News | West Harlem

Teachers College plans model public school for Harlem

Teachers College is in the process of developing what they hope will be a New York City primary school paradigm. And though the masterminds behind the project have a clear vision for a 2011 opening, the search for a home in northern Manhattan has yet to secure school space.

TC is working with the New York City Department of Education to develop the curriculum and structure of its new public school, Teachers College Community School.

It will be “a regular DOE school governed by DOE policies,” said Joe Levine, executive director of external affairs at TC. This means that it will be allocated funding according to the standard DOE formula and will be subject to the same standards and accountability as other New York City public schools. Among other things, TC will assist the school in developing its curriculum, provide professional development for its teachers, advise its principal on staffing and allocation of resources, and build and share new knowledge with the school through educational research.

This school is coming to fruition at a time of heated debate among education advocates regarding charter schools, which are public schools that are run by private boards, but funded in part by the DOE. Opponents argue that charters take resources and space away from public schools, while proponents say the charters­—with specific missions—provide opportunities for innovation.

“We’re looking to adopt features of charters that have been successful, based on research,” Levine said, adding that the school, though not a charter itself, may explore charter models for the organization, staff selecting processes, and the lengths of the school day and year.

The school, which is scheduled to open in September 2011, will be located in the area of Community Board 9, which includes TC and the neighborhoods of Hamilton Heights, Manhattanville, Morningside Heights, and West Harlem. It will serve kindergarten through eighth grade, with approximately 500 students. It is unclear whether the school will be zoned or if admission will run through a lottery system, but there will be no academic entrance exams.

“For our vision of the school to come to life, we recognize how important it is to build community ties to make this not our school, but your school,” Nancy Streim, associate vice president for school and community partnerships at TC, said at a forum at I.S. 195 on 133rd Street, Thursday evening. Streim, who previously helped to establish a successful university-assisted public school in Philadelphia, spoke to the crowd about TC’s vision for the school.

When Streim joined TC in 2007, TC President Susan Fuhrman gave her the “mandate of engaging more closely with Harlem schools,” according to Emily Zemke, the associate director of school partnerships at TC.

Streim told the audience, “The way we design this school will respond to what you identify as the highest-priority needs, as well as identify assets in the community to be built upon.”
In terms of extra funding, it will also work to identify external partners who can help bring additional resources into the school, monetary or otherwise, Streim said.

The uncertainty of location was a major topic at the forum. As of yet, the DOE has not granted a specific site to the school, but has settled on co-location with an existing school as the most likely option.

“Given the current economic climate, the DOE has asked and we’ve agreed that we will launch the school in an existing DOE facility,” Levine said.

At the meeting, organizers split up attendees into sections to discuss what they’d like to see the new school offer.

Nerina Rustomji, a local parent, emphasized the importance of giving students a sense of self-direction. “I want my son to be really excited about the process of being in school,” Rustomji said. Other parents expressed the desire to be active participants in their children’s education, as well as the importance of high standards, strong early education programs, and strong literacy programs.

“I’m really interested in learning more, and it’s right in the neighborhood,” said Amy Kauffman, the mother of a three-year-old.

For some neighborhood residents, this is a sign of hope for local education.

“There’s a lot wrong with our city schools,” said Sarah Martin, president of the Residents Association of the General Grant Houses, a public housing unit in Harlem.

“We need a model. We need a structure to show that public schools can be successful,” she said.

Still, some expressed concern over the lack of a facility and the potential for a shared building.

Tessa Morales, a local parent, said, “I’m worried about space.”

ray.katz@columbiaspectator.com

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