The Harlem Education Project
Harlem Link Charter School
Newsletter Archive

    1. January 22, 2003
    2. January 29, 2003
    3. February 5, 2003
    4. February 12, 2003
    5. February 26, 2003
    6. March 5, 2003
    7. March 24, 2003
    8. April 22, 2003
    9. May 10, 2003
    10. May 20, 2003
    11. July 23, 2003
    12. August 11, 2003
    13. September 5, 2003
    14. October 3, 2003
    15. November 10, 2003
    16. December 16, 2003
    17. January 24, 2004
    18. March 18, 2004
    19. May 15, 2004
    20. June 16, 2004
    21. September 15, 2004
    22. October 19, 2004
    23. December 10, 2004

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Introduction/visit to Explore
NLNS/parent roundtable plan
Reviewing sample budget/"at-risk"
Reviewing sample application
Planned school visits/Josie's trip to S.F. charters
Meeting at Bronx Arts
Charter conference
Parent roundtable/Distinguished Speaker Series
Building Excellent Schools/Math Focus
Call to Action
Fellowship in Full Swing
Midsummer Fellowship Report
Upcoming meetings/Design Team submissions
Bank Street and COG/Authorizer choice
Application update/School visits and facilities tour
Board committees/Application update
Proposal Features/Application update
Application complete!
Requests For Amendment/The Waiting Game
Charter Schools Committee Vote
Becoming Chartered
Planning Year and Hundred Hundreds Update
Incorporation; Recruitment to Begin


Harlem Link Charter School, a K-4 public school, links academics, values and community to graduate articulate scholars who meet or exceed New York State Performance Standards and active citizens who learn and serve in their communities.  Families, staff and community join together to provide a safe, supportive learning environment that empowers students to take an active role in learning and demonstrate good character.

January 22, 2003
    These emails will be coming roughly once per week, updating our weekly meetings.  Currently we are meeting each Wednesday at 5:00 at Bank Street College, but are in the process of seeking pro bono office space in Harlem to meet.
Our meetings began the first week of the new year.  In previous meetings we have addressed different routes to school leadership, the laying out of a work plan and the continued refinement of our vision.

    We read part of the NYS (New York State) Charter Act of 1998, the section entitled, “General Requirements,” which is about the admission of children.  We have many reflections and questions about this part of the charter law; if you care to hear about them let us know and we will send them on.

 * On Thursday, January 23, Steve visited Explore Charter School in MetroTech, Brooklyn.  He was  very impressed with the positive tone of the school and the quality of teaching in the classrooms.  One area of growth he sees for the school is in the coherence of the curriculum and staff communication; from conversations with teachers and the curriculums in the classrooms the staff does not have built-in time to meet and discuss.

 * We also had brunch with Jamie Bennett, who works with Agnes Gund at the Gund Foundation.  Jamie had several questions and many encouraging words about this endeavor, while offering legitimate concerns about charter schools and their ability to reach the neediest children in the city.

January 29, 2003
    Meeting at Bank Street College, we began in earnest our applications for New Leaders, New Schools (, a nonprofit fellowship modeled on Teach For America which seeks to train excellent principals and charter school leaders.  Those of you who know us well, feel free to send any thoughts about our personal strengths and weaknesses as leaders—a topic of our discussion—to supplement our applications.
    In discussing our second topic, reaching out to parents, we raised the idea of holding an informal roundtable with parents in the communities from which we seek to draw students.  We brainstormed various ideas, and we would love help! SEE BELOW
 We concluded by reading the next part of the “General Requirements” section of the NYS (New York State) Charter Act of 1998.  This section deals with staffing, raising questions about union participation (required for schools larger than 250 students?) and the various civil service laws that are referenced.

Parent Roundtable
    We would like to invite a group of parents of public school children with whom we have worked, and whom we trust, to a roundtable discussion of schools and children’s needs.  We plan to videotape the discussion.  Several possibilities came up:

 * a potluck dinner or wine-and-cheese at one of our apartments (181st St.)
 * a discussion at donated conference space (i.e. Alianza Dominicana, Harlem Children’s Zone, Abyssinian Development Corporation, Bank Street College, the Schomburg Center, the Parks Department, Fleet Bank)

February 5, 2003
    Meeting at Bank Street College and Tom’s Diner on W 112th St., we examined the budget and other documents from the Bronx Charter School for the Arts, donated kindly by Xanthe Jory.  We found ourselves overwhelmed, as expected, not only by the scope of the budget but also the enormous amount of building costs and fundraising.  Xanthe’s documents are our first look into a successful charter application package, and will serve as important touchstones for us.  Thanks, Xanthe!
    We continued by looking over another part of the charter law—the section on requirements for application.
    The majority of our meeting was spent completing our separate applications to New Leaders, New Schools.
    We ended by discussing the term “at-risk,” which has troubled us for some time.  Since we aim to address the educational needs of the children whom the public schools are failing the most, we must understand what “at-risk” means in all its connotations.  We would like to hold a council sometime in the future with people who can focus our ideas on what terms that can be profoundly politicized, such as “at-risk,” “handicappped,” “learning disabled,” and “special needs,” actually mean.  Would our school serve only the most at-risk students?  Would we seek a balance of at-risk and not at-risk students?

February 12, 2003
    Meeting at Bank Street College of Education, we started by reading the overview of a successful charter school applicant, Bronx Charter School for the Arts. We were impressed by the inclusion in the school plan of aspects devoted creating a particular school culture, namely collaboration and ongoing adultreflection and staff development.
    We then re-read the application section of the New York Charter Schools Act of 1998.  We have decided to read or re-read a small portion of the law each week, so as to gain a gradual expertise in its requirements and nuances.
    Finally, we began in earnest our long conversation about the term "at-risk," by selecting books from the Bank Street Library on the subject.  We intend to build a bibliography of books and articles on at-risk children: what defines them, how public schools have failed them, and how they find success in school.  Your suggestions are welcome; we begin with Wilson & Herbert, Parents and Children in the Inner City and Rhodes & Brown, eds., Why Some Children Succeed Despite the Odds.

Your Feedback
    Melissa Rocha wrote in asking about a Board of Trustees.  Though we have not yet addressed it in these newsletters, one of the main pieces of advice we have received from many of you is, "Build your board."  Basically, as Melissa puts it, we do need to create a " a high-level board of local educators," aside from including other roles.  The question is, how do we target the "right people"?  This topic is part of our ongoing conversation.
    Jaime Bennett wrote about the parent council we expect to have (see below).  He offered to extend his services in contacting parents through the Studio in a School program.  Thanks Jaime, we'll be taking you up on that!

February 26, 2003
School Visits
    Thus far we have only been able to complete one school visit—Steve’s visit to Brooklyn’s Explore Charter School on January 23.  We had scheduled a visit to the James F. Oyster School, a dual language immersion bilingual elementary school in Washington, DC, during our February vacation, but the blizzard shut the school down until Friday.  We postponed our visit, hoping for a more optimal day to observe than the one following an unexpected week of closure.
    Aside from Oyster, we are looking into visiting several other schools.  We have contacted Hunter College Campus Schools’ elementary school, hoping its vacations would differ from ours since it is not under the auspices of the Dept. of Education.  They do not.  We suffered similar snow difficulty during our vacation week trying to visit our backup schools—Massachusetts’ Mission Hill School (started by Deborah Meier of the Central Park East schools) in Roxbury and Marblehead Community Charter School in Marblehead, which offers an excellent model for ongoing professional development.  We hope to visit at least one of these three schools during our next vacation, which runs from April 17 to April 27.
    Finally, we will be visiting two Harlem schools in the same day, on March 12.  In lieu of our regular meeting that Wednesday, we will be observing the last hour of instruction at The East Harlem School at Exodus House, a private preparatory middle school.  Following that we will visit the Reisenbach Charter School in Central Harlem.  We had dinner with Faith Jefferson and her two daughters—one of whom was Margaret’s student two years ago and both of whom now attend Exodus—on February 28, arranging to visit the school with Faith and observe.  At Reisenbach, we will attend a meeting of Teach For America alumni to discuss the organization’s future.

