Answer Sheet: If You Don't Know What a 'Community School' Is, You Should. Take a Look at This One


Students at Broome Street Academy Charter High School in New York City have fun with a science experiment. (Courtesy of Broome Street Academy)

By Valerie Strauss

September 7

If you don't really know what a “community school” is, take a look at Broome Street Academy Charter High School in New York City.

Like other schools in the community school movement, Broome Street Academy draws on multiple community, business and higher education partners to meet the academic, health and social service needs of students. And for its efforts to help a high-needs student population, it is a winner in the 2017 Schools of Opportunity project, which recognizes public high schools that work to close opportunity gaps by creating learning environments that reach every student.

[Here are eight ‘Schools of Opportunity’ that do extraordinary things for students]

The Schools of Opportunity project started in 2014 as a pilot in New York and Colorado and went national in 2015-16. Several dozen schools have been honored in the program, which assesses a range of factors (see graphic below), including how well the adults in a school building provide health and psychological support for students, as well as judicious and fair discipline policies and a broad and enriched curriculum.

The following piece profiling Broome Street Academy was co-written by Kevin Welner, a founder of the Schools of Opportunity project who is director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado and a professor specializing in educational policy and law. The other co-writer is Linda Molner Kelley, former assistant dean of teacher education and partnerships, and director for outreach and engagement at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The effort to detail successful public schools in traditional districts may have more resonance than ever in the era of President Trump, whose education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has made it her top priority to expand alternatives to them.

This blog is profiling all the winning schools in the 2017 Schools of Opportunity cycle — six “gold” and two “silver.” The gold winners are Broome Street, the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, Lincoln High School in Nebraska, Denver's South High School, Health Sciences High & Middle College in San Diego, and Seaside High School in California. The two silver Schools of Opportunity for 2017 are Hammond High School in Columbia, Md., and William C. Hinkley High School in Aurora, Colo.

[A haven for refugees, this Nebraska high school builds a web of support for its diverse student population]

[Down on the farm, these Chicago high school students get a unique public education]

[At this school, being 'different' is an asset]

Broome Street Academy Charter High School New York Principal: Melissa Silberman. Authorizer: Board of Trustees of the State University of New York. Enrollment: 330. Economically Disadvantaged: 77 percent.

By Kevin Welner and Linda Molner Kelley

Broome Street Academy (BSA) is a charter school committed to providing multiple services and high-quality education to its student body. The school — which is publicly funded but run separately from the New York City public school system — seamlessly connects its students and their education to the larger community’s resources and people.

Located in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City, the school commits 50 percent of its enrollment slots to students who are or have been homeless, transitionally housed or in the child welfare system. Ninety-two percent of the school’s students are black and Latino, with many students traveling over an hour each way to school from the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.

BSA focuses its efforts in two main areas: (1) embedding comprehensive interventions and enrichment activities available to students throughout the day and (2) building strong relational trust between students and adults.

The school’s intention is to make students feel welcome, secure and supported on their path to high school graduation and postsecondary options.

While some other publicly funded charter and specialized schools have been criticized for limiting access to more privileged students, BSA has made impressive efforts to serve a high-needs population and provide enriching and supported educational opportunities for students of low socioeconomic levels. As New York City’s only charter “community school,” BSA draws on multiple community, business and higher education partners to meet students’ social and academic needs.

The school’s partnership with the Door, a nonprofit youth development and therapeutic adolescent intervention center located in the same building, provides the backbone of support and academic enrichment for students.

BSA and the Door partner to offer students wraparound health, housing, work, legal and educational services at the integrated site, and every student’s School ID cards includes Door membership.

Support includes adolescent health, prenatal health, mental health, counseling and case management, LGBTQ programs, psychiatry, legal services, dental, vision and dermatology services, as well as meals (three per day, including dinner), college and career counseling, and arts and recreation — all free of charge or subsidized based on ability to pay.

In addition, BSA’s educators have drawn on local resources for enriched learning, building connections that offer students after-school performing arts, community programs, museum visits, classroom experiences with teaching artists, and other expanded learning opportunities.

BSA has worked to ensure a welcoming, secure environment to counteract the systematic barriers faced by many students at urban schools. The core of this positive culture is an advocacy model that pairs every adult in the school with a group of 10 students. Adults and students are both called “champions” and meet daily.

The BSA staff “champions” serve as student advocates, supporting academics, serving as liaisons between school and home, connecting students to services, facilitating solution-seeking and promoting students’ self-advocacy.

During our visit, we witnessed the Head of School connecting with three of her “champs” as they walked the halls, making sure that the students were okay that day.

Moreover, BSA has committed itself to a powerful move toward restorative justice practices. Data showing high suspension rates suggested to school leaders that a different approach was required — one that included both student and staff involvement in the discipline process. The school eliminated detentions and, as a result of adding restorative practices, has reduced its suspensions dramatically, from 51 percent in 2012 to 6 percent in 2016. BSA was awarded a three-year grant by the New York City School District to share their restorative practices with other schools.

