Success Academy Williamsburg Charter School
Varied curriculum including art, yoga and technology
Success Academy's strict discipline not right for everyone
Part of the growing Success charter network, Success Academy Williamsburg opened on the top floor of JHS 50 in fall 2012 with kindergartners and first graders and plans to add a grade every year until it serves children in kindergarten through 8th grade. Success Williamsburg hums with student activity and bears all the hallmarks of the Success model.
The space is bright and welcoming, and students wear the network's orange, blue and white uniform, with ties mandatory for all boys after kindergarten. Success' fund-raising guarantees a rich array of materials, from many books and ample art supplies to a designated block room for kindergarten and 1st graders.The Williamsburg school marked one of Success' first attempts to branch out into a middle class neighborhood, and its creation sparked controversy. Some parents feared the school would weaken existing district schools, and others charged the school was specifically marketed to white or affluent residents.
Although demographic data is not yet available, the school appears to have a mix of students .Lessons are fast paced, challenging and varied but also highly scripted with students going through certain routines--breaking up into pairs to discuss the work and presenting their ideas in complete sentences, such as "my hypothesis is_."
Success schools use their own curriculum for reading and writing. Children explore a variety of genres and read as a whole class, in small groups geared to their reading level, and individually, with much discussion of books and extensive writing. The school's math curriculum encourages students to find several ways to solve the same problem -- what may seems like a subtraction problem to some students, for example, is a division problem for others.
All students have science every day with classes taught by a special science teacher. On the day of our visit a 1st grade aerodynamics class dropped paper helicopters of different sizes to try to determine what factors would slow or speed their descent. "The big goal is to get kids questioning the world around them and developing tools to answer those questions on their own," says Stacy Apatov, principal of Success Academy Harlem 5, who was in charge of developing the network's science curriculum.
Technology is also a mainstay with kindergartners programming robotic bees to navigate a simple grid. Art and yoga each are taught on alternate days, and the school plans to add music. Social studies is addressed in special units, such as a recent one on bread. Students take two field trips a month -- some related to their studies and others, like one to the Big Apple Circus, for fun "We never want to forget we're working with five and six years olds," principal Abigail Johnson says.
The school day goes from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. -- but a parent we spoke with said this is not a problem since the rich curriculum and late dismissal time relieve her of having to take her child to afterschool programs. The children move around a lot, she said, so "the day doesn't seem that long." Her kindergartner has 20 to 30 minutes of homework a night, including reading.
Success as a whole is known for its strict discipline, and the classes we saw all were orderly and the children well behaved. The school has a discipline code with children rated green, yellow or red for the day's behavior, but Johnson said that rather than punish students, the school prefers to let them know what is expected of them and reward them for good behavior. Several parents held a press conference to complain that their children were suspended repeatedly for what the parents considered minor offenses. Success officials acknowledge they do suspend students for what it considers violent, dangerous or unsafe behavior but deny they to try to "push out" difficult children.
Special education: The school offers some services but does not have team teaching or self contained classes for students with disabilities.
Admission: Lottery with preference to students in District 14. (Gail Robinson, March 2013)
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Brooklyn NY 11211