    We met at Bank Street College with guest speaker Josie Carbone, who told us about her visit to charter schools in Oakland during the February vacation week.  She brought back resources on all of the Oakland charter schools and specific information on the two she visited, Lighthouse Charter School and Ascend.  She and we were impressed with the schools’ ability to set high expectations and engage students in interdisciplinary project-based learning.  Although special education remains a challenge (we are starting to see a pattern in charter schools), professional development (including a retreat at one school) and parent involvement are strengths of both schools.  For more details, email us back.  Thanks Josie for all the info!
 Finally, we set a tentative date for the parents council and firmed up our calendar for the upcoming weeks.  Following the TFA meeting on the 12th, we tentatively hope to meet with Sam Baharvar to sign nonprofit incorporation papers (thereby starting our fundraising in earnest) on the 19th.  On the 26th we will begin contacting parents for the parent council.  By that time we should have set location.  Currently the options include Bank Street (112th and Broadway), the Schomburg Center (135th and Lenox Ave.) and the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building (125th and A.C.Powell Blvd.), suggested by Davia Franklyn.
    Easter vacation approaches after that, and as mentioned above we hope to observe either Oyster School in Washington, or Marblehead and Mission Hill in Massachusetts.

March 5, 2003
    We met with Xanthe Jory of the Bronx Charter School for the Arts at the Bronx Arts office in Hunts Point.  Xanthe was kind enough to go over her application with us in depth.  We talked about the development of the school’s board, budget, planning team, work plan, and mission.
    In discussing our own progress toward a unified mission, we set the goal of creating a timeline for our own school leadership retreat by the end of this school year.  Of course, our timeline depends to a great extent on our status with New Leaders, New Schools.  Ideally, we would be able to set a retreat date for some time in the next calendar year.

March 24, 2003
    Due to Parent-Teacher conferences at our current school on March 12 and 13, our scheduled visits to Reisenbach Charter School and East Harlem’s Exodus House school were canceled.  (For this reason, we decided not to send out a newsletter last week.  We plan on not clogging inboxes unnecessarily.)

Parent Council
    On March 19, we contacted the Schomburg Center for African-American Research, among other institutions, for use of space for our parent council.  The Schomburg was the only institution we contacted—including Bank Street College and the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building—willing to make an exception and grant us meeting space gratis.  We are in the process of finalizing our list of invites and contacting parents of Harlem, Washington Heights and the South Bronx for the council, which will take place from 6 to 8 pm on Wednesday, April 9.  Suggestions are welcome!

Nonprofit Status
    Finally, our scheduled meeting with Sam Baharvar, Esq., to incorporate as a non-profit was postponed indefinitely.  In the course of his research on our behalf, Sam retrieved the necessary documents to incorporate, but realized on the advice of other lawyers that it is best to leave this work to a specialist, to ensure that all the proper steps are taken.  He is looking into service providers, and we will contact the Charter School Resource Center and, on Xanthe Jory’s advice, the Lawyers Alliance of New York for help in the matter.

Charter Conference (March 22, 2003)
    We attended the annual conference of the New York Charter Schools Resource Center.  We were energized by the speakers and panelists, and gained NYCSRC’s resource packet as well as helpful advice about the steps in this arduous process.  We found that we are engaged in or planning to work on all of the seven or so basic steps the association lists as necessary to start a charter school.
    We also, of course, made contacts, meeting an army lieutenant who runs a military intermediate school program in our school’s neighborhood and is looking to turn charter.  We at last met Gerry Vazquez, the president of the group, and discussed its planning grant and other contact we could have with it.  Finally, we learned from Linda Brown about the Building Excellent Schools Fellowship, which is similar to NLNS but specifically for future charter school leaders.  Based in Massachusetts, this program is turning national, and Linda was very excited as we were about the prospect of having one of us go through NLNS while the other goes through Building Excellent Schools.

April 22, 2003
Fellowships Update
    Margaret had her final round interview with New Leaders, New Schools on March 29.  Although she was not accepted, Margaret learned about many of the day-to-day challenges that school leaders go through and had a tremendous learning experience.
    Steve will be interviewing with a similar program, based in Massachusetts but going national, on April 25.  The program is called Building Excellent Schools (, and is designed specifically for people starting charter schools.

Parent Council (April 9, 2003)
    By all accounts, the Parent Roundtable at the Schomburg Center was a success.  Five parents (and three children) were present, all of students from Margaret’s third grade class.  As it were, three of the parents represented two families who have removed their children from two charter schools in New York City because they were very dissatisfied.
    The parents spoke passionately about the need for better schools in Harlem, for over an hour (we ran out of room on the microcassette tape!).  “Why isn’t there a good school in Harlem?” asked one parent.  We will be transcribing the discussion and posting it on the website.  Generally the discussion focused on:

    * schools and teachers making caring for children the top priority. “If it’s not about children, I can’t be a part of it…The teachers are with your child more than you.”
    * the need for appropriate financing in a charter school. “No money with strings attached.”
    * parent participation in children’s education.  “Where I’m at, a lot of parents aren’t at…Parents make or break a school…In the public school system, instead of helping you, they become so complacent.”

The discussion raised many issues for future talks, primarily how to engage parents who are already disenchanted with schools or don’t have the skills or habits necessary to negotiate a school’s culture and express their needs appropriately.
    Food was generously donated by A Slice of Harlem II and  Manna’s Too Restaurant, and the space was donated by the Schomburg.  At the conclusion of the roundtable, Margaret gave to the parents Dover Thrift Edition poetry books purchased from the Schomburg bookstore as thank-yous.

Distinguished Speaker Series
    As alumni of the TRI graduate program at Bank Street College, we were both invited to attend the college’s annual Distinguished Speaker Series.  On March 27 and April 3 and 15, Michelle Fine, Ronald Ferguson and Jonathan Kozol, respectively, spoke at the college.
    Michelle Fine, also a speaker at our Bank Street graduation, presented qualitative research in which she sought the perspective of students from lower socioeconomic levels, making them partners in her research.  She decried the latest wave of standardized tests as not showing the true range of students’ ability, and framed the achievement gap as an “opportunity gap.”  Low-tracked students face low expectations, have no access to academic rigor.  Students from families with more resources receive “private props” like tutoring or test preparation programs can seek it on their own, and the cycle continues. She spoke inspirationally as “how to be of use in hard times.”
    Ronald Ferguson presented his very quantitative research on the achievement gap among blacks, Latinos and whites (ironically, using national standardized tests).  He correlated the gap beginning to widen after 20 years of closing around 1991 with black students’ higher probability of dropping out, and the popular rise of hip-hop, and discussed the rift between the home life of many black families and the expected school life of many schools.  He offered his Tripod Project as a solution, comprised of three pillars: relationships; teacher mastery; and efficacy of implementation.  His provocative research is online at
    Finally, Jonathan Kozol injected a dose of 1960s-style activism and raised some people’s tempers in painting a stark picture of the disparity between schools for privileged children and those for poor children.  The author of Death at an Early Age and Savage Inequalities, among other titles, decried the segregation that still exists and the “archaic and undemocratic way of financing public education.”  As any speaker would, he used rhetoric, painting with broad strokes and using anecdotes out-of-context.  But we appreciated much of it, as he called segregated schools “apartheid schools,” and railed against the fact that Head Start only has room for 25% of children in poor neighborhoods.  One comment, directed to the Bank Street audience, resonated in particular as we prepare to leave our school this summer: “Teachers like you leave such schools.”
    These speakers raised important issues for our school, some we were already thinking about (such as family and student engagement) and others we had not thought about for a while (such as the need for excellent, socioeconomically integrated schools).  Attending them also reinforced the benefits of ongoing professional development and education/social justice conversations among staff.

Next Meeting/Future
    As we have been planning the Parent Roundtable, we have not had any regular meetings.  Nor will we soon, as we are now beginning spring recess from school.  Our next meeting will be Wednesday, May 7, though we are trying to arrange a meeting before then with Gerry Vazquez, our new friend at the New York Charter School Resource Center.
    We are also considering our choices for next year, particularly looking into planning grants so we can supplement part-time work and have the ability to observe many schools and build our schools’ founding team and board.  Much like NLNS, we are now waiting for Building Excellent Schools to see if Steve will have another option in addition for next year.

