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.
“There is a dramatic need for quality schools in this community. Parents historically have not had many choices about where they can enroll their children in school,” said Janna Genzlinger, Managing Director of Brooklyn Ascend Charter School. Janna manages two of the seven schools operated by Ascend Learning, all located in central Brooklyn.
Genzlinger talked about the seven Ascend schools and their importance to Brooklyn. Ascend has a significance presence in the Brownsville neighborhood, where Ascend schools are providing parents with options they would not otherwise have. Ascend schools are also located in Bushwick, Canarsie, and East Flatbush.
She told us about one campus that serves 523 students in 4-8 grades. “We provide a college prep education at a scalable model – and we want to serve as many students as we can.” Genzlinger added, “We have a lot of children in need in our schools.”
The student body is 99 percent African American, many coming from families who immigrated to the United States from the Caribbean and West Africa. There is also a small Hispanic population.
Brooklyn Ascend outperformed its host district in both math and ELA on the most recent state tests. And the schools are in demand. Their waiting list exceeds 2000 students.
Genzlinger said that the schools emphasize academic rigor and a strong humanities curriculum. The school has partnerships with many of New York City’s art museums, and adorning the hallways of the middle school’s “art gallery” are high quality reproductions of artworks whose originals are in those museums. This helps to tie the students’ learning to the greater community outside of their neighborhoods.
The facilities themselves help to set the standard for learning in Ascend schools. “Having our own buildings helps us to maintain a high code of conduct and have a physical environment that is beautiful and collegiate. The physical buildings matter, and reflect our highest aspirations for our scholars,” Genzlinger said.
“We offer a true liberal arts curriculum. We use blended learning, combining inquiry-based and guided instruction models.”
Despite Brooklyn Ascend’s successes, the school is still denied state facilities funding because of an omission in last year’s law that left charters in private space out in the cold.
“The denial of facilities funding hurts us. A large portion of our per-pupil funding goes to our rent. Rent for over 500 children is a huge bill every month. When I think about the fact that charters are already receiving less per-pupil it becomes even more obvious how much we are being short-changed,” said Genzlinger.
She said that she hopes for a solution to the facilities funding omission so that charter schools can use their per-pupil funding the way it is intended, and the way that district schools do – to pay for teachers and tools for learning for the children.
Genzlinger’s message to state lawmakers is one of the most heartfelt we’ve heard throughout the 30 Schools series: “I would like to see equity in all ways between district and charter schools. We are all born of the same desire to do what is right for children.
“If we level the playing field, my hope is that all parties can stop vying for the limited resources, but rather share best practices with each other for the benefit of all our kids. Most schools are full of good-hearted, talented people. We should all be working in a collaborative way. Our elected officials should mend this glaring gap this year.”
Watch Brooklyn Ascend students attend a Classroom Without Walls event in November, 2014 to dramatize the need for facilities funding
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