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.
If anyone can talk about the good works of Sisulu-Walker Charter School – the state’s very first charter school – it’s Michelle Haynes. She has been with the school since the very beginning, first as a teaching assistant, and now as the principal.
“This school feels more like a close-knit family. Teachers tend to stay here, and generations of kids from the same family attend school here.”
Sisulu-Walker has been successfully educating kids from central Harlem, most of whom are black or from Africa, since 1999. The school serves students in grades K-5. More than two hundred kids are on the wait list to get in.
Haynes graduated during her first year with Sisulu-Walker and the following year became a teacher there. She spent nine years teaching before becoming an instructional coach and helped open a charter school on Long Island and one in the Bronx. Now she’s the head of the school and says she has former students who are now in college and is seeing those students’ siblings and cousins attend the school.
“Unlike a lot of schools in the city, we have a steady teacher population. Teachers stay for seven, eight years. We don’t have a high turnover rate.”
The charter school has longevity in an environment where low-performing schools close. Haynes says that is because of hard work, flexibility, and using proven best practices from other schools and institutions.
“In the charter world, it really is survival of the fittest. You have to be able to adapt. The school today looks very different than the school that opened 15 years ago.”
The school follows trends in education and applies them to Sisulu-Walker to keep advancing their students and provide them with what they need to succeed.
But the school faces huge obstacles. First and foremost: no state facilities funding.
Haynes says that’s the biggest problem. She says they should be in a bigger and better building, with room to grow and serve more students. She wants to have more teachers to support more of their ELL and special-ed populations. Having more teachers also means reducing class size, so that kids get more one-on-one support.
Like most of the schools in private space feeling the crunch, Haynes ticks off a laundry-list of items they’d love to be able to provide their students: more technology, a computer lab so that kids can be on computers “every single day”, and more language software.
Haynes wants to tell lawmakers in Albany: “My message is that there is no such thing as a ‘charter student’ or ‘public student’. They are all our children. They are all entitled to the best quality education possible but when you set up a formula where some kids don’t have the same access to funding as others, there’s a huge inequity. We care about all of the city’s children and just want a fair system and level playing field.”
Sisulu-Walker students sing "Let It Go"
A Sisulu-Walker student on the school's motto
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