May 10, 2003
Next Year's Home: Building Excellent Schools
    We have realized that our rejection from New Leaders, New Schools was a blessing in disguise.  While NLNS would give us intensive leadership experience, Building Excellent Schools, the program both of us plan to complete next year as fellows, will support us every step of the way in starting a charter school.
    BES begins with retreats in May and June, followed by two months of intensive summer coursework, all in Boston.  In the fall we return to New York to begin writing our charter application to a New York State authorizer, and to intern and observe in excellent charter schools.  We will be the first fellows BES has had outside of Massachusetts.
    BES usually has six fellows, but the program is making room for the both of us to count as one fellow.  Unfortunately, this means that we will be splitting the $50,000 stipend that comes with the program.  We have contemplated fundraising by asking friends and relatives for donations as a way to jumpstart our funding before we establish ourselves as a nonprofit, which can take up to six months. In the meantime, we are seeking a nonprofit group to serve as a fiscal agent.  We are in the process of contacting Harlem Children’s Zone, formerly Rheedlen, a nonprofit organization we expect to work with in the coming years, to request this favor.
    On the whole this program is a very exciting development for us, and solidifies our plans for next year.  It also likely accelerates our timeline for seeking approval for the charter, meaning we may actually be opening in 2005-2006 instead of the following year as expected.

Latest Meeting: NY Charter School Resource Center
    On Wednesday, May 7, we met with Gerry Vazquez of the New York Charter School Resource Center at his office in midtown.  In the two hour meeting, we discussed charter school trends and difficulties, and laid out our philosophy and rationale while Gerry quizzed us and challenged us to stretch our thinking.
    We left the meeting with a very positive feeling and a vote of confidence from Gerry, who has already been immeasurably helpful.  (It is through the NYCSRC’s Walton Family Foundation grant that we will be funded for Building Excellent Schools.)  It is clear that we have a lot of work to do in the coming months and years, from crystallizing, articulating and supporting our own pedagogical ideas, to networking and forming a strong base of support in Harlem and, of course, looking for a site(s).

Possible Math Focus
    Our discussion didn’t end with our meeting with Gerry Vazquez.  Over a business dinner, Margaret suggested that perhaps our school should have a math focus.  Ideas such as the “Harlem Math Lab” and “Harlemath” came up.  The reasons for such a focus are many: math education in New York City is probably in greater need than even literacy; math lends itself to interdisciplinary and project-based instruction, vehicles we anticipate exploring a great deal; and we could have a broad impact on math instruction in the city with carefully constructed relationships with other organizations (like City College’s Math in the City), serving as a model school for best math practices.
    This idea is in its initial stages and any feedback or ideas are welcome.

Near Future
    Our schedule will take us to Boston on May 14 and June 11 for retreats the following three days in each instance.  In the meantime, we have copious amounts of text to read in preparation.  It is unlikely we will continue the meeting structure we have been using, instead setting aside time to read in the short-term.

Anti-Charter Bill
    Assemblyman Steven Sanders of Manhattan recently introduced Assembly Bill 4236 to the State Legislature.  According to the New York (State) Charter Schools Association, the bill “would severely weaken New York’s Charter School Law in a number of ways.”  The bill seeks to cut funding to charter schools and impose a three-year moratorium on new charter approvals.
    Information about opposing the bill and the bill itself can be found on the Association’s website,, or by calling the Association at (888) 465-4401.

May 20, 2003
Fellowship Update: Building Excellent Schools
    We began our fellowship with Building Excellent Schools ( on Thursday, May 15, with a three day retreat in Boston.  Reading powerful assigned articles and book chapters prepared us to meet with our new cohort members, five Massachusetts residents seeking to start their own schools.  Our fellow fellows include a veteran trial lawyer; an experienced Saturday school teacher; a budding real estate baron; a community activist and former teacher who works with pregnant teens; and a Russian immigrant with a chemistry PhD, expertise in engineering, and her own contracting business.
    The readings focused largely on building a professional learning community,  something we find sorely lacking in the schools in which we’ve taught.  The retreat gave us an opportunity to understand the scope of the fellowship, and a sense of the schedule, as well as to reflect on the readings with our thoughtful colleagues.
    From here on out (as our leaders pointed out, in July this will become “our jobs”), Building Excellent Schools will determine what we do with our time in creating our school.  The program is so structured and supportive that we feel as if two giant hands are holding us, comforting and preparing us for every step.

Vision Statement
    One of the first tasks we have in the fellowship is to articulate a one-page vision statement.  On the advice of Jon Bacal and others, we have considered this step before, but never felt the urgency we do now.  We have always wanted many voices to contribute, perhaps slowing us down, but we are now ready.  There are some on this list who have already said, whether explicitly or not, that they would like to help us articulate our vision.  Please email if you, too, would like to see our first draft when we complete it and give us feedback.

Now We're Calling on You to Help
    We have always known that starting an excellent school is going to require the help of a lot of people. For the first time, however, thanks to the fellowship we are prepared to actually start talking and getting down to business.
    So, this is the time to let us know how you would like to help.  Throughout the next three months, we will be meeting with folks face to face (preferably) and over the phone, discussing in greater detail our plans and how they can help.  Please let us know if you would like to have one of those conversations and, just as importantly, please refer to us friends, acquaintances and other people you know who might be interested in helping us or just finding out more.  We need help from people with areas of expertise in virtually every field, not just education, as we are essentially starting a company as well as a school.

Schedule Update
    On June 12, we will head back to Boston for the second and final retreat.  The program begins in earnest on July 7 in Boston, from which time on we will be splitting our time between Boston (coursework and planning) and New York (legwork, organizing, meeting with people) until September, by which time the educational plan portion of our application will be complete.
    Our tentative aim is to apply to the State University of New York Charter Schools Institute by July 1, 2004.

July 23, 2003
New Name: Harlem LINK Charter School
    In deliberating over the mission of our school, we have changed names again to reflect our purpose.  Math and Science were at the core of our earlier thoughts, but we have realized that we are looking more to create a school where children make connections across the disciplines, through project-based learning and higher-order thinking.  LINK refers to many things: connections between subjects, home and school, Harlem and the world, and everyday life with newly learned abstract concepts.  LINK tentatively stands for "Literacy Integrated with Numeracy for Learning," but we are unsure at this point whether this accurately or creatively reflects our mission.

Fellowship Update: Building Excellent Schools
    We have literally plunged into our Fellowship as of July 6, 2003. That Sunday evening we pulled up at Northeastern University where we will stay for our summer sessions in Boston. The amenities are humble, but the view of the city is quite spectacular. However, we have limited time to enjoy it because we spend most of our waking time at BES headquarters in Downtown Crossing.
    So far we have had crash course sessions about curriculum, child development, and founding and governing boards, while also squeezing in some time to read several articles and to write Harlem LINK’s mission and vision statements and needs statement. We are also racing to complete a planning grant application due August 1.
    For the most part the Fellowship has been amazingly useful and it’s an honor to work with such intelligent, dynamic people (see below).

Our Fellow Fellows
    Our group is made up of eleven people from diverse backgrounds. There are six fellows who plan to start schools in six different locations in Massachusetts, a fellow beginning a school in New Jersey, another starting a school in Washington, DC, another starting a school in South Texas on the border of Mexico, and of course two amazing fellows are founding a school in Harlem, New York.
    The fellows bring with them incredibly diverse funds of knowledge. We are working alongside educators, lawyers, scientists, and social activists all for the common vision of creating schools that promote excellence in education.

Founding Team Update
    We are actively recruiting founding team members who will work with us on the startup of the school for the upcoming year. We need people who are interested in education and who have the desire to see families in under resourced communities have an alternative to traditional public schooling if it is not meeting the needs of their children. We are looking into people who have education expertise as well as financial, legal, public relations, community organizing, and fundraising experience. If you or anyone you know would be interested with any part of this mission please contact us immediately.

