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This comment was left by a reader in response to this post from a teacher who had worked in the Brighter Choice charter chain in Albany. A few years ago, this chain was described as “the holy grail” of charter schools. Since then, some of its charters have been closed for poor performance and two more are on the chopping block:
Hi, I too worked in an Albany Charter and now work in the Albany City School District. I can agree with the post that there are a lot of teachers and administrators who really care about the kids and want to do everything they can to help them. In my time in the charter school I met and learned from a few really fantastic and committed teachers. I can also say most of these teachers and administrators are generally very young and inexperienced. The majority of administrators do not have administrative licenses. The majority of the teachers are still completing their Master’s degree and have limited-no experience.
The problem with the Albany Charters is the Brighter Choice Foundation and the tone of the schools. They need to make their money and run the schools like a business. The BCF (which is somehow now called the Albany Charter School Network, not sure why?!) sits on the third floor of the MS that may close. Mr.Carroll, Bender, and the other white, wealthy and older men who run this organization make no effort to get to know the students or interact with the staff. They park in their reserved spots and jet to their cushy offices to send down orders. I don’t really understand how the school can have Board Members who carry the lease of the school and profit from it, work for the BCF or have other clear, financial interests in the school. I think they should have to post all of their board meeting materials in the same manner ACSD does (http://albanyschools.org/district/board/2014-15/12-11/12-11-14.documents.html). Perhaps the public should start attending their board meetings. It is strange that although each school has a separate charter, the four board meetings happen at one time, in one building. I have never seen an agenda or minutes of a meeting, but I understand they are only an hour or two long as well.
There is too much pressure on the students, teachers and administrators. Yes, they do not expel as many kids but I have seen them “counsel out” a large, large number of students. They suspend students, have their parents come in and eventually say “maybe the district schools will be a better fit for your family”. The Brighter Choice Middle Schools also do not enroll students in the 7th or 8th grades because “it takes so long to teach the expectations of the school that at 7th grade it is too late”. Their special ed. and ELL population is limited and entirely different than the population of ACSD. They have no self-contained classrooms for students with autism, learning disabilities or emotional disturbances. They have no ELLs who are refugees and have never been to school or learned to read. This is probably a good thing for these students because they teach directly to the test and rarely differentiate instruction. The inexperienced and young teachers are pressured by administrators (who are in turn pressured by the Foundation) to drill test prep and test taking skills. They rarely read novels. Students are pulled during Sci/SS (which they receive in rotation instead of daily) for AIS services. With the high focus on test prep, students receive little to no humanities education. Lunches are often silent and the students do not even have the freedom to stand up to throw away their own lunches. The students know little freedom, so they often rebel any chance they get.
The interesting thing about the Brighter Choice MS for Boys and Girls failing is that it is in a way very reflective of both the Albany Charter Schools and the fact that it is not easy to run an effective urban middle school. The majority of the students at BCMS-Girls and Boys are from the area charter elementary schools. This means that the elementary schools (BCCS-Girls, Boys, Henry Johnson, ACC) are not preparing the students for the challenges of middle school as well. Could it be that there is no “quick fix” to better urban middle schools?
I imagine the BCF will put up a big fight to keep these schools open as they stand to lose a lot of money if this building closes. I imagine their deep pockets will end up keeping this school open for a few more years. I am sure Cuomo will fight tooth and nail for his friends at the Foundation as well.