BSA’s efforts to create a welcoming environment are complemented by approaches used at the Door. Benjamin Brown, a BSA student member of the Door’s Youth Leadership Council, says his work with the council has helped broaden his horizons, and he wants to pass that experience on while supporting BSA’s commitment to embrace a culture of respect for one another, “no matter where you come from,” he said.

BSA student Jasmy Burgos said she hopes to be the first in her immediate family to graduate from college, and she appreciates BSA and the Door’s many supports. “Having the Door and Broome Street Academy in the same building is … amazing,” she told us. “There are so many things that [BSA] offers that other schools in New York City don’t.”

Regarding core academics, BSA offers a range of classes, including honors and Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Acknowledging that some of their students who have fallen behind need extra academic instruction, the school incorporates a range of academic supports without resorting to tracking or a series of low-level classes. In addition to core academic subjects,

BSA students engage in academic programs and internships — both on site and in community settings — that include arts, technology, and design, among other areas of student interest. Students receive an extra hour of programming each day organized by the Door and dedicated to activities, counseling or extra instruction. Students also attend school an extra four days each year as compared with other NYC schools.

To deepen students’ exposure to and knowledge of the arts and history, the school has offered after-school and summer programs through the Tisch School of the Arts, the Whitney and New museums, the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Museum-Experimental Study Program. Performing-arts programs offered by the Cherry Lane Theatre and Theatre Development Fund have broadened students’ cultural opportunities.

Through these programs, students have access to Broadway shows and fine and performing artists who work with the students. A connection to the Tribeca Film Festival contest produced a BSA-student winner whose work was featured with other student awardees.

By grounding their efforts in Universal Design for Learning, teachers at BSA strive to differentiate instruction for their diverse students as they work with flexible materials and assessments, provide frequent feedback and real-world examples, encourage reflection, and support risk-taking.

Students are identified weekly for targeted interventions and BSA staffs almost all content classes with two teachers — all of whom have been trained in trauma-informed care. The intent is to ensure that all students, including multi-language learners and students whose literacy and numeracy skills are several levels behind, are given the help they need.

The school offers support classes and tutoring in conjunction with grade-level coursework, as well as four social workers and two guidance counselors who prepare students for postsecondary readiness. Additional supports include a summer bridge program, after-school tutoring, blended credit recovery classes and clubs, and extra-curricular activities such as a poetry slam, a Build club, the National Honor Society, and a government fair.

In addition to college and career programs sponsored by the Door, all students are encouraged to take PSAT and SAT preparation courses for free. BSA students are also encouraged to take College Now classes at the City College of New York for dual high school and college credits. Once students graduate, a newly created “Pathways to Success” program seeks to track and support them as they pursue their postsecondary goals.

Following these efforts, the school’s graduation rate improved dramatically, moving from 10 percent in 2014 to 72 percent in 2017 (close to the city system average). BSA also exceeded the city rate for black/African American students, with 73 percent graduating, compared with 64 percent citywide.

In June 2018, Melissa Silberman was appointed as the new head of school. We checked in with her, and she shared a few thoughts about future plans to keep BSA on its upward trajectory. Silberman said, “BSA is an incredibly special school community with a unique set of offerings that play a critical role in the NYC school community.” She explained: “It’s my intention to support the team as it continues to deepen our partnership with the Door around career readiness programming. BSA is focused on structures of teaching and learning that allow teachers to focus deeply on grade-level supports and schoolwide opportunities for teachers to goal set and plan together. We have reorganized to pay attention to critical milestones in the lives of our students and to support their incredible potential.”

Silberman, whose background is in college and career readiness, also said that she is excited to launch a paid “Internships for All” model set to roll out this fall and eventually serve all 330 students. “We believe our students offer unique perspectives and experiences to the world of work, and young people accessing NYC businesses will be an exciting next step.”

Schools of Opportunity such as BSA recognize that they alone can’t compensate for sometimes devastating societal and economic obstacles that often limit students’ educational opportunities.

But these schools also understand that many opportunities are within their control, even — and perhaps especially — for our most vulnerable students. They are committed to accelerating students’ learning and access to opportunities despite other obstacles. BSA’s intense focus on students’ well-being, the panoply of health and social services, academic and personal enrichment options, and other resources from community and higher education partners exemplify how a comprehensive and inclusive commitment to young people can close opportunity gaps.

We applaud Broome Street Academy’s inspiring efforts as a model for other schools and are honored to recognize BSA as a gold School of Opportunity.

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The views expressed by the blogger are not necessarily those of NEPC.

Valerie Strauss

Valerie Strauss is the Washington Post education writer.

Kevin G. Welner

NEPC director Kevin G. Welner is a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder School of Education, specializing in policy and law. He and Alex Molnar founded NEPC in 2010. Welner has authored or edited 12 books and more than 100 research articles and book chapters concerning education policy and law. His...

Linda Molner Kelley

Linda Molner Kelley, Co-director of the Schools of Opportunity project, is the former Assistant Dean of Teacher Education and Partnerships and Director for Outreach and Engagement at the University of Colorado Boulder. In those and her current roles, she has developed numerous K-16 and community programs designed to strengthen learning opportunities...