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.
“Many of our kids were victims both at school and at home, and we have become a safe haven for them.”
This is what Newburgh Preparatory Charter High School Executive Director Russ Gilmore says about the school he runs. The Hudson Valley’s only charter high school educates many students who were previously considered drop-outs.
The school’s founder, Tom Fitzgerald, worked in the Newburgh Enlarged City School District for many years and was a charter school consultant for schools in New York City before opening the school. During Fitzgerald’s consultant work he soon realized that Newburgh had an educational void that a charter school could fill.
“The Newburgh School District had established a number of alternative schools during my tenure in the district, none of which could be sustained for a variety of reasons,” said Fitzgerald. “I thought that the answer might be an alternative charter school managed independently of the school district with its own board of trustees and its own staff. It seems to be working for many students.”
Newburgh Prep serves over-aged and under-credited students. Their students range in age from 16-21 years. Many live in poverty, some are ELL, and some are special needs. The school provides them with the educational, as well as social and emotional support, that they need to earn a diploma and become college or career ready.
The school is small, serving 81 students currently. The school’s charter allows for more but there are building and facilities constrains limiting the number of students the school can take right now.
Since the school is small, it enables teachers to give a lot of attention to each student to focus on their individual needs.
“Kids feel safe here,” Gilmore said. “They know there are adults who care about them here. We give them a quiet place to learn when sometimes their home life is not so.”
2014 was a big year for Newburgh Prep.
“We graduated our first students last June. It was covered in the local news – it was all over. This was a big deal. Some of these kids never thought they’d see this day.”
Gilmore said of the first five graduates they had last year, three have gone on to college, one joined the military and one is full-time employed.
“It’s extremely rewarding to get young people on the right path,” he said.
Facilities funding challenges
The school is in a private space and does not receive any facilities funding.
“We want to expand but we are stuck in this building. We don’t have a gym in this building so we rent from a church across the street. 10% of our budget goes to rent and facilities,” said Gilmore.
He went on, “Our space affects us because we don’t have enough room to do what we want to do. We should have more teachers. We truly want to employ and use the local community for our school.
“I spent 24 year working for special education schools in New York. The state would go in to each school and work to remodel it and bring it up to code. Here, because we’re a charter, we’ll never see anything like that from the state.”
Gilmore sent a letter to Governor Cuomo before the holidays asking him for help.
His message to lawmakers is: “We want to reach more kids. We want to help them get back on the right path so that they can have a good life. That’s what all adults should want for our state’s kids. But this can’t happen for our students without a great education and a high school diploma. We are helping our students get there, but we can’t do it alone. More funding, especially facilities funding, would help us reach more children. We hope lawmakers and Governor Cuomo hear our message.”
Newburgh Prep's first graduate receives her diploma
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