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Democracy Prep Charter School
July 18, 2013
Democracy Prep students learn about end of apartheid firsthand
Democracy Prep alumni learn about different fossils found in Sterkfontein Caves, which is north of Johannesburg, South Africa. On the occasion of Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday and Mandela Day, celebrated worldwide, GothamSchools is collecting tales from New York City schools about the former president of South Africa and his impact on his country. On her last night in Cape Town, Diana Vega sat in front of a glowing computer screen and explained over Skype what it was like to see Nelson Mandela's impact on South Africa firsthand. Vega is one of 11 recent graduates of Democracy Prep Charter High School who spent the last two weeks touring the country that Mandela shepherded out of legal segregation as president after decades as a political prisoner. The trip also took students briefly to Egypt, where they had a long layover at the height of the country's recent revolution, and to Lesotho, a small country inside South Africa that boasts ski resorts. The school's annual trips come out of its public funds, in keeping with the charter network's mission, according to founder Seth Andrew. Andrew, who recently stepped down as the network's CEO, said the trips allow students to experience the classroom lessons they learn throughout the year.
October 11, 2012
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
April 20, 2012
Everyone’s a winner in one charter network’s admissions lottery
What do you call a lottery when everyone wins? An “Oprah moment,” according to operators of the Democracy Prep charter school network.
March 7, 2012
Eight months in, Bloomberg calls charter takeover a success
Seth Andrew, Democracy Prep's founder and superintendent, speaks at a fundraiser for Harlem Prep, a new school run by his network. Who's more important to New York City than Jeremy Lin, the city's sudden basketball sensation? According to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one answer is charter school operator Seth Andrew, who runs the Democracy Prep network of schools. Bloomberg made the comparison at an Upper East Side fundraiser for Andrew's latest project: turning around one of the city's worst elementary schools, Harlem Day Charter School, which his network adopted last year in the state's first—and so far only—charter school takeover. In 2011, Harlem Day was arguably the worst elementary school in the city, Bloomberg and Andrew told their audience as servers floated around the darkened, East 60th Street restaurant offering dumplings and sushi rolls. Last spring, the State University of New York charter school authorizer granted Democracy Prep permission to take over Harlem Day, now called Harlem Prep. The Wall Street Journal reported last June that 40 percent of students were held back, including two-thirds of fifth-graders. Teachers at the benefit put that number even higher, with some saying they thought as many as 70 percent of students had repeated a grade after Democracy Prep took over.
February 22, 2012
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.
December 21, 2011
After Kim Jong Il's death, a Korean language class shifts format
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-fW6kGV5uE&feature=youtu.be Students in Democracy Prep High School's Korean classes typically learn words that boost their vocabulary and develop basic grammar — standard fare for introductory foreign language instruction. But this week the lessons took a turn for the geopolitical. Youngjae Hur greeted his students yesterday with an unusual pop quiz in English and asked them to define words such as "despotism," "denuclearize," and "repressive." For Hur, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il's abrupt death over the weekend offered the school a unique opportunity to infuse what students learn about the South Korean language and culture every day with the politics that have shaped life on the Korean Peninsula for decades. "It's important to let them know not just the skills to understand the language, but also the culture, the history, the politics," said Hur, a first-year teacher who moved to the United States from South Korea three years ago. "Especially at this special moment."
June 8, 2011
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.
March 22, 2011
In a first, a charter operator will try to turn around a failing charter
Big block letters announce the entrance to Harlem Day Charter School, but next year they'll spell Harlem Prep Charter School — a reflection of a charter school authorizer's decision today to put the school under new management. For the first time, a charter school network is trying to turn around an already-failing charter school. Last year, when the State University of New York's Charter School Institute decided to close Harlem Day Charter School due to its low test scores, it solicited applications from charter operators who could reform the school. But there was a catch: whoever agreed to this proposal had to keep all of Harlem Day's current students rather than starting from scratch with a fresh group of kindergarteners. The risk was great enough that in a city of charter leaders eager for building space, SUNY's search turned up only one applicant: the Democracy Prep Public Schools network. Today SUNY officially gave Democracy Prep the go-ahead to take over Harlem Day and reopen it in July with the same students and a different approach.
