September 9, 2010: 2010, Issue 36
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Today’s news:

Schools hope to bring ‘success’ to south Bronx

Two new schools in the south Bronx are unlike any others in the area.

The Success Charter Network opened up two charter schools in the south Bronx on Monday, August 23. Each shares a building with a pre-existing public school, though interaction between the charter and public school, in each case, will be minimal.

Bronx Success Academy 1 is located in P.S. 30 at 510 E. 141st Street, while BSA 2 operates in P.S. 146 at 968 Cauldwell Avenue.

For the 2010-11 school year, the schools only have kindergarten and first grade, but they will add a grade level each year so that eventually the schools will be for grades K-8.

This is the first foray into the Bronx by the SCN, which has captured media attention over the past couple years with its Harlem Success Academy schools, of which there are five.

The schools were founded in 2006 by Eva Moskowitz, a former city councilwoman, and recent data showed an impressive 95 percent of students at the Harlem schools passed the 2010 state math test, with 88 percent passing the reading.

“We are a public school run like a private school,” reads a statement on the web site.

Indeed, as SCN’s director of external affairs Jenny Sedlis said, “Our schools are very similar to schools on the upper east side of Manhattan. Our focus is college graduation.”

It’s a lofty goal to have from the outset with five-year-olds, but Success schools rely on heavy reading, teacher availability, and parental participation to drive their mission.

“We have a rigorous literacy program that expects parents to read six books with their children every week,” said Sedlis, who added that students keep reading logs, which are carefully checked by teachers.

In addition, the schools have a policy that parents are sure to love: teachers and school administrators are strictly required to answer any call from a parent within 24 hours. Teachers are even provided a work cell phone on which parents of students can reach them with questions or issues. An open-door policy also allows parents to come and sit in on class at any time.

“We want our kids in school every day, getting there on time, reading on their own frequently,” said Michele Caracappa, who will be the principal of Bronx Success Academy 1 and was a founding teacher at Harlem Success Academy 1.

The schools may expect a lot from kids and parents, but according to application numbers, families are more than willing to take on the responsibility if it means a fabulous education.

Sedlis said demand for the spots, which are chosen based on a lottery, was “off the charts this year.” In total, SCN received 7,000 applications for 1,100 spots across its seven schools.

That number was so high that the school did not hold a big lottery event for families, as it has in the past.

The lottery process itself works based on an organized randomness. Parents submit what Sedlis called “a piece of paper that basically just has the student’s name and address.”

In April, a random lottery occurs, but there are preferences in the system. First priority goes to kids who have a sibling in the school. The two Bronx schools are new, so there was no preferece of that kind yet.

Second preference is for anyone who is “at risk,” which includes students that are English language learners or are set to attend a school the state deemed as “failing.” At-risk students who live in the district get priority over those that do not.

Parents of children that made it through the nerve-racking lottery are sure to be excited as they gear up for the first few weeks.

“We were surprised and pleased,” Sedlis said, “by how much the borough wanted these two new schools.”

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