroom, kids were using stacking cubes to solve a story problem that required them to add 62 and 35. Kindergartners taking their daily science lesson were discussing their "hypothesis" regarding how far a toy car would move if given a gentle push. A kindergarten girl read aloud a book about hair, stumbling only occasionally on tricky words such as "sometimes" and "things."
"At this point in the year, the vast majority of our kindergartners are reading," Principal Michele Caracappa said during our March visit, "and they don't come in that way." Caracappa is a regular presence in classrooms, often observing her teachers or helping students with their work. She began her career as a 4th- and 5th-grade teacher in the Bronx at nearby PS 5 before joining the Harlem Success Academy in 2006. This is her first appointment as a principal, but she clearly believes in the charter school's formula and seems to have hired like-minded teachers, who all appear young, energetic, and capable. [In 2013, Caracappa became director of literacy at the Success Academy network. Elizabeth Vandlick replaced Caracappa as Principal of Success Academy Bronx 1. Vandlick taught at Success Academy Harlem 1 before moving into the leadership team at Bronx 1.] As a charter school, Bronx Success has flexibility to hire-and fire-teachers and to extend its school day and school year.
Bronx Success Academy 1's academic year begins in August, and school days are long, beginning at 7:45 a.m. and going until 4 p.m. for kindergarten and 4:30 p.m. for first grade. Students take music and chess classes twice a week, and classroom instruction often includes songs or student-to-student reinforcement.
Parent involvement is both encouraged and required. The school's open-door policy lets parents drop in and observe their children's studies for up to 30 minutes. Parents also must agree to read at least six books a week at home. Parents' concerns and questions are taken seriously: "If a parent calls me or a teacher, our policy is to get back to that parent within 24 hours," Caracappa said.
Students in the two elementary schools in the building have little interaction with each other and take turns using the lunchroom and gym. Recess takes place in the school's small courtyard, but occasionally students cross 141st Street to enjoy the inviting playground of People's Park.
Special education: Each classroom has two teachers, which means struggling students can get extra attention. Extra help is available is the SETSS (Special Education Teacher Support Services) room.
Admissions: Admission is by lottery. Preference is given to students in District 7 and students characterized as "at risk." Although theoretically open to students in any part of New York, Success Academy schools "end up being very much community schools," said Jenny Sedlis, a Success Academy spokeswoman. [In 2013 Sedlis left Success Academy and became executive director of StudentsFirstNY] (Skip Card, March 2011; updated by Ella Colley, December 2014)