New Contact Information
    Our yahoo email account, the home of Harlem Education Project’s early beginnings will be phased out, effective IMMEDIATELY. We now have Building Excellent Schools addresses ( and You will be receiving the newsletters from Steve’s account, but you may write to either one of us or both!

August 11, 2003
Fellowship Update: Building Excellent Schools
    Still going strong after six weeks into the fellowship. Since the last time we have delved into several other topics such as ELL or second language learners, special education, school culture and code of conduct, assessment, school growth, school accountability, financial planning, and organizational structure. As you can imagine our heads, while sponging up all of this wonderful information from the experts, are spinning!
    When we are not in sessions and back in New York we’ve been meeting with potential founding team members, writing a grant, and writing parts of the application.
    After August, for the rest of the year we will be in New York for the majority of time working on the charter and building our founding team.

Founding Team Update
    We have one board member and are looking into more folks. Again, we are actively recruiting founding team members who will work with us on the startup of the school for the upcoming year.
    Several of you have expressed interest in helping out with our educational plan; we will be sending out drafts of our Educational Philosophy and Needs Statement, among other documents, for your review.  We are always seeking people who are interested in education and who have the desire to see families in under-resourced communities have an alternative to traditional public schooling if it is not meeting the needs of their children. We are looking into people who have education expertise as well as financial, legal, public relations, community organizing, and fundraising experience. If you or anyone you know would be interested with any part of this mission please contact us.

September 5, 2003
Fellowship Update: Building Excellent Schools
    After a summer that seemed like it was spent mostly in Boston, Steve and Margaret got back down to business in New York, furiously writing components for the charter school application (see Design Team update below) in time for a September 8 internal deadline.  The goal is to apply to SUNY Charter Schools Institute by March 1, 2004.  There is whispering on the wind, however, of the benefits of applying to the chancellor’s office.  Deadlines for that office are unclear, but if flexible we would expect to aim for March 1 also.

Big meetings
    As we look to develop our Founding Board, Design Team, Parent Council and Board of Advisors, we will be having two big meetings in the next month to build support and capacity:
         * September 18, 3:30 pm at Bank Street College.  This information session will be Steve and Margaret’s coming-out party at the graduate school where they both received their Masters degrees.  There will be a presentation about the school’s plans, current state, and how Bank Street folks can get involved.  Essentially, the charter school is a school inspired by Bank Street.  Accordingly, they want the College to play some role in shaping and supporting it.  They have a separate meeting on October 1 with Jon Snyder, the dean of the graduate school.
        * October 2, 6:00 pm at the Schomburg Center for Black Research.  This is an information session designed more for the general public than the Bank Street one. We are inviting folks who are interested in helping out.  We will be presenting the roles and responsibilities of Founding Board members, and discussing other ways people can get involved.

Design Team Update
    When we send out the latest drafts of our documents on or before September 8 to our fellowship coordinators, we will also be sending them out to Design Team members, folks from or not from this newsletter who have indicated a willingness to help.  We’ll be courting your feedback.  There will be a bundle of documents.  You only need look at and seriously review the ones you think you can help the most with.  The bundle includes (some of these items may be packaged together):
        -mission statement
        -student enrollment rationale
        -executive summary (including needs statemmment and educational philosopy)
        -school calendar and class schedules
        -student achievement goals (alternatively called performance standards)
        -learning standards and curriculum (for liiiteracy only for now)
        -assessments (state, other standardized, aaand other)
        -special education population
        -English language learner population
        -students at risk of academic failure
        -board qualifications
        -organizational chart

Here is a list of the Design Team members. Some of these members have volunteered to be long-term participants and some are offering specialized advice on a more informal basis.  If you would like to join, or only receive certain documents, let us know with an email:

Josie Carbone
Autumn DeVos
Jane Doherty
Devin Kearns
Nicole Kerr
Keri MacNeil
Jessica Nouikas
Milo Novelo
Marika Paez
Lori Piete
Mark Ryan
Nathan Warner
Marc Waxman

Our September Schedule
    In the next week we will be on vacation, returning September 15.  Following school visits on the 16th and 17th, and our Bank Street meeting on the 18th, we head back to Boston for Building Excellent Schools sessions the week of Sept. 22.
    On Sept. 29 we return for a few weeks, including our Oct. 2 forum at the Schomburg.  At that time we will be assembling one or more Design Team meetings to go through the documents more thoroughly.  We will also be beginning to address the budget and other organizational documents for the application.

October 3, 2003
Meetings: Bank Street College and Schomburg Library
    It’s been incredibly busy these last few weeks, especially with meetings. In the past five days alone we have had ten meetings. Although all have been invaluable, the two we are extremely excited about are the two information sessions we held.
    On September 18, we held an information session at Bank Street College, where we both earned Masters degrees in 2001. We were well received by seventeen members of the staff and faculty. We walked away with challenging questions to consider about the school’s operation, about fifteen staff members ready to serve on the design team, and interest among several of the attendees for a formal partnership of some kind between Harlem Link and Bank Street.
    We had a more general info session for members of the Harlem community on October 2, at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. At this meeting we found interested people who would like to work with the school’s founding board or with the Community Outreach Group (COG), which we introduced at the meeting. COG will be at the center of the school’s development stages as well as when the school is fully operational. Members of COG will be parents and active citizens who will reach out to the Harlem community, enabling Link to meet the needs of all its future students and families.

Authorizer Choice: Chancellor or SUNY
    We also had a meeting with the director of the charter school office at the Department of Education. One purpose of the meeting was to explore the prospect of applying to the Chancellor instead of SUNY. Applying through the Chancellor may grant us an opportunity for a school space within an existing public school. However, the drawback is that we have already begun the application for SUNY and are preparing to submit on March 1, 2004. If we decide to apply through the chancellor we would need to wait until September 30, 2004 to submit the application.
    There are advantages to both options.  As we are in solidarity with the other public schools, we seek to make connections to them for professional development and other projects, and applying through the chancellor gives us a head start.  Meanwhile, SUNY has built an impressive track record in authorizing and supporting charter schools across the state.  We are still deliberating and plan to speak to our founding board and our fellowship about this choice.

Founding Team Update
    We are very pleased to announce that we now have two new founding board members in addition to our faithful first:

Kathy Egmont: head of Children’s Storefront School Pre-K through 8th grade in Central Harlem, first founding board member of Harlem Link
Susan Goetz-Haver: Co-chair of the Teacher Education Department at Bank Street College, faculty member
John Reddick: consultant for Housing Authority, grant provider for Trust for Public Land,
certified day care and karate instructor

    We are also in the process of forming relationships with people with law and finance expertise as well as members of community based organizations in Harlem. Right now we would like to focus our energies on finding members directly involved in the Harlem community and are especially focused on finding people who have real estate, public relations, and finance experience.

State of the application
    At the present we have several portions of the application in the revisionary stages. We have given documents to several design team members to critique with  feedback. We are also about to expand our curriculum section, and start new sections including the operating budget, human resources, and community and parent outreach. Stay tuned!

October schedule
    During this month we will be in New York October 1-10 and 20-24. We will be in Boston for sessions with Building Excellent Schools from Oct. 13-17 and 27-31.

November 10, 2003

SUNY as the authorizer
    Many of you may have read about the New York City Schools Chancellor’s recently announced plan to create up to 50 new charter schools in New York City.  However, after deliberating with our board and our fellowship about whether or not to apply to the Chancellor instead of SUNY, we have ultimately decided to remain with SUNY as our potential authorizer. Choosing SUNY allows us to apply on  March 1, 2004 instead of September 30, 2004, which will guarantee us, if chartered, a full planning year before the school opens in 2005.

Founding Team Update

Founding Board
     We are very pleased to announce that we now have another new founding board member in addition to our first three:

Kathy Egmont:     Head of Children’s Storefront School Pre-K through 8th grade in Harlem, first founding board member of Harlem Link
Susan Goetz-Haver:  Co-chair of the Teacher Education Department at Bank Street College, faculty member
John Reddick:  Consultant for Housing Authority, grants provider for Trust for Public Land, and certified day care and karate instructor
Kate Grossman:  Community Development Officer at LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corp.)

