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.
In one of the most struggling school districts in New York State, a gem of a school stands out for the 406 students fortunate enough to attend. Eugenio Maria de Hostos Charter School (EMHCS) opened its doors 15 years ago, thanks to the foresight of founder founder Julio Vazquez. Vazquez seized on an opportunity to improve the educational landscape for Rochester’s children and families and opened this charter school with the help and input of local educators and community members.
The school was named for an influential Puerto Rican educator, lawyer, and school reformer in Latin America and its hallmark is that it is a bilingual school. Students in all grades – K-8- learn in both English and Spanish.
“Our students are taught through an immersion approach to language learning,” said Principal Jeff Halsdorfer. “This helps our students gain a firm understanding of another language because Spanish is used in all subjects. Teachers teach in both languages, and therefore kids really get the opportunity to become fluent in Spanish and hone their English language skills. This is especially helpful in language development in grades K-2.”
The importance of this education is certainly not lost on the students. Halsdorfer said a student recently wrote an award-winning essay about the importance of her bilingual education noting how much this background would help her in her future career.
The school’s model and its emphasis on academic excellence is paying off. On the most recent Math and ELA state tests, EMHCS outperformed the district by double-digit margins.
EMHCS parent Maria Dalmau talks about how fortunate she is that her children attend the school
Last year, a state law was passed allowing only a portion of charter schools facilities funding or co-located space. This new law left out all of the schools outside of New York City. Because of this glaring omission, EMHCS faces serious challenges. The school cannot hold all its students in one building, and therefore has two different buildings.
“We have an unnecessary separation between primary and middle school grades. We have two buildings 1 ½ miles apart,” said Halsdorfer.
When asked what that means for the school community, he and Julio Vazquez name a number of issues.
“School celebrations can’t be done together. We have to have staggered dismissal times, which is difficult for parents who have students in both school buildings. We have two security guards working the same hours in two different buildings. We have to duplicate all of our services, for that matter- our kitchen staff included. It’s a very costly way of running the school but we have no choice.”
The school must pay the rent on two school buildings, which are older and often in need of repairs. To pay these costs, money is taken out of the school’s operating budget. That is money that ideally should stay in the classroom.
“I don’t want to make decisions about teachers’ professional development or fixing the boiler. Or making a decision on whether or not to fix the roof or send children on field trips. These are difficult decisions.”
Not only that, the school is already “bursting at the seams”, said Halsdorfer.
“We have to find new ways to create space. We do things like use the cafeteria space or the music teacher’s office to have meetings.”
Vazquez said, “We lack the adequate space to do what we want to do to move forward. This affects whether we expand or not.”
Julio Vazquez’s message to lawmakers: “We need help with facilities funding –this would help us tremendously. Our children deserve this. Our parents live in the city, pay taxes want their children to be treated like all public children.”
Jeff Halsdorfer’s message to lawmakers: “We have a tremendous reputation for success and we have done so much with minimal funding and no facilities support. Can you imagine what we could do if we were fairly funded? Our children deserve equal treatment.”
Time Warner Cable News coverage of the school's 15th anniversary celebration
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