October 1, 2010
Inside the dropping charter school grades, a wide range
PHOTO: Brian CharlesKim Gittleson's report on charter schools' performance on the city's progress reports lets users sift through every school. We already know that charter…
September 8, 2009
Watching Obama in Harlem, middle schoolers agree to agree
Sixth-graders at Democracy Prep Charter School in Harlem discussed Obama's speech after watching it via WH.gov. Harlem students who watched President Obama's back-to-school speech today in their school auditorium could not detect anything to disagree with — except for one point. "I disagree with Obama's mom about waking him up at 4:30," Klara Arnold, a 10-year-old sixth-grader at Democracy Prep Charter School, told her principal, who had explained that the speech initially sparked controversy and asked if students had any differences of opinion with the president. The speech referred to Obama's mother's habit of giving him extra lessons to supplement his schooling while he lived in Indonesia. Since district public schools won't open until tomorrow, few New York City schools had to tackle the question of whether and how to air the president's speech today. Democracy Prep Charter School, which opened for full-day sessions today after half-day preparation last week, did, along with other charter schools around the city.
September 2, 2009
Principals use progress reports as playbook to plan school year
Sample progress report Principals around the city are celebrating their top grades on the city's annual school report cards today, and many say the system helped them plan and execute the progress that drove the slew of high scores. They can do that because the report card grades rise with test score gains — and they also provide an intricate breakdown of exactly what elements brought the overall grade up or down. Rowena Penn-Jackson, principal of P.S. 230 in the Bronx, realized that the school needed to place greater emphasis on teaching reading comprehension of non-fiction and poetry. Several principals at high-achieving schools said the reports showed them the school needed to devote more resources to English language learners. Survey data nudged Democracy Prep Charter School's Seth Andrew and Amber Charter School's Vasthi Acosta to modify their methods of communicating effectively with parents. Hellenic Classical Charter School principal Christina Tettonis instituted more professional development sessions to train teachers to use test scores to personalize instruction for individual students.
March 19, 2009
Charter parents say schools are changing their kids
PHOTO: TN.GovNora Marcano and her son Joel, who attends Harlem Link Charter School at the Armory last night. Parents at last night's high-energy charter school rally took time out to tell me a little bit about their (overwhelmingly positive) experience with the schools. They gave a more personal portrait of schools that are often defined (at least on this site) by their politics, such as Harlem Success Academy, which has been battling for space inside a traditional public school; Harlem Link, whose founder said he favors slower growth than Harlem Success; and Democracy Prep Charter School, whose students have testified at hearings on mayoral control and whose founder entered the debate on "creaming." "I think this is something new and not everybody believes yet," Mayrene Lopez, the mother of a six year-old at Harlem Success Academy told me, explaining why charter schools create controversy. Lopez said her son Justin has improved tremendously since entering the school in August as a first-grader, and she wants her two-year-old to be able to attend a charter school when she's old enough, too. Justin didn't get into the school the first time he entered the lottery. The next time he was put on a waiting list. And then he got in. "He's reading and writing on his own," Lopez said proudly.
February 8, 2009
Classmates lay out debate: "Dictatorship" vs. getting things done
Democracy Prep Charter School Students Testify on Both Sides of Mayoral Control Debate before New York State Assembly from Elizabeth Green on Vimeo. Maybe the clearest articulation of the debate on mayoral control was laid out Friday by two middle-school students from Harlem. The two boys, students at Democracy Prep Charter School, testified back-to-back before the state Assembly hearing in Manhattan. One argued for preserving the law as-is, on the grounds that giving one person power allows the most efficient and effective leadership. The other pushed for adding checks and balances to the mayor's power, on the grounds that total control is un-American and makes him feel a little queasy. Daniel Clark Jr., a seventh-grader and the first of the boys to testify, asked the Assembly members to consider his family's dishes. He said the dishes are more likely to get washed if only one family member has sole responsibility for them. LeiShawn McClean, an eighth-grader, also used a family metaphor. "Student and parent input isn’t just about sitting around a table talking about how bad this dinner is," McClean said. "We need to really have input on how the schools are run."
January 16, 2009
An inauguration day party in Harlem for charter schools
PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN A postcard Democracy Prep sent out inviting other schools and parents to their Harlem Armory inauguration party. I’m planning…
October 31, 2008
Kevin Parker loves charters, but not Bloomberg public schools
State Senator Kevin Parker of Brooklyn meets with charter school students at the Brooklyn Museum of Art last night (Philissa Cramer/GothamSchools) Charter school boosters are often seen throwing compliments at Mayor Bloomberg. So yesterday it was a little surprising to hear a state senator, Kevin Parker, in one breath sing the charter gospel and in the next lambaste the Bloomberg administration for its management of the public schools. At Brooklyn Charter School Night yesterday, Parker told me that his position isn't really a contradiction. Everything he loves about charter schools, he said — their freedom from bureaucratic restrictions, their creative spirit — is absent from traditional public schools. And he said that charter schools' long waiting lists reflect families' frustrations with district-run public schools.
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