Sunday, March 8, 2009

Emily Goodridge-Grey Charter School

Did you know that CARAG has its own elementary school? Many people don't - it's a small charter school located at 34th and Dupont (in the First Universalist Church). The Emily O. Goodridge-Grey Accelerated Charter School is sponsored by the Audubon Center of the North Woods, and has approximately 170 students in grades K-6. Among other things, the school focuses on a "sense of community and responsibility through service learning and environmental education." They're fairly new - the first academic year was 2007-2008 - so I'm guessing that there are many others out there who know little or nothing about this local school.

I had a difficult time finding much data about Emily Goodridge-Grey, in part because it's so new. The State offers some basic information, but the Emily Goodridge-Grey is so small that the data has limited use. Still, some useful facts from the 2007-2008 school year show that the school had a staff of 10, 60 percent of the staff is state-licenses while 30 percent is "in compliance by permission," and about half of the teachers hold Bachelor's degrees while another third hold Master's degrees. None of the teachers have taught for more than ten years, while 44 percent have less than three years of teaching experience. A glance at the school's staff and board roster and biographies shows an impressive range of interests, experiences, and areas of expertise.

I was surprised to see that despite the school's goals of diversity, the school itself was certainly lacking in that category: there were only 11 kids out of the school's 159 students who weren't black. Of those 11 there was some diversity: three American Indians students, one Asian, five Hispanic, and two. I don't know what percentage of the black students were African American and what percentage were either immigrants or were born to immigrant parents; that would add an element of diversity that may not be reflected in the these numbers.

There was also a lack of economic diversity; Emily Goodridge-Grey is classified as "high poverty," and 96 percent of its students qualified for free or reduced lunches. Diversity of academic skills seems to be lacking, too, with NO students (tested in grades three, four, and five) meeting math or science state standards. The school did slightly better with reading; a majority of students still failed to meet basic standards, but there were at least some students meeting and exceeding standards. These dismal test scores don't necessarily reflect upon the school or its offerings - the school was brand-new, and besides, teachers can't be held solely responsible for the many educational obstacles likely faced by many of their students - but I think they would be disturbing to a parent looking for a good school for his or her child.

I don't have to worry about a school for my own children yet, but I'll face that decision someday. I believe in public schools, and am open to the concept of charter schools. If I were evaluating this school for my child I would be concerned about the lack of economic and ethnic or at least racial diversity among the student body. Most significantly, I would be concerned about those test scores. It's not that I think the scores reflect an unprepared staff or a poorly designed curriculum, it's just that I think that a student working at or beyond the grade level standards would be slowed down or bored if the majority of his or her peers were working at a much lower level. I don't know if that's a bad thing for a kid who is working at a lower grade level; perhaps it means that there will be more resources available to help him or her progress. I'll leave that particular question to the education theorists.

Given the school's math scores, I find Emily Goodridge-Grey School's emphasis on self-esteem - the website references teachers referring to their "math geniuses" - a little silly. On the other hand, there are certainly kids who desperately need to hear from someone that they are smart and can do well in school. The kids at Emily Goodridge-Grey may well all be little geniuses just waiting for a caring teacher to encourage them and help them to develop a love of learning.

Emily Goodridge-Grey School does sound like an interesting place, and very well may offer its students a quality educational experience. The teachers sound enthusiastic, and perhaps some of the diversity issues will be resolved as it ages. In the meantime, I hope that the school can continue to carve out a niche in Uptown. I'm guessing that many of its students don't currently come from the neighborhood (not many high poverty families can afford to live in Uptown), but I hope that, too, will change with time. Emily Goodridge-Grey's current students may not be Uptowners in terms of place of residence, but they can still be part of the Uptown community. High quality public education for all children is essential for a successful society. Schools, too, can be a rallying point for a neighborhood, places where a sense of shared community can take root, whether or not the school's neighbors have kids in the school. I wish the Emily Goodridge-Grey Accelerated Charter School the best of luck, as well as a belated welcome to the neighborhood.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Blogger,

    Thank you for the thoughtful assessment of our school. You do understand our school when you said,"On the other hand, there are certainly kids who desperately need to hear from someone that they are smart and can do well in school."

    The statement you made is the only reason Emily Grey was created. When you look at our student population, it is true, we are not as diverse as our Board anticipated. However, there are an enormous population of student (the greatest proportion being black) that have not been served well in traditional schools. These parents are hoping and expect us to improve their children academically and socially, in a safe school environment. We believe we are doing that. It is true, our kids have underachieved in traditional programs. The point is if the viewers, families, community memebers take a closer look, they will see that we take learning seriously. Although we have started our third year and are still new, we are working to produce confident learners in an environment that is joyful and relaxing. I hope you can come visit and see for yourself. Everyone is welcome.

    Dimitri Russell-Executive Director