30 Schools in 30 Days: Great Oaks Charter School

Posted by on 02 / 17 / 2015 0 Reactions

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.
The President of the Great Oaks Foundation Michael Duffy says the school network has discovered a formula for motivating its students to attend college – and it’s being used at Great Oaks Charter School in New York City.  
“The secret sauce of our approach to preparing our kids for college success is individualized tutoring. Our students show huge gains in their academic achievement by using this model,” Duffy said.
The school serves grades 6-7 but will grow to eventually serve 6-12. Great Oaks uses a unique model of tutoring by using what Duffy called a “cadre of recent college graduates who work at our school”. The school provides them with a modest living allowance, subway passes, and housing in exchange for their in-school tutoring services that provide each child his or her own tutor throughout the year. Each child receives two hours of tutoring per day.
The success of this model and the efficacy of tutoring was profiled in a New York Times article you can read here. 
“By using tutors in this way, our teachers are freed up to focus on lesson plans and curriculum. It’s a great system,” Duffy told us.
He also said the tutors have secondary jobs in the school such as running after school events or clubs. The tutors were responsible for the school’s spelling bee.
There is something else unique about Great Oaks – one that dispels a common charter school myth. The school serves a large ELL population. In fact, 25 percent of the school’s lottery is set aside for English Language Learners. Additionally, 30 percent of Great Oaks’ students have IEPs – that is more than double the district average. 
“We are proud that we attract a diverse student body and can reach traditionally under-served students,” Duffy said. 
Last year’s state budget made tremendous in-roads for some of New York City’s charter schools. It provided any new or expanding schools to receive facilities funding or co-located space. Great Oaks applied for co-location but was turned down. The school filed a petition seeking facilities aid for its buildings and was victorious.
“They ruled favorably on our petition. This is groundbreaking.  It’s a huge victory for our students,” Duffy said.
The school recently sent a letter to Chancellor Carmen Farina saying that the school is entitled to receive 20 percent of the current lease or 20 percent of our per pupil funding. 
“These conversations with the city have been extremely productive. We’re very happy with how the process has gone so far.” 
Duffy said, “We are a school that benefitted from work that advocates did last session. We got very lucky.”
His message to lawmakers is: “It’s essential that any charter school in the state not to take dollars out of the classroom and spend it on real estate. What we are getting is what every school should be able to receive for its students.  We are hopeful lawmakers find a solution this year.” 


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Northeast Charter Schools Network

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