     We are also in the process of interviewing other potential board members, who have finance and community organizing expertise. We are still actively looking for board members from community based organizations in Harlem as well as individuals who have public relations and law backgrounds.

Design Team
    Since completing drafts of the education plan of Harlem Link, it is now time to bring educators together to offer their expert advice. Our plan is to have members of the design team read sections of the draft pertaining to their subject areas of interest and expertise, and then come together with others who have read the same sections to discuss the drafts’ strengths and weaknesses. We plan to hold this meeting in the second week of December. If you are on Harlem Link’s education design team, please check your schedule for availability, and look forward to an email invitation later this week. If you have not yet joined but are interested in becoming involved, please email us and let us know what part of the education plan is of most interest to you.

State of the application
    We have an internal deadline with Building Excellent Schools on November 14th. At that time we will submit to BES drafts of the following parts of the application:
 *Executive summary: education philosophy and needs statement
 *curriculum plan/performance standards grades K-5
 *Special Education
 *At risk students
 *School growth plan
 *Student enrollment
 *Yearly calendar and daily schedules
 *HR Plan: Personnel policies and staff qualifications
 *Organizational chart
 *Board responsibilities and obligations

Fellowship update: Facilities tour and School visits
Facilities Tour
    As part of the Building Excellent Schools Fellowship, we were guided around Boston looking at potential charter school facilities in various stages of repair, disrepair and use.  We looked at schools that were converted from factory and warehouse space, offices, churches and other schools.
    We got a sense of what we are looking for in a facility for our first year of operation (2005-2006).  Having been advised against attempting to buy cheap for various reasons, we will next year begin looking for a short-term lease in a school-ready space, approximately 10,000 square feet.  One of the wonderful aspects of charter schools is the creativity they have shown with using space.  We are delighted by the challenge of finding an appropriate space for Harlem Link.

School Visits
    The fellowship has taken us to several schools since doors opened again in September, in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts.  Spending two to four hours at each school, visiting in classrooms and talking with school leaders, we have focused on innovative roads to success as well as adherence to a powerful mission. What has amazed us the most has perhaps been the diversity of the schools.  From the focused, in-your-face achievement-driven energy at KIPP to the more relaxed, still standards-centered methods of Lawrence Community Day to the exploratory, arts-focused curriculum of Hilltown Cooperative, we have seen the gamut.  Feel free to email back for more information about any one school.
    The following is a list of the schools we have visited so far, with more to come:

North Star Academy Charter School, Newark, NJ
P.S. 1, Chinatown, New York, NY
The Children’s Storefront, New York, NY
Bronx Prep Charter School, Bronx, NY
KIPP Academy Charter School, Bronx, NY
Academy of the Pacific Rim Charter School, Hyde Park, MA
Roxbury Preparatory Charter School, Roxbury, MA
SABIS International Charter School, Springfield, MA
Hilltown Cooperative Charter School, Haydenville, MA
Community Day Charter School, Lawrence, MA
Lawrence Family Development Charter School, Lawrence, MA
Lowell Community Charter School, Lowell, MA

December 16, 2003
Founding Board
     We are very pleased to announce that we now have two new founding board members in addition to our first four: Jonathan Barrett and Taij Moteelall.  See more information about all the board members at the end of the “Who’s Who” section.
     With the addition of someone with a background in law, our founding board will be well-rounded in terms of expertise and ready to apply to SUNY in March.  Upon granting of the charter, the board will transition into a Board of Trustees.  Of course, our board is still relatively small and growing and evolving will always be on the agenda.

     One of the first acts of the new, six-member board has been to form four committees to prepare for the March 1 application deadline.  Committees also have members who are not on the board, so all are welcome to bring their expertise.  Although membership on a committee does not carry the same responsibility and liability for the school as memership on the board, it is a serious and weighty endeavor.  Committees meet at least once per month and report out at each board meeting.
     The current committees are:

 * Education plan
 * Facilities
 * Finance
 * Community Outreach Group (COG)

     The Community Outreach Group is the one committee that has been going for a couple of months.  With three meetings in the fall behind us, the next meeting will be in mid-January.  The responsibilities of COG include being a voice for community members to have real input in the school and forming relationships with community-based organizations for potential partnerships.
     In last night’s COG meeting, kindly hosted by Bank Street College, we received valuable input from community members in assessing the school calendar we may propose, which has regularly scheduled classes in session for 192 days (10 days longer than the district public schools), and a week off from those classes every four to six weeks in addition.  COG has given us a wealth of ideas about how to use that time with children (while teachers are working on assessment, planning, and professional development), which include having a rotating teacher and cadre of volunteers take children on extended field trips around the city based on themes which the students are studying during their classes.  This “field work” may, however, require us to hire a full-time coordinator, which will be difficult on an already tight budget.

Design Team
    Our first open design team meeting at Bank Street on Dec. 11 was such a success that we are planning on having more in January, in addition to the next meeting on Thursday, Dec. 18 (  Many faculty members at Bank Street and public school teachers who are willing to help were unable to make either of these meetings because of busy December schedules, but we are receiving valuable feedback on our proposed learning standards, curriculum, and professional development plans for teachers.

State of the application
     We have written drafts of most of the sections required by the SUNY Charter Schools Institute.  The Design Team sessions and Education Committee of the board are informing and shaping our work.  All of the Learning Standards and curriculum overviews have been drafted, and are in deep states of revision (not unlike a deep state of meditation).  The budget is being worked over by the Finance Committee.
     Many of the finance questions, including banking and insurance, will be drafted following our training through Building Excellent Schools in January.  We expect to have a fully complete working draft of the application by February 1, to give us a month to have the fellowship review it and to ensure timely formatting and submission.

January schedules
     We are in Boston for training through Building Excellent Schools from January 5th to January 9th.  We will be in New York for the rest of the month.
     The next founding board meeting will be in mid-January, and the next Community Outreach Group meeting (to which all are invited) is scheduled for January 15.

January 24, 2004
New Mission Statement
     On February 8, we will finalize our Mission Statement at an extended Board meeting.  Currently we have revised it in part from the Board’s feedback at the January meeting:
Harlem Link Charter School, a K-8 public school, links academics, values and community.  Our graduates will be articulate scholars who achieve success in all academic areas and active citizens who learn and serve in their communities.  Students take an active role in learning and demonstrate good character in a safe, supportive learning community.
Proposal features
     Now that we are near the end of the application writing process, many questions are close to being answered and some unique programmatic components of our proposal have crystallized to a much greater extent.
     Co-teaching in every classroom: The type of instructional program we are proposing, which includes a mix of balanced literacy, constructivist math, inquiry-based work and skill building, requires a great deal of attention to individual student needs.  Two teachers are the minimum for what we believe is needed in each classroom.  Each classroom will feature one Lead Teacher and one Novice Teacher, with the former partly responsible for the professional growth of the latter.
     Longer school year: We are proposing a total of 212 days (as opposed to the norm of between 180 and 185). We will also develop a two hour extended day program, contingent on fundraising, that incorporates local expertise in various arts disciplines.  After-school (now called “Out of School Time” in the business) is a huge issue for many parents in Harlem, and Harlem Link will either provide an excellent program or assistance in finding one for each child.
     Fieldwork: Our plan sets aside 20 of the 212 school days specifically for Fieldwork, which includes field trips and other activities that relate to the content of the rest of the ‘regular’ school days, but take students out into the city to take advantage of Harlem and New York City as cultural resources.  Fieldwork days would generally be scheduled on Fridays.  In the middle school years (not part of our current application, which is for the first 5 years of the charter), much of this time will be taken up by internships at various local businesses and nonprofits, and days may be bunched together.  Fieldwork gives the co-teachers who are staying behind time to work on assessments, professional development and planning for the next unit.
     Partnership with Bank Street: Collaboration is at the heart of our professional development plan.  The co-teaching model we have developed not only requires it, but also gives teachers a way to advance their careers while staying in the classroom. We are working with Bank Street College’s new initiative, the Laboratory for Design and Redesign of Schools (LDRS) to create a professional “critical friends” community of several charter and/or non-charter public schools.  Part of this network would include raising funds to contract Bank Street for professional development.

