Icahn Charter School 4
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Unusually small classes and an engaging curriculum
Limited special education services
Icahn Charter 4 is a high performing school with good leadership and engaging instruction. It's part of a small network of charter schools opened with the support of billionaire financier Carl Icahn. Like all schools in the network, Icahn 4 features a school day and school year that's longer than in traditional public schools. Class size is small--just 18 students, even in theupper grades--and there are only two classes per grade.
Located in a quiet and leafy section of Morris Park in the Bronx, three Icahn schools--3, 4 and 5--share a large, renovated building that was once home to the Mother Butler Memorial High School for Girls. The three schools have separate administration and teaching staffs, but their classrooms are mixed throughout the building. Floors are organized by grade, not by school so, for instance, you will find 3rd grade classrooms for all three schools clustered together in the same hallway.
Principal Michelle Allen has led the school since 2015 and is a veteran of the Icahn network having worked as a staff developer and teacher at other Icahn schools.
Icahn 4 has a calm and orderly environment. Children wear uniforms and rules are enforced, but the tone is not harsh or rigid. Classrooms in the younger graders are very cheerful. Teachers and staff seem to be tolerant of normal behavior: kids can fidget in their seat if it helps them pay attention and classrooms are set up for students to move around. Children sit in groups at tables but also can stretch out on colorful rugs and sit on beanbags to work or read a book. During lessons we observed, kids were serious and engaged, but also smiling and chatting as they worked.
At the heart of the Icahn model is the use of the Core Knowledge curriculum, which is designed to expose students to a broad range of historical, scientific and cultural topics from an early age. Students do lots of talking and writing about what they are studying, and develop advanced vocabularies from all the content they are expected to learn.
While curriculum is standardized across the network, teachers have the freedom to decide how they want to deliver their lessons. Some rely more heavily on class-wide and independent work, while other encourage more group or interactive work. We observed a group of 1st-graders using iPads to research hunters and gatherers, while other groups of classmates were writing or reading books. Typical of all Icahn schools, starting in 3rd grade every child gets a Chromebook.
Though we visited the school just a couple of weeks before the state math exam, there was no hint of test prep in a 4th grade lesson on fractions we observed. There, students were having fun quickly forming angles with their arms as the teacher called out random degrees and types such as acute, right and obtuse.
Principals have flexibility too. For instance, Allen started a middle school advisory program. Seventh-graders participate in the NYC Junior Ambassadors, in which students visit the United Nations, read documents such as articles published by the World Health Organization, and propose resolutions they'd like to see the UN adopt.
Children take art and music classes. Daily science classes start in kindergarten. In grades K to 6, there is more of a hands-on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) focus. In grades 7 and 8, science instruction shifts to a more traditional, lab-based curriculum to help students prepare for high school. Through a grant, the school purchased expensive computers and three-dimensional modeling software--the kind used in medical schools--that middle school students use in science class to do virtual dissections and explorations of the human body.
Spanish instruction is offered in middle school.
The small class sizes allow for teachers to keep close tabs on students. Those needing extra help get support after school, on Saturdays, or in small groups during the regular school day.
Classes run from 8:30 am to 3:45 pm. There are free after-school activities run onsite.
Icahn 4 opened in 2009 and has a good record of sending graduates to competitive high schools the specialized high schools and Hunter College High School. Some graduates attend independent and Catholic schools.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school offers SETTS and extra support for English language learners through the target assistance program.
ADMISSIONS: Admissions is by lottery and there typically is a long waitlist. Priority is given to siblings of current students and then to District 11 residents. A handful of seats are open in the upper grades. (Laura Zingmond, April 2017)