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.
“When Niagara Charter School opened, it was the result of a rally cry from parents and members of the community who wanted more for the community’s children and a choice for parents,” said Tamika Morris, Community Liaison at the school.
“We realized we had some students slipping through the cracks and we wanted to do everything we could to make sure more students didn’t follow that path,” said Morris.
Niagara Charter School opened in 2006 and is the only charter school in Niagara County available to Niagara Falls students and surrounding communities.
The school is an Expeditionary Learning school. Under this approach, students participate in hands-on learning and they connect to the community around them.
“All students learn differently. The Expeditionary Learning approach helps students understand what they are learning by connecting the classroom to the community,” Morris said.
When the school opened, it served grades K-4. Now the school serves 350 students from K-6. After the lottery is held in April for seats in kindergarten, the school is fully enrolled. Applications received after the lottery and throughout the school year are then placed on a waiting list.
Morris said, “Parents call the school constantly asking if spots are available or if we offer pre-K. Under our current charter, we are not authorized to offer pre-K.”
Niagara Charter will be submitting an application under the newly authorized state legislation to offer Pre-K in its next charter.
“We constantly receive requests from parents asking us to expand to 7th and 8th grade. One of the major restrictions preventing us from expanding is the lack of facilities funding. To say that our families are disappointed by the lack of options for their children after 6th grade is not an understatement.”
The school pays a considerable amount on a monthly basis to cover the cost of rent and all other facilities expenses, including energy costs and maintenance. They have to use money from their per-pupil allocation to cover all of these expenses.
“We could be doing a lot more for our students if we were reimbursed for facilities expenditures. We’d provide additional instructional materials and enhance the expeditionary learning aspect of our school to increase student achievement.”
Darci Novak, Chief Academic Officer at Niagara has a message for state lawmakers: “The denial of facilities funding inhibits the charter schools’ ability to put resources into the classroom where they are needed most. It also affects the schools’ ability to serve more students and expand.”
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