In a ceremony this week, Harlem Day Charter School celebrated its 13 fifth-graders who are moving on to middle school. They represent roughly one-third of the class.
The other two-thirds will have to repeat fifth grade.
That hard truth is one of many that the teachers, students and parents of Harlem Day have been confronting in recent months as the school prepares to become the city's first attempt at a takeover of a failing charter school.
Only five of 32 teachers will be returning in September. About 100 of all 247 students in the elementary school are being held back. And administrators are having tough conversations with parents about the true state of their children's academic progress. Parents are being told that students, who for years were passed from grade to grade, lack basic skills.
At Harlem Day, no students were held back last year, despite recent state tests that showed only 20% of students were on grade level in English and 25% were in math.
"The students of Harlem Day have not had a culture of consistent excellence for nearly a decade, and they are long overdue," said Katie Duffy, chief of staff at Democracy Prep Public Schools, which will take over Harlem Day in August. The school will be renamed Harlem Prep...
"It's going to be a shock to many of the parents," said Mona Davids, president of the New York Charter Parents Association. Harlem Day was more "laid-back," she said, while Democracy Prep is "more rigid, with more structure." She predicts there will be student attrition once school starts and parents realize the school's fundamental model has changed.
Harlem Day was founded 10 years ago by businessman Ben Lambert, who along with other business leaders poured millions of dollars into the school.
Mr. Lambert said in a previous interview that it was difficult to find effective leadership for the school, and despite millions spent on outside consultants, the school never found its footing.
Test results were always dismal, with students performing worse than counterparts with the same demographics—largely poor and minority—in the same neighborhood...
…The chairman of the board of the Harlem Day Charter School has selected his brother – founder and board president of the Brooklyn Charter School – and his son-in-law to serve on the school’s board. An external visit report from the Charter School Institute found poor instructional leadership; disciplinary problems; failure to use the school’s curriculum; and failure to use data to improve instruction. This school of 18 teachers and 250 students paid $180,000 in salary to the school’s executive director and the Harlem Day board paid out some $360,000 in consulting fees to unidentified consultants – more than $1,000 per student…