Myth: Charter schools cherry-pick their students.
Fact: Charter schools cannot deny admission to any student on the basis of academic capability, disability, ELL status, or prior academic performance.
The only means by which charter schools can weight lotteries is to admit siblings of students already enrolled in the school, and to admit more (not fewer) students with disabilities, ELL students, and students who are at risk of academic failure.
One of New York State’s schools busting this myth is John V. Lindsay Wildcat Academy Charter School in New York City.
“We do not turn anyone away,” said Principal and CEO Ronald Tabano. “We take everyone who walks in the door. No one is refused entrance.”
Tabano emphasizes this point again and again. His school accepts everyone – including the students the district was unable to educate. Wildcat Academy 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 English Language Learners.
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,” 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 many schools. Students come back years later and they still aren’t turned away if they need help. The school really has an open door policy.
“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.”
All of this makes Wildcat Academy a support system that students can rely on for as long as it takes – and makes the school a myth-busting charter.
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