International Leadership Charter High School
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Most children graduate on time; tae kwon do
Long school day; no sports besides martial arts
International Leadership Charter School offers students the chance to study Chinese or Spanish, learn tae kwon do, and study piano or percussion. Attendance is good and the graduation rate is high, but the long academic school day, strict tone and lack of sports are not for everyone.
The school is run with almost military precision. Classrooms are quiet. Teachers escort kids from class to class. Students sit in rows in desks affixed to chairs and raise their hands to speak. They use the Cornell note-taking system and, on our visit, wrote more than they spoke in class.
The uniform policy is strictly enforced, including black shoes, no sneakers. Once a week, the older students don white uniforms for tae kwon do class. They stand at attention, in rows, and follow the teacher’s commands. “Tae kwon do aligns with our values,” says Principal Elaine Ruiz-Lopez, listing “the rigor and development of leadership and character, perseverance, respect for elders and honesty” among some of those values.
The school day is two hours longer than a typical high school, and class size is small. In addition to the 8.5-hour school day, many students attend school for three hours every other Saturday from January to May to study for Regents exams. All must complete 200 hours of community service and teachers are required to give nightly homework in every class.
Most graduates are the first in their families to attend college, according to Ruiz-Lopez. Students have been admitted to Fordham University, St. John's University and Mercy College, as well as SUNY and CUNY schools.
While most teens graduate on time, the school falls below the Bronx average in college readiness. There is currently no money in the budget for Advanced Placement courses, Ruiz-Lopez says, but students may take college classes in English composition, science and mathematics.
New York City school surveys show friction between the teachers and the principal. Only 60 percent of teachers would recommend the school to other families. The teacher turnover rate was 71 percent, compared to the statewide average of 11 percent, in 2015, the most recently available data from the New York State Education Department.
“Teachers have to embrace the school culture and mission,” says Ruiz-Lopez. “It’s not for everyone.” Sometimes she lets teachers go because of poor performance; sometimes they leave for a school with shorter hours when they start families, she says. It is a good place for new teachers, she says, offering educational retreats and common planning time on Wednesday afternoons, when school is dismissed early.
Ruiz-Lopez is a former community activist with degrees from Bank Street College and Teacher’s College, Columbia University. She is a first-generation Puerto Rican, born and raised in the South Bronx. She started as a paraprofessional and worked her way up to principal.
Founded in 2006, ILCHS is the first public charter high school in the Bronx. In 2016, the school moved into a new building with two science labs, Wi-Fi technology, a cafeteria, a library/media center and school-based adolescent health clinic. The sunlight-filled cafeteria doubles as a gym for tae kwon do classes. There are six lunch periods spanning from about 10:30 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.
Students who want to try sports other than martial arts will not find this school to be a good fit, Ruiz-Lopez says.
ADMISSIONS: Lottery. (Lydie Raschka, March 2018)