TC Builds a School
Published in TC Today - Volume 34, No. 2
“The need for an outstanding school in the community has been well documented. But it is not in our interest to duplicate, replicate or undermine what is already flourishing in the community. We would like to know what’s important to you.” • Those words, spoken by Nancy Streim, TC’s Associate Vice President for School and Community Partnerships to a group of some 50 West Harlem parents and neighborhood leaders this past February, stand as TC’s guiding philosophy as it moves toward opening a new pre-K–8 public school in the area in fall 2011. • It’s a stance firmly rooted in positive experience. Streim and TC President Susan Fuhrman led the creation of the Penn Alexander School in West Philadelphia during the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Fuhrman was Dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate of School of Education. That effort, which serves as a model for developing the proposed new TC Community School, involved the neighborhood right from the beginning. Thus in Harlem, TC has consulted widely with community leaders and elected officials, as well as the New York City Department of Education, which has been enthusiastic about TC’s plans. “Two major priorities of DOE are creating great new schools and forging strong community partnerships,” says Debra Kurshan, Director of DOE’s Office of Portfolio Development. “This exciting new collaboration with TC lets us achieve both. We look forward to working with them to provide one more high-quality option for families.” • TC’s proposed school, which does not yet have a location, will serve pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, phasing in up to 500 students over five years. Streim told the group in February that, with Manhattan land scarce and expensive, it is likely that the school will start out sharing an existing structure but might get its own new building later. Pending final DOE approval, TC faculty will begin designing the curriculum for the school using the community’s input as guidance for their work. The goal is for the school’s population to represent the rich diversity of the neighborhoods it serves. Admission will not be determined by test scores or entrance tests. The Department of Education will work with Teachers College to decide whether the school will operate a zoned, choice or lottery system of admissions. • The school is intended to demonstrate how a higher education institution can effectively deliver comprehensive educational services in an urban community public school. • As a community institution, the new school will have TC’s assistance in bringing an array of academic, social and health services into the school to ensure student learning and support strong families and healthy communities. Student interns from TC will assist in and out of the classroom. Out-of-school-time learning experiences will be developed with TC in collaboration with community-based organizations to complement classroom instruction and broaden learning opportunities for children and families. • Once the school is open, Teachers College will have an ongoing role in its operation and will share accountability for student success. • Following Streim’s introductory remarks at the community meeting, parents ticked off their wish list for the school, including respect for students, teachers and parents; a balance of standardized testing with less traditional methods of assessment; and extensive use of the rich cultural and historical resources of Harlem as educational assets. They wanted the school to be a hub of community activity and offer a full array of community services, including health services, adult education, after-school programs and early childhood education. • Most important was the desire for the school to be accessible to parents and to communicate well with them. “I can’t be a partner with a bureaucracy,” said Shirley Carroll, a lifetime community resident who attended with her husband and preschool-aged son. • For Streim, it could have been a page taken from the school’s development plan. “We’ve all got the same vision,” she says.