Application update
     The SUNY Charter Schools Institute’s spring deadline, March 1, is fast approaching, and we are busy writing and (mostly) revising.

     We have drawn on 15 different sources—including standards from several different states and charter schools, national standards and curriculum guides—to put together our own Harlem Link Learning Standards.  We are in the process of revising and streamlining them, and including sample Performance Benchmarks, which would help teachers identify that children have indeed met the standards laid out.  At their best, standards should be used by teachers for three purposes: planning, instruction, and assessment.  We are formatting our standards with these purposes in mind.

Letters of Support
     We have solicited letters of support from various organizations, community and political leaders, and more are on the way.  Any ideas that would help to show SUNY that we are garnering community support and aligning ourselves with institutions and individuals who can help make the school a reality would be appreciated.

     Question 23 of the application requires evidence for parent demand for a new school. We know there is demand from our experiences teaching in Harlem.  However, as we are starting with kindergarten and first grade, we have not taught children who are potential students of our new school.  For the application, we plan on gathering at least 100 signatures of parents of children who could become those students, meaning parents of 3- and 4-year olds. The petitions should include complete addresses, which will be (redacted and not be subject to the Freedom of Information Act).
     We’re in the process of meeting that goal to send to SUNY our petition along with the application.  We have contacted day care centers, Head Start programs, and after-school programs to help out with this aspect.  We are emboldened by the news that 9,000 families signed up for 3,000 seats at new small Bronx high schools.  There is demand for new, small and rigorous schools, and we will prove it to the state!

March 18, 2004
Mission Statement
Harlem Link Charter School, a K-8 public school, links academics, values and community to graduate articulate scholars who meet or exceed New York State Learning Standards and active citizens who learn and serve in their communities.  Families, staff and community join together to provide a safe, supportive learning environment that empowers students to take an active role in learning and demonstrate good character.
Application Complete!
     We did it!  On the morning of March 1, we dropped in to the Charter Schools Institute (CSI) in Albany and dropped off our last year’s worth of work.  We lugged up to the fourth floor ten copies each of two volumes totaling about 900 pages— a total of 20 binders in 5 boxes—about 400 pages of each being photocopied curriculum.  To our surprise, the fifth floor of the building holds an inspiring coincidence, a program called New York Link.  We are hoping that CSI and Link are on good terms as neighbors so we can have that subconscious edge as they review our application.
      We offer many thanks to the folks who helped us complete this mammoth effort.  Countless eyes reviewed sections of the application.  Our friends Dave Kerpen, Jane Doherty, Imee Wilkins and Nancy Johnson helped us compile 75 parent signatures to accompany the application, and nineteen community leaders wrote letters of support, with others one the way, including:

Letters expressing general support:
 Jon Bacal, Director, SchoolStart
 Fran Barrett, Director, Community Resource Exchange
 C. Virginia Fields, Manhattan Borough President
 Xanthe Jory, Executive Director, Bronx Charter School for the Arts
 Richard Kahan, Director, Take the Field
 Eva Moskowitz, Chair, City Council Education Committee
 Tamara Oliver, New Song Presbyterian Learning Partnership
 Debbie Sostre, Assistant Principal, P.S. 242M

Letters from potential partners for contracting or services:
 Tom Cahill, Director, Studio in a School
 Patricia Cruz, Director, Aaron Davis Hall
 Lucy Friedman, Director, The After School Corporation (TASC)
 Warren Halliburton, Director, Family Advocacy Integrated Resources
 Linda Humes, Director, Yaffa Arts
 Sandra Jackson, Education Director, The Studio Museum in Harlem
 Carmen Maldonado, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC)
 Marline Martin, Director, Children’s Art Carnival
 Donald Notice, Director, West Harlem Group Assistance
 Tim Rutgers, Education Director, GreenThumb
 Jon Snyder, Dean, Bank Street College of Education
 Andy Stone, Director, The Trust for Public Land
 Clara Villarosa, Founder, Hue-Man Bookstore

Timeline for Chartering
     Next steps for Harlem Link:
• On April 1, we and our board will be interviewed by CSI.
• We will amend our charter according to SUNY’s directions.  The first of three rounds of Requests for Amendments will begin in the next two weeks.
• Assuming the amendments aren’t so severe that CSI decides to postpone or reject our chartering, in June we will be interviewed by the SUNY Board of Trustees.
• The board will make its decision on June 22 whether to recommend us for chartering or not.
• The state Board of Regents than has 60 days to act—approving, declining or asking for more amendments

     If we are rejected by Regents, SUNY can choose to override the decision.  If we are accepted, we will apply for IRS 501c3 exemption and begin our planning year.  Meanwhile, we will be finishing our residencies (see below) in May and continuing to travel to Boston for monthly Building Excellent Schools (BES) sessions.  We will also be working aggressively on finding a facility (the search has begun in earnest in Central Harlem) and developing a fund development plan.

Fellows Begin Residencies
     As part of our yearlong fellowship, BES has placed us us in two excellent charter schools to learn, observe and contribute for 10-week part-time stints.  Steve is at Harlem Day Charter School in East Harlem, and Margaret is at The Renaissance Charter School in Jackson Heights, Queens.  Steve is working on a manual for the Administrator’s position, reviewing Harlem Day’s data management system and helping prepare for the State Education Department’s April review of the school.  Margaret is helping with Renaissance’s coming Title I audit and assisting with development of early childhood social studies curriculum.

Harlem Day:

May 15, 2004

Application: Requests for Amendment Submitted
    As part of the review process under the State University of New York, we have received from SUNY two Requests for Amendment (RFAs) regarding our application for charter.  In each instance, we were directed to re-submit portions of the application with specific changes or additions or answers to SUNY’s questions.
    The first RFA asked us to clarify our mission statement in terms of achievement standards as opposed to learning standards.  It also asked for more information about the proposed internal assessment system, and assurance that we will be able to meet the fundraising goals in our budget.  For the former we submitted a sample unit of study plan with assessment opportunities and rubrics, and for the latter the latest draft of our Development Plan.  There were also other minor questions about proposed policies and procedures, including for Special Education students and English Language Learners.
    The second RFA asked for a year-long extrapolation of the assessments explained in the first RFA and our thoughts about school leader succession in regards to our Co-Director model.

    Read our Executive Summary (along with those of the other 6 spring applicants) in pdf format on the SUNY Charter Schools Institute website:

Fellowship Concluding
    Formal training through the Building Excellent Schools Fellowship in Boston comes to an end next week with our last trip to Boston for seminars.  In the past year, the Fellowship has provided our livelihood as well as innumerable resources in writing our application and building our talented founding board.  Though the formal part of the Fellowship is nearly over, the informal network will continue to sustain us.  Two fellows will turn in applications in New Jersey and Washington, DC in the next six weeks.  Two Massachusetts fellows have had applications approved and are planning to open 7th through 12th grade schools in 2005.
    This month also marks the official end of our residencies at The Renaissance Charter School and Harlem Day Charter School, though we will both be back for various reasons to follow up on our great experiences there.  At Renaissance, Margaret gained valuable experience in working with the cumbersome but crucial Consolidated Application for entitlement grants.  At Harlem Day, Steve shadowed the Administrator and put together a manual describing her responsibilities.  In both cases, these activities were only the tip of an iceberg of learning by observing and meeting with school leaders who have been running excellent schools.

Next Steps
    These are potentially anxious times for us, as we could receive word from the Charter Schools Institute on any day that our application will be discontinued.  We are hopeful that in this event, we will be invited to re-apply in the fall, still able to open in 2005 as promised.  In the meantime, we are awaiting a third RFA from the Institute and a possible interview in June or July with the Charter Schools Committee of SUNY’s Board of Trustees, which would make the final decision to authorize the school.
Community Outreach will continue as we make contact with the innumerable services available for families in Harlem and families of potential students themselves.  We made information available for the 115 parents who have signed our petition at an information session at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, which has kindly hosted our events for the past year, on May 13.
    Finally, we are beginning an action plan for the Planning Year, which prioritizes further developing curriculum and hiring teachers, finding a facility, putting our Development Plan into action and building a management information system to track student achievement.

