Uncommon Schools, NYC DOE Partnership Grows Beyond Bklyn

Uncommon School Educators meet with NYC District Public School Teachers during a Professional Development event in Crown Heights. Photo Credit Uncommon Schools.

The partnership between Uncommon Schools, the largest charter school organization in Brooklyn, and the NYC Department of Education (DOE) seems to be growing deeper and spreading beyond Brooklyn, and this past Saturday was an illustration of that growing collaboration.

Uncommon Schools and NYC DOE Educators share ideas and strategies at a charter-public school collaboration event in Crown Heights. Photo Credit Uncommon Schools.

At Uncommon Charter High School in Crown Heights, educators from both Uncommon and NYC district public schools gathered in the cafeteria to focus on building reading and writing skills for NYC students.

Over 120 DOE teachers and leaders attended representing about 45 different DOE schools.

“On behalf of the mayor and the chancellor, they’re grateful” for the educators who attended the event on Saturday, said Michaela Daniel, senior policy advisor at the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives. “I’m here because you’re here on a Saturday morning to learn from each other, to build partnerships that really matter for kids. That’s incredibly powerful and important.”

This collaboration effort is now several years old. First started under the Bloomberg Administration and expanded during the De Blasio Administration, as Chancellor Carmen Farina continued to ask Uncommon to share its instructional resources with the most challenged districts in Brooklyn. The program has been so successful that Uncommon is now collaborating with district schools in Harlem–even though it has no schools there.

The doors between some charter schools and district schools “are not closed anymore,” said Danika Rux, the new Superintendent of Harlem’s District 5, who convinced Uncommon to include Harlem schools in its collaboration after she transferred to Harlem from District 23 in Brooklyn.  

“You have to walk through the doors, see what’s happening, find out those best practices, take them back to your school community, share them with your neighbor, keep your door wide open so other people can see what you’re doing and allow the innovation, the collaboration, and the spirit of partnership to live in your school community,” added Rux. 

Uncommon now partners with the NYC DOE to offer Professional Development (PD) sessions to schools in Community School Districts 5, 16, 18, 19 and 23. These neighborhoods include Brownsville, Bedford Stuyvesant, Flatbush, Canarsie, East Flatbush, Ocean Hill, East New York and Harlem.

Across the country, many charter school organizations have described how hard true collaboration is–since in many cities–including NYC–charter schools and district schools are often at odds over space and funding. That doesn’t seem to be the case with Uncommon Schools, which appears to have hit the right tone with its NYC collaboration.

Uncommon Schools is mentioned 33 times in a recent DOE report about charter-district collaboration compared with hardly any specific mentions of other charter schools in the 24-page report.

“The key is ensuring the charter school and the district schools are developing the partnership together as true partners. This isn’t about saying, here, do what we do. That’s not going to work. It’s about sitting down as partners and saying, what do each of us do really well that has been successful, and what if we can multiply that if we put our heads together?”said Crystal McQueen-Taylor, Senior Director of External Impact.

Photo Credit, Uncommon Schools.

During the sessions, facilitators focus on strategies to support reading instruction using multiple approaches, including sharing video exemplars, sharing replicable frameworks for analyzing and annotating texts, modeling strategies and providing opportunities for participants to practice and give each other feedback.  

Uncommon Schools is nationally recognized for its teacher training work and its system of supporting teachers is credited with helping them to reverse the socioeconomic achievement gap with wealthier suburbs. Uncommon’s Doug Lemov wrote “Teach Like a Champion,” still one of the country’s best selling teacher-improvement books. Uncommon NYC elementary students outperformed non-economically disadvantaged students in the state by 19 percentage points in math and 15 percentage points in English in the most recent state exams.

Uncommon Schools currently operates 23 public charter schools in Brooklyn and serves over 8,100 students. About 80% of Uncommon Schools NYC students qualify for free or reduced priced lunch and nearly all are black or Latino. Uncommon’s students graduate from college at five times the rate of low-income students nationally.