Essay

John W. Lavelle Preparatory Charter School

Our review:

September 2016 update: The school opened lower school grades, 3-5 in September 2016.

December 2014 update: In 2014, founding principal Evelyn Finn became Vice President for Academic Affairs and co-principal Dr. Howard Lucks was promoted to senior Principal. Chris Zilinski, a founding teacher at the school, is Lavelle Prepatory Charter School's new principal. 

January 2011 review: Lavelle Prep Charter School has an ambitious goal: to graduate and prepare all students for college, even those with severe disabilities. Founder and president, Ken Byalin, Ph.D., said that the school takes getting every student into college very seriously. Its motto, "Fair is not equal," means that students get the attention they need, and some students need more help than others. Most teachers are dually certified in special education. Each week all students take nine periods of math and English language arts, five of Spanish, four of social studies and science, and three of visual arts and creative movement.

The school opened in 2009 at the Elizabeth A. Connelly Campus in Graniteville and shares a building with the Staten Island School of Civic Leadership. Teachers visit other classes and help out on their prep periods. Classes are small, with no more than 17 students, and nearly every room we visited had three adults. Though most pupils worked diligently, advanced students were less engaged and sat, looking bored, after they finished their work. The administration has identified this as a problem and is working develop programs for these students.

During lunch, students who have detention go to homework club, where they eat lunch in a classroom and work on missed assignments. Students like the homework club at lunch because it shows that teachers care. "They don't let us fail," said

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one student. Principal Evelyn Finn said that many students liked being upstairs (in detention) so much that they started intentionally misbehaving. In response, the administration added other activities to give students safe, supervised free time. Now they can also participate in dance, cooking, board games or basketball. There are similar after-school activities and weekend community-service projects.

On our visit, Finn, who is accessible throughout the day, met with teachers and students, thoughtfully addressing problems and working through solutions. "Each kid has a different way to be handled," says Finn. "The basic rule is to identify the problem, get statements, address the issue and don't let anything fall by the wayside." In response to reports on bullying at the school, this and other topics are now covered in a wellness class. "Kids don't know that bullying equals being mean," said Finn. New teachers are trained in summer classes (for which they are not paid) on special education, behavioral management and school procedures.

Special education: Forty percent of students have Individual Education Plans; some have disabilities so severe that they would otherwise be separated in special classes or schools. These students have a variety of emotional and behavioral problems and learning disabilities and often do not graduate with a regular high school diploma. Lavelle Prep meets the needs of these students individually and aims to graduate every pupil with a Regents' diploma.

Admissions:Applicants are entered into a lottery. In 2010–11, 600 students applied for 75 spots, despite the fact that the school serves students from all over Staten Island and getting to it can be quite a journey.(Aryn Bloodworth, January 2011)

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