June 16, 2004

The Good News
    While we are not officially chartered (yet), the outlook is good.  On Tuesday, June 15, the Charter Schools Committee of SUNY’s Board of Trustees met and strongly supported our application.  Of the seven spring applicant groups, we are among the three remaining (one of which we believe had applied previously last fall and was approved in a shortened process at the SUNY Board meeting last month).  The next big step occurs on Tuesday, June 22, when the committee presents its endorsement to the full SUNY Board for a vote.
     In other charter school news, New York City Chancellor Joel Klein formally announced that eight new charter schools will be opening this fall, including Harlem Children’s Zone’s Promise Academy.  New York Secretary of State Randy Daniels, Co-Chair of the SUNY Charter Schools Committee, also highlighted the Bloomberg administration’s tangible support for charter schools in the form of facility space.  The press release:

Application Process
    In the last month, we have completed another set of amendments as directed by the Charter Schools Institute (CSI), beefing up our learning standards a bit and tweaking policies to ensure we have all of our details aligned.  In addition, our proposed Board of Trustees met with the other Co-Chair of the Charter Schools Committee, Ed Cox, at the beginning of June.  Like the first interview with CSI staff, eight of our nine proposed board members were able to make it to the interview on short notice despite their busy professional schedules.  Our board was dazzling, showing off how coherent is our vision and what a key role each member has played in the design and planning for the school.

What’s on Deck
    If we are chartered on June 22, our first priority will be to celebrate—for the hard work we and our board have put in, the support of all our colleagues, friends and family, and for the families who have been demanding new schools in Harlem.
     Then the real work begins.  Before the summer is out, we will be completing an application for a federal charter school start-up grant.  Margaret is already shoring up her supervisory leadership skills, taking a Literacy and Leadership course at Bank Street College and serving as a Teaching Assistant in another.  We continue to investigate different organizations’ management information systems as we look to track data for student achievement.  Finally, with finding a building perhaps our most difficult task, the Facility Watch is on: thus far we have identified a shiny new building that a charter school is moving out of; a former archdiocese building that rumor has it the Department of Education owns and is renovating; and an older building previously occupied by a charter school, now owned (but not used) by the NBA Players Association.

September 15, 2004

Becoming Chartered
This should be the last newsletter you receive from the Harlem Education Project, since the next time you receive one of these, we will officially be Harlem Link Charter School.

We are only days away from finally becoming a real, actual entity.

SUNY Says Yes!
Since being approved by the State University of New York (SUNY) trustees on June 22, we have had an outpouring of congratulations from our friends and colleagues.  But we have been receiving support since we started seriously talking about this idea in January 2003, and without all this, we could not have written an excellent application and gotten the charter approved, so thank you!

Final Review by State Education Department
The final stages of the chartering process unfolded thusly.  In early August the State Education Department, governed by the Board of Regents, sent us a set of comments and questions about the amended application that SUNY approved in June.  With assistance from the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, we submitted our responses, mostly regarding compliance with State Education Department policies including those on special education, curriculum and purchasing.

Board of Regents Says Yes!
On Friday, September 10, the state Board of Regents voted to approve our application for charter, confirming SUNY’s decision.  The Regents will now prepare the articles of incorporation and within a few weeks Harlem Link will no longer be a gleam in the eye of nine proposed board members but a registered school!

Planning Year Goals
As we said in our mini-newsletter announcing that SUNY had approved our application, the real work begins now.  We have broken up the hundreds of tasks for this Planning Year into several categories:

    * Hiring & Personnel
    * Children & Families
    * Curriculum & Instruction
    * Facility
    * Board Development
    * Marketing & Fundraising
    * Administration & Infrastructure

Steve and Margaret are both taking leadership courses this month: Margaret on Curriculum and Instruction at Bank Street College of Education and Steve on the legal responsibilities of schools at Columbia University Teachers College/School of Law.

In addition, we will once again be visiting schools; we have compiled a list of dozens that we can turn to for best practices.  First on our list: a trio of favorites in Connecticut in early October: Amistad Academy in New Haven, New Beginnings Family Academy in Bridgeport and the University of Hartford Magnet School.  We have a nice, long list of schools to visit this year already growing, but feel free to send us any ideas of schools you recommend!

The Hundred Hundreds
We’re gearing up for fundraising with an initial Hundred Hundreds campaign.  Both the federal and state governments are offering grants to assist charter school operators in mitigating startup costs.  However, these grants do not cover the broad scope of the comprehensive planning year that starting an excellent school requires, and they suffer from an administrative lag due to a cumbersome appropriations process.  We will likely not see either startup grant until at the earliest November.

To raise funds in order to close the gap between now and when the startup funds start flowing, and to supplement those grants in meeting our general operating costs for these many activities, we will shortly begin a Hundred Hundreds campaign.  If one hundred people were to make a tax-deductible donation to Harlem Link of $100, we would raise a significant portion of the operating costs we need in the next two months.  One person’s gift could cover several of the hundred people we need—either by donating more than $100, or working at a company that offers matching grants.  (A donation in a friend or loved one’s name also makes a great birthday present!)

As it will be several weeks before Harlem Link is officially incorporated, we are finalizing the use of a nonprofit resource center as a fiscal agent for our donations, but we will be sending out word as soon as the campaign—and tax deduction status—is up and running.

October 19, 2004

Update: Hundred Hundreds
    As you know, in the last newsletter we announced the Hundred Hundreds campaign—an effort to raise $10,000 to meet a budget shortfall for the beginning of the planning year.  Many folks have responded, and we are part of the way there.  There are less than two weeks left—the last day to contribute to this campaign is October 31, so if you were planning on contributing, do it soon!  Remember, a letter from Harlem Link stating a gift has been sent in his or her honor makes a great early holiday gift.  At the end of this month’s newsletter, you will find a more detailed rationale for the need for Harlem Link’s Hundred Hundreds campaign.
    To contribute now, point your browser to, and click “Donate Now.”  Remember to put “Harlem Link” in the optional “Designation” box.
    To send a check, include a note that the funds are for Harlem Link’s startup and send to:

New York Charter School Resource Center
1 Penn Plaza, 36th Floor
New York, NY 10119

Planning Year Update
    The last time we wrote, we expected that by now you would be receiving newsletters from Harlem Link Charter School.  However, though we were approved by the Board of Regents on September 10, we are still waiting on our official incorporation papers to be filed.  Stay tuned for information on our incorporation in the coming weeks!

School Visits
    This month, three schools have played host to visitors from Harlem Link.  At P.S. 234 in downtown Manhattan, Margaret observed best literacy practices at a high-achieving district public school.  In Connecticut, we visited the University of Hartford Magnet School and New Beginnings Family Academy Charter School.  At the former, which features a school program and facility designed around “multiple intelligences,” we observed two co-teachers impressively leading a diverse class of 40 students.  At New Beginnings, we observed early childhood teachers using the Urban Education Exchange Curriculum.  This is the curriculum used at Harlem Day, where Steve spent several months in his spring 2004 residency.  While the Magnet school is not a charter school, it has a similar structure; it is a state-funded independent school, serving seven contiguous towns whose children enter a lottery to apply.  More school visits are scheduled for the coming weeks, including a trip to Massachusetts.

    Over the winter, we will begin heavy recruiting for new Trustees, our founding faculty, and our first class of students.

Hiring Teachers
    We are currently creating the hiring process for our first group of teachers, and will soon be building a small group to form the Hiring Committee.  Finding excellent teachers is always a challenge.  Our school offers a unique set of challenges and opportunities, and we will be using the elements of our Core Values and mission statement as guiding principles in recruiting and hiring an exceptionally skilled and caring staff.

Expanding Our Board
    In addition, we will be adding up to five Trustees to our Board in order to reach the size established in our charter agreement and to do the important committee work that it will take to get our school off the ground.  Beginning in December, we will be looking for folks with a variety of skills.  The Board, a diverse and select group of volunteers, is arguably the most important part of the school as it not only does long-term strategic planning but provides key oversight and is ultimately responsible for the success of the school.

