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.
Young Women’s College Prep Charter School is the first public all-girls high school in Rochester, providing young women in the community with an opportunity they have never had before.
“Since this is an all-girls school, our students are naturally empowered, whether it is in the classroom, in school clubs, or on teams,” said founding and present Chair of the YWCP Board of Trustees Duffy Palmer. “There are no gender stereotypes and the girls feel comfortable to express themselves. There are no distractions and they are able to be themselves and apply themselves to their academics. Not only that, they build confidence at YWCP.”
The school opened in 2012 and serves grades 7-9. Over the next six years, the school will grow to include 7th-12th grade and accommodate more than 500 students. All of the students are coming from Rochester City Schools, which are among the most underperforming schools in New York State.
YWCP is an affiliate of the Young Women's Leadership Network (YWLN), which supports five very successful, single-gender schools in New York City. The flagship YWLN school in East Harlem has celebrated a graduation rate of over 96% for the past 13 years, and every graduating senior has been accepted to college. YWCP benefits directly from the structured and targeted support that YWLN provides for its network and affiliates.
“At YWCP, students are connected to their community through their school curriculum, allowing them to experience all of the wonderful things that are part of Rochester,” said Palmer.
He added, “Four of our local college campuses currently partner with our school, so we have both academic and extra-curricular programs with these institutions. It is a great experience for our students and gets them thinking about the colleges and universities they may want to attend.”
Since YWCP is housed in private space, the school is forced to siphon money from the girls and from the program to pay the rent.
“So much of our funding goes into our building. We rent our space and because of recent changes in the charter school laws, we had to spend $100,000 to get our building up to code. It’s something a district school would never have to do -- take money away from its students to pay for its facilities.”
Palmer also said they are trying to find a permanent home for the school so that it can grow to serve 500 girls. It’s challenging to find that kind of space, he said, and they simply can’t afford to renovate their current space to meet the demands of that many students.
Palmer talked about other things the school would like to provide, such as a retirement system for its teachers. The school would also like to hire more staff, more teachers, and provide more programming for students. Like most charters, the school would also like to offer more extra-curriculars like sports and arts.
“It’s extremely challenging to be denied facilities funding,” Palmer said. “The Rochester City School District is putting millions into their school buildings and we can’t even afford a building that will take us to capacity.”
His message to lawmakers is: “The denial of facilities funding is unfair and unreasonable. This is public education. We should not be penalized just because we’re a charter school. We are providing great opportunities for our students. Let’s fund what is working.”
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The way charter schools in NYS are short-changed on facilities funding is abhorrent and I could not agree more with the notion that we should “fund what is working.” The stark funding gap makes the success of charters that are doing more with less all the more remarkable. However, it is important that we as charter advocates maintain a clear-eyed and candid perspective. Not all charter schools are working. (Gasp!) The school presented in this particular story is in its third year of existence and has yet to distinguish itself with ELA or math performance beyond even the abysmally low rates of its host district. Hopefully, for the sake of kids, this school is gaining traction and will deliver on its novel approach. However, as we ramp up pressure to level the financial playing field for all NYS charters, it would behoove all of us as advocates to lobby on our true demonstrated merits (which are overwhelming) instead of exposing ourselves to claims of exaggeration.