Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Bronx school's a lesson in good education

Audrey Young visits a remarkable charter school in tough New York

Charlene Reid says having high expectations is a big feature of her school's success. Photo / Audrey Young
Charlene Reid says having high expectations is a big feature of her school's success. Photo / Audrey Young

Charlene Reid is what you might call a rockstar among teachers.

It's not what she would call herself.

She is just getting on with it at what used to be an ordinary school in the Bronx district of New York where she is Head of School.

But she is being noticed for the results being achieved there.

It's a charter school, privately run but publicly funded, and fees cannot be charged to the parents.

Reid is also being noticed because she is starting to work with other schools.

"The reputation of the Bronx is that it is low performing, it's not great education standards. We don't believe that," she said.

"We believe that with very committed people, with enough resources and everyone working together with all the stakeholders, that you can be anything you want to be and that's what we've proven here."

Reid's school is the Bronx Charter School for Excellence (BCSE) and she was made principal in February 2007.

It runs from kindergarten to grade 8 (14-year-olds) which is known as a K-8 school in the United States.

In state-wide testing, it was ranked the highest K-8 charter school in New York state and fourth among all.

The other top five were schools for gifted and talented or specialty schools that can choose their students. At BCSE they don't. Anyone from the local area gets precedence. If there are 60 applicants from the area, they get automatic entry; if there is more, there is a ballot. About 10 per cent of the students have special needs.

Asked what advice she would give charter schools in New Zealand, she says take time to make good, rational decisions, use only committed teachers "and then really work with the kids".

"Believe in the kids and believe in the families and understand that families usually are untapped resources, really untapped. Expectations for everybody have to be high."

Reid went to a public school near San Francisco and was in the gifted and talented programme. But her mother, a sole parent, was not happy with the school.

So she gave up her job as a health administrator and moved herself and three kids to Silicon Valley, before it became famous.

Her mother asked her about her new school every day and she said it was easy. When the first report came home it had the letter "R" next to every subject. Neither she nor her mother knew what it meant.

The school told her it meant "remedial" and it was school policy to put anyone from Oakland, who were black or Hispanic, into remedial class.

She said her mother's attitude to schooling "probably has a lot to do with who I am and this whole notion that if you are dissatisfied with something, you find a solution. You don't wait for someone to find a solution."

Reid has a bachelor's degree in political science, a masters in elementary education and a second masters in educational leadership.

She is two years into a PhD at the University of Pennsylvania and juggling the demands of her daughter, 5, and 3-year-old son.

Having high expectations, said Reid, was a big feature of her school's success.

"Expectation, confidence and attitude that you can deliver. I don't think any teacher goes into the classroom saying they want a kid to fail. I think what happens is that you don't know how to get a child to learn, then it is very difficult to look at yourself and say 'I'm the reason why'.

"What we've done here at BCSE is we have pointed the finger at ourselves and said if it is not working, it's our fault. It's nobody else's fault. We took this job on. We are educators.

"We are going to figure it out. We are adults. There is no way you should blame a child who has only been on this Earth 60 months if they can't read or they can't write or that they're poor or their parents were educated or they live in a particular environment.

"None of that matters when they enter your school."

Every classroom has the name of a university so the expectations of the children become which university they will attend, not whether they will go.

She says she will continue to turn down attempts to headhunt her.

- NZ Herald

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