Student Recruitment
    Finally, also beginning in the late fall/early winter, we will be recruiting students for our first classes at Harlem Link.  Without a building (and at first without a charter), dozens of parents have signed a petition supporting Harlem Link and claiming they would consider sending their children, and several more have called seeking information since the school was approved.  This exciting step—offering parents a much-desired choice for their children—will begin in full swing soon.

    Harlem Link's Planning Year Donor Proposal was added as an addendum to this newsletter.

December 10, 2004

    After thirteen weeks of waiting, word came from Albany on December 9th that Harlem Link’s incorporation papers are being signed.  We (finally) legitimately exist!  We are grateful to Gerry Vazquez and the New York Charter School Resource Center for serving as our fiscal agent and lending us their tax status, as it were, while we waited for the Board of Regents to act.  We can now move forward with applying for a federal 501(c)(3) exemption and receiving our federal startup funds.  It’s another big milestone as we inch closer to having children and teachers in classrooms!

Planning Year
    Despite not having our incorporation settled, our planning year has been in full swing.  We have had monthly board and regular committee meetings and have been pursuing all of the goals outlined in our plans.  Some highlights are listed below.

School Visits
In the last several weeks, we have been to many schools as per our goal of visiting model sites during our planning year.  We recently visited two schools in Massachusetts, one in Connecticut, and several in New York.  The startup KIPP school in Lynn, Mass. is a middle school with a strong college-focused mission.  We saw unity of purpose and vision and a remarkably safe, calm atmosphere for students.  At Codman Academy, a Massachusetts charter high school, we observed a different take on our idea of Fieldwork in action—each week, students are off-site one full day engaged in learning activities with partner organizations (with a younger population, we have opted to do this once every two weeks).

We gleaned numerous ideas from the tightly planned, disciplined school culture at Amistad Academy in New Haven, where consistent adult actions have led to children living out the school’s values.  At Excellence Charter School of Bedford-Stuyvesant, we saw children as young as kindergarten and first grade immersed in the college preparation mission—a rare and overlooked opportunity to set the tone at such a young age.  Margaret has also made several visits to Future Leaders Institute (FLI), a model Harlem elementary school that is in the process of converting to charter status.  FLI uses a significantly similar curriculum to that which Harlem Link will use and has a strong emphasis on professional development for teachers.  And finally, both Margaret and Steve have volunteered at the Girls Prep Saturday class, a program arranged by a fellow SUNY charter school opening on the Lower East Side in fall 2005.

Recruiting Families and Teachers
It’s incredible to think that we have been sending these emails out for two years now, and we are finally getting to the good part—offering children and teachers a place to go to school where they are expected to succeed and their work is valued.

For teacher recruitment, we will be using our website as the main vehicle for communication.  Currently you will only find back issues of our HEP Newsletter, but with the generous help of Chad Levinson and Jose Rivera we will soon be launching our official site, on which we will announce our teacher position application process.

As for children and families, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is generously hosting a number of information sessions for parents to learn more about the school, and to apply for admission.  Of course, all students who apply are eligible to enroll, a lottery determining entrance given too many applicants.  We will also be setting up information sessions at various other locations such as the Hue-Man bookstore and the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building, to give parents a variety of different dates and locations from which to choose.  The tentative dates for information sessions, which will be on our website at the end of next week, are:

Thursday, December 23, 2004 Schomburg
Tuesday, December 28 Schomburg
Wednesday, January 12, 2005 location tba
Saturday, January 22 Hue-Man Bookstore (tentative)
Thursday, January 27 Schomburg
Monday, January 31 Schomburg
Tuesday, February 8 State Office Building (tentative)
Wednesday, February 16 Schomburg
Thursday, February 24 location tba
Professional Development
In keeping with one of our Core Values outcomes (constant learning) and our charter, which states that adults as well as children are learners at Harlem Link, Margaret and Steve are undergoing various forms of professional development in preparation for the first school year in 2005-2006.  While Steve is finishing a joint course at the Columbia University Teachers College and School of Law on education law, Margaret is wrapping up her second curriculum leadership course this year at Bank Street College.  She has also attended workshops by City College’s Mathematics in the City, generously hosted by Future Leaders Institute.  In her coursework, Margaret is applying her activities directly to the classroom plans, building a professional development strategy and making the school’s demanding and rigorous standards accessible to teachers for planning and instruction.
Facilities: A Peek Into Our World
One of the biggest challenges faced by any charter school is securing adequate facilities.  The Facilities and Finance Committee of our board has been hard at work, talking to brokers and pounding the pavement scouring Harlem’s supply, commercial and otherwise.  Contrary to popular belief, in this booming area, there is space available!  However, generally, it needs work.

Our timetable for committing to a facility and raising the necessary funds to help the landlord build it out to become school-ready is partially dependent on assistance from the city Department of Education (DOE).  The Chancellor has publicly stated—and his Office of New Schools has told us—that the DOE will make every effort to supply every new charter school with temporary space.  Decision time is around the corner—the end of January, when the DOE announces which new applicants in its 2004 fall round have been awarded charters and will open with us in fall 2005.

We have our eye on the news: you may have read about the state court-appointed panel’s recommendation last week of a heavy monetary infusion into New York City schools.  The conclusion, following a 10-year lawsuit by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity in which the state’s highest court ruled that the city needs more money from the state in order to provide a “sound, basic education,” is that the city will need an additional $5.6 billion per year in state aid.  In the coming months the legislature, and perhaps the court directly, will determine the actual amount and how such money will be allocated.

If these funds do materialize and Chancellor Klein decides to use them to lower class size, as many observers expect, more classroom space would be needed and we may be locked out of what would otherwise by extra DOE space.  On the other hand, the panel also recommended an additional $9 billion earmarked toward facilities, which would help the DOE assist charter schools or directly flow to us, allowing us to afford a higher rent and leverage to raise necessary renovation funds.

Brett Paiser, founder of South Boston Harbor Academy, has famously said that “every charter school, at some point in its development, faces a crisis that threatens its existence.”  While we have (thankfully) not reached that developmental stage yet, the number of outside forces that affect our facilities status demonstrates the exciting entrepreneurial waters charter schools inhabit.  We ride the crest of a wave of autonomy, but our very independence and our greater accountability make us ever vigilant of the undertow.

Finally, thanks to all the folks who contributed to the Hundred Hundreds and given in other ways.  We will next week be publishing a fundraising letter explaining our unique planning year needs, and making a push this month to reach the Hundred Hundreds goal.  With our charter firmly in hand, we have now been reaching out to foundations that support charter schools and urban education for support as well.  We will not send this letter directly to our newsletter recipients, but please let us know if there are any folks in your circle who are looking for that end-of-the-year tax deduction and want to help a good cause and we will pass it along.

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Charter Schools and Charter Schools Information
SUNY Charter Schools Institute- one of the three New York State charter school authorizers

Bronx Charter School for the Arts- opened fall 2003 in Hunts Point

Charter Friends National Network- chock full of resources, always expanding and improving

New York Charter School Resource Center- the place to get information and resources about charters in NYC

New York City Center for Charter Excellence- a new foundation that supports and advocates for charter schools

Education Information
Citizens Committe for Children- a group that fights for the rights of children in New York

Coalition of Essential Schools- a network of progressive educators and schools guided by coherent principles

Council for Exceptional Children- a group which provides resources for children with special needs

Inside Schools- a program of the watchdog group Advocates for Children, with a huge database of info on New York City schools

Looking at Student Work- a coalition of educators who pay careful attention to what a child can do

No Child Left Behind- the home page of the controversial law that has implemented federal education accountability

No Excuses- "lessons from high-performing, high-poverty schools"

NYC Department of Education
NYC Test Score Information

NYS Learning Standards- the curriculum standards that guide instruction in New York State

Leadership Programs
Building Excellent Schools- based in Massachusetts, going national

KIPP School Leadership Program- the way to start a Knowledge is Power Program school

New Leaders, New Schools- for future principals and/or charter school leaders

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