The Lefferts Gardens Charter School will utilize an environmental science program to develop academically motivated and civic-minded students to succeed in competitive high school and college programs. The proximity of several community-based environmental institutions provides a unique opportunity for learning that extends beyond the classroom. Graduates of LGCS will leave with an understanding of the relationship among science, the environment, and the everyday world.In fact, having toured the school not once, not twice, but three times now, I can say with great confidence that the mission is very much the guiding principle at play. And recent additions include a full-time art teacher Maude Whiltshire (read her engaging school blog here) and a head of science curricula for the school generally. The kids sing in chorus, a throwback that touches my heart, since I remember music class in elementary school probably better than anything else. Perhaps most appealingly, they have field trips once a week (the phrase "field trip" is out-of-fashion, but you know what I mean) to dovetail with what the kids are studying in the classroom. Everyone learns American Sign Language (a useful skill by any standard, but also a great tool if you want to keep some order in a noisy classroom). The building, despite its being more than 100 years old (says so right when you walk in), is big, bright and schooly in the classic sense. It's right next to newly renovated Parkside Playground and basketball courts. It's got a big gym and auditorium. Oh, and it's walkable, a quaint and seriously sweet experience for both parent and child.
So what's the catch? Until recently, I would have said that the lack of stable, strong leadership was the big ? about LGCS. The first couple years were shaky, as might be the case at any new school, with a lot of student attrition despite a likable founding principal in the pulpit. To say that his departure was destabilizing would be an understatement. Last year was an administrative horrorshow (so say those who have the scars to prove it), as the next principal had to be shown the door and another was unable to stay beyond the year. The well-regarded teachers decided to unionize (probably a sign that something ain't quite right with management) and the Board always struck me as too small and inexperienced to deal with trauma and triage effectively. Would I have considered sending my own kid into a school with such a backdrop? Probably not. And yet every time I've visited, I've seen another thing I liked. This time, I saw the best sign of all for the school - a smart, engaged, thoughtful principal in a role he seems born for. Michael Windram, should he hit all the right notes in his first year, could really take this school somewhere special and I for one wish him the best of luck. Because no matter how you feel about charters, or our very own District 17, its controversial superintendent, or segregation in the schools, or unions, or the DOE...it's the kids that matter, and kids at LGCS seem happy and challenged and willing to engage the unique curriculum, geared as it must be to the almighty "Common Core Standards" that have taken center stage in the country's education wars. FYI, the Q thinks they look just fine and doesn't get what all the hoop and la is about, but then I'm not a teacher and unqualified to judge. Windram thinks their implementation is good for his school. And I have yet to read anything in le Core de Common that makes me want to gag, like all the standardized tests kids take AFTER the learning as occurred, making them absolutely useless in the most important way, in that they don't help you adjust your teaching until after you taught. If there's a time for testing, they should be short snapshot tests in the middle of the year, or frequently enough to understand what a kid is learning, or not. We used to have pop quizzes in grade school all the time. Isn't that THOSE were for? (Listen to me, I'm turning into one of those "now back when I was a kid..." types. Learning was pretty trad where I grew up, in the heartland, but it never messed me up none, now done it?) Anyhoo, Mike is the sort of principal who will likely make you feel like you're leaving your snuggems in good hands. I'm fully expecting the school to become a popular choice with local parents. And after all, the school was started specifically to be an option for local parents who felt uncomfortable with their other walkable options. (PS92 will get a new principal next year, so who knows. 770 has become a fan favorite. And the Explore Charter School is another reputable choice, though with a strict adherence to the basics that might turn off the "progressives." The Caton is delightful, though the gentrifiers haven't embraced it fully for some reason that I know not. I have yet to hear the good news on Jackie Robinson, but you never know. Actually, if you got the skinny please share!)
And so I say check out the new regime and see for yourself. Walk into the classrooms and you're likely to see two teachers per grade, since the school accommodates most special needs and so can augment the teacher-ratio to be able to accept Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for those needing special attention. Seems like a win all around...the popular "Children's School" in the Slope Steppes (my name for when Park Slope hits 4th Ave and sorta slides into the Gowanus Basin, then heads into the obviously sarcastically named Boerum HILL, a joke that just keeps on giving 50 years after its fabrication) for instance is highly regarded in large part for its focus on integrated learning for IEP kids. (To which I say most parents think of their young Einsteins, Didions and Rothkos as deserving of a tailored IEP of the genius genus, tailored to Albert or Joan or Mark's unique proclivities and sensitivities, of course).
Look for Michael to be doing the rounds at local pre-schools, churches and daycares. But in the meantime, check in about tours. The Q suspects you'll be glad you added LGCS to your mix of possibilities.