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.
“We do not turn anyone away. We take everyone who walks in the door. No one is refused entrance. We fill up as much as we can, and then we have a wait list.”
Principal and CEO of John V. Lindsay Wildcat Academy Charter School Ronald Tabano emphasizes this point again and again. His school accepts everyone – including the students the district was unable to educate. His school is a transfer/alternative high school for students who have either dropped out, were in school truants, incarcerated or in the foster care system. They have one of the toughest populations of students in the city.
“Some of them are here as an alternative to incarceration. We take them in and try to get them on the right path.”
The school population is generally over-aged and under-credited – for instance a 16 or 17 year-old with zero credits. It serves about 28 percent special education students, and about eight percent are ELLs.
Wildcat Academy was founded as a Board of Education school in 1992 and Tabano said they were operating year-to-year. They wanted some more stability so became a charter in 2000. There are 500 students between two campuses – one in the Bronx and one in Manhattan. Incoming students attend the Bronx campus full time for at least six months. Once a student has 21 credits, he or she transfers into the Manhattan campus, which is technically 11-12 grades. To graduate, each student must have 44 credits and pass the Regents exams.
It takes time and an incredible investment of patience and energy, but the school tries to set up the students to get Regents diplomas.
“The first six to seven years were really difficult. Our kids don’t fit into No Child Left Behind. We don’t necessarily have a good four-year graduation rate since this is never a student’s first high school and because of what our students are up against. But we work hard and we never turn them away, no matter how many years later they may return looking for some help,” Tabano told us.
The school also incorporates work internships into the curriculum so that most students alternate between one week of work and one week of school. Wildcat has even established its own culinary school and hydroponic garden.
“We do even have more and more kids going to college. Many will try a two-year school first and then transfer into the city and state system. But we see an increase of students going into four-year colleges as well.”
Here’s where Wildcat Academy really differs from most schools we’ve profiled. Students come back years later and they still aren’t turned away if they need help.
“We have students who come back eight years after graduating to get help in going to college. Our students are like family members. We don’t turn them away if they come back for help.”
The school really has an open door policy. Despite its immensely hard work and the dedication of its staff in keeping kids off the street and on the right path toward attaining a diploma, Wildcat Academy does not get a dime of state aid for its buildings.
“The facilities funding issues forces us to keep our staff down. We’d love to be able to hire more staff. We can only bring in new people through grants, which is great, but they are few and far between,” Tabano said.
He went on, “We looked at our projections. We are going to be losing money every year. We pay $1.8 million for our buildings. Rent escalates, costs go up, and our per-pupil stays flat, and we don’t get facilities help.
“We are hoping that this turns around.”
Tabano’s message to lawmakers is a powerful one: “We take students who have already been dropped by the system. If we don’t help them, they are going to wind up in other systems – the criminal system or the welfare system. It’s penny-wise and pound foolish not to invest in them now. If our kids don’t have this system to pick them up, where will they go?”
Do you like this post?