Democracy Prep Charter School

New York

Growth assured, Democracy Prep plans for a founder-less future

Superintendent Seth Andrew answers questions after the Democracy Prep admissions lottery event earlier this year. When the first crop of seniors at Democracy Prep Charter High School graduates next June, they won't be alone. The founder of the school's network of charter schools will be exiting alongside them. Seth Andrew, the founder and superintendent of the six-school network, has spent the last week making hundreds of phone calls to friends and professional contacts to let them know that he will be stepping down in June, seven years after launching a middle school steeped in civic values. Andrew's decision comes weeks after the U.S. Department of Education announced that Democracy Prep Public Schools would be one of two charter school networks to get federal funding to expand. Democracy Prep will get $9.1 million over five years to open 15 new schools in Harlem; Camden, N.J.; and potentially beyond. Andrew said the award made him confident that he could depart without destabilizing Democracy Prep — and relieved that the network would be able to grow using only public funds, a value to the network. "The organization is incredibly healthy," he said today, speaking by phone from Boston, where he had been meeting with Building Excellent Schools, the nonprofit that helped him start up his first school a decade ago. "This is the time to do a transition." Andrew opened his flagship middle school, Democracy Prep Charter School, in 2006 with a $30,000 grant from the city’s Center for Charter School Excellence (now named the New York City Charter School Center). He expanded to a high school in 2009 to accommodate his graduating eighth-graders and has since opened three more middle schools.

the odds be ever in their favor

New York

Closure spurs talk of new strategy for struggling charter schools

Parents from Peninsula Preparatory Academy rallied against the city's closure decision outside Department of Education headquarters in January. Last month, as parents from Peninsula Preparatory Academy vocally protested the city's decision to close their charter school, Principal Ericka Wala quietly pursued an alternative. Wala discovered that a charter school in Harlem that had faced closure last year was saved when a different operator was allowed to take over its charter and management. Harlem Day lost virtually all of its teachers and got a new name and curriculum when Democracy Prep took over in 2011, but the students were allowed to stay. For Wala, the last point was the biggest draw: Peninsula Prep’s students are set to be sent back to neighborhood schools that mostly post lower test scores. "I was like, this is something we should explore," Wala said, even though it meant she'd almost certainly lose her job in the process. Both Wala and the school's board, led by Chair Betty Leon, told Recy Dunn of the Department of Education's Charter Office that they would resign if that's what it took to keep the school open. "We were willing to do whatever that would allow the school to continue to exist, in whatever capacity, so that there would be less disruption to the children," Wala said. Wala reached out to Seth Andrew, the founder and head of the Democracy Prep charter network, and asked him to consider taking over Peninsula Prep. Wala set up a time for Andrew to visit the school, but when he floated the idea to top city and state education officials they rejected it, according to a source who was briefed on the proposal.
New York

NAACP's Dukes defends suit: "I'm not against charter schools"

Hazel Dukes, the president of the NAACP of New York, said last night on NY1 that she supports charter schools but wants equal conditions for children attending district schools. In a television interview last night, the president of the NAACP of New York insisted that she does not oppose the opening of charter schools or the closure of failing schools — even as she defended her organization's role in a lawsuit that would reverse planned school closures and slow charter school growth. Speaking to NY1 Inside City Hall host Errol Louis, Hazel Dukes said that she only wanted district schools to have the same conditions as charter schools, which she praised. "Let's make it an equal playing field," she said. "That's not hard to do. We can do that with the stroke of a pen." She added, "My motive is not to keep any failing schools open. My motive has never been to say that teachers who can't teach need to be in schools. My motive is two things: justice and equality." Hazel Dukes said she her goal wasn't to prevent charters from opening but that the process was hurried. The biggest effect, she said, was overcrowding in school buildings, which she said has a disproportionate — and negative — impact on district school students. "Mr. Louis, tell me why all children can’t have the same amount of library time. Tell me why all children can’t have access to a playground," she said. The lawsuit, which the NAACP co-filed with the United Federation of Teachers and a host of elected officials and parents, aims to halt the closure of 22 district schools and plans to co-locate 20 charter schools inside district space. City school officials have said that a victory could disturb high school admission plans for the fall, and charter school leaders have said that, without the city space that they were counting on, they would not be able to open schools that children already plan to attend.
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