What support systems are in place for those students who may struggle academically in the program?
First and foremost is hiring the right staff with the core component of dealing with struggling learners. When hiring I made sure that each teacher had the patience, will and desire to allow students to work at it to get confidence that they learned it. Also, we reduced the adult to student ratio. No teachers deal with more than 65 students in any given day. Teachers and other adults get the opportunity to know the students so that helping students build confidence is accelerated.
Teachers can feel overwhelmed and underappreciated with the stresses involved in education and being underpaid. How do you help motivate them through professional development?
The teachers have the opportunity to work with college professors and hear firsthand the expectations to prepare the students academically. CUNY supports them so that they learn pedagogical practices to differentiate lessons and strengthen their content practices. IBM provides them with their own mentors and a liaison on-site to reinforce the workplace-learning curriculum. So it’s a multi-tier approach for the teachers.
The school helps prepare young people for entry-level work with IBM and other companies, but do you also help promote an entrepreneurial spirit within students?
In workplace learning they also have a unit on entrepreneurship. We already have students designing their own video games and gadgets with the opportunity to learn how to go into business at some point for themselves. Through workplace learning they have the opportunity for internships as well as externships via job shadowing. That way they are constantly seeing from multiple perspectives the ins and outs of different companies.
This is a very high stakes project with many stakeholders. So how is success being measured for the students, teachers and yourself?
We are a six-year model with multiple ways to look at success. We’re in the second month but our year-to-date attendance is 97.1 percent. That percentage is impressive since we were not able to screen for attendance. At the end of the year we will look to see who is promoted from grade 9 to 10 and passing Regents exams with no remediation. We will look at the observation process to make sure teachers are getting the support they need to grow in their field. For me I have a performance review that I am rated on each year that deals with my goal setting.
There haven’t been many African American media outlets to feature this story. Most of the outlets covering the school have been mainstream. Why do you think this is the case?
When it comes to people of color we hear on the opposite ends that we are the ones where the gaps need to be closed. But we don’t hear enough about how early college initiatives have been underway for years to make sure that underrepresented students have the opportunity to advance. I think if it’s not coming from the federal level then it is not glamorized the same way as an entertainment issue. Until we have a reality show about education it won’t be on the forefront of people’s agenda.