The 30 Schools in 30 Days project will highlight a different New York State charter school each day, featuring each school's successes, and the challenges that come from being denied access to state facilities funding. Perhaps most important, each school leader has a message for state lawmakers in Albany: please find a solution to the facilities funding problem and allow ALL of the state's charter schools access to building aid this year.
Most of our 30 Schools in 30 Days posts have ended with a message to state lawmakers. But for Brilla College Prep Public Charter School, we’ll start with Advisor to the Board and Founder Aaron Gillaspie’s message and invitation:
“Come out and see what we’re doing. See it firsthand. Understand. We are not wasting money. We are using our money wisely. Come see how we’re doing this.”
Brilla College Prep opened in 2013 with a rolling start of 200 students in K-1 and now in their second year, the school serves K-2 with about 250 students. The school will grow one grade per year until it reaches 8th grade. The school’s population is diverse -- 65% Hispanic, 35% black, more than 15% of students are special education students, and more than 20% of the school is comprised of English Language Learners (ELL).
The school is equipping its students for what they need to succeed, says Gillaspie. “We have two certified teachers in each classroom, 15 MacBook Airs in every room, a blended learning model. Kids are on computers and we provide small group teaching for both math and science.”
Gillaspie makes sure he tells us something very special about the school – that is their family and parent engagement. “If you don’t have the relationships, you are done before you ever started,” he said.
“We see our families every single day. Our staff is on from 7am-7pm every day. The parents have the cell phones of all of our teachers, and in turn, we have all the parents’ cell phone numbers.”
He continued, “Communication is key in our school. We have built genuine relationships with our families and that will be part of our long-term success. We host family night – we have 100% attendance. We do home visits. We know the kids, what they love, where they live, where their parents work.”
Gillaspie stressed the importance of the staff taking the time to build these connections. He said they hold “coffee and conversation” time often with families. It’s optional but hundreds show up, he said. It’s there that the school goes the extra mile, often teaching parents how to read at home with their kids and letting them know how important that is for their growth.
Like all of the state’s charter schools in private space, facilities funding is the biggest challenge for Brilla College Prep.
Gillaspie asked, “With funding the way it is, will we be able to thrive like we should be able to do? No, I don’t think so.”
“We want to hire more teachers to serve our special-ed population and be able to bring in more ELL kids. I would love to bring in more counselors. Don’t get me wrong, we’re providing an excellent education for our kids, but I know what we could do if we had fair funding.”
“Something else that I would like to provide is a matching 403b program for our teachers. Right now we’re unable to match. It’s important to give your employees that option, but right now, we can’t.”
Gillaspie finds that unjust because he says something he’s proud of is the sustainability of the school’s staff.
“We work to prevent teachers turnover and we have a model that works. We empower our teachers. Truly loving their job makes our teachers want to stay. And that all trickles down to the families and kids.”
Click here for a New York Post feature on Brilla College Prep.
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