The Charter Center in New York impressed by NZ Charter school model

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The article the New York Charter Centre is referring to was written by New Zealander Alwyn Poole who helped found the Villa Education Trust. The Trust operates Mount Hobson Middle School which is a private school and two of New Zealand’s first charter schools.

The New York City Charter School Center was founded in 2004 and claims to be the leading expert and proponent of New York City’s charter school movement.

We help new charter schools get started, support existing schools and build community and political support so that high quality charters can flourish.

I visited both South Auckland Middle School and West Auckland Middle School as a part of my investigation into New Zealand charter schools. Mount Hobson Middle School is the  successful model on which both charter schools are based. Recently I made face of the day an ex student of Mount Hobson who has been announced as Head Girl for Epsom Girls’ Grammar.

The Model explained:

1. A fully integrated project base. The New Zealand curriculum is similar in most areas of content to the curriculum of other Western nations. At the age-appropriate levels, I divided this up into 32 cross-curricula thematic projects (for example, eight per year for four years). Each project contains set tasks that take into account English, languages, mathematics, science, health and physical education, social sciences, technology and the arts. Students cover subjects like architecture, flight and space, ancient cultures and the oceans. For each of project children get one hour a day of guided independent study. Students must interpret a task statement, respond accurately and develop subject detail and creativity. Responses to tasks cover the full range of linear, oral, visual and multimedia as well as physical products and models. Children submit work every five weeks and receive comprehensive marking and feedback documents, as well as the opportunity to collaborate with staff and peers during work sessions.

2. Expert subject teaching. Subjects remain important in education systems and children must have a good knowledge base across the broad curriculum. Our teachers prepare against their national curriculum while developing units of work that fit thematically within the current project topics. This allows a sense of coherence across a school. We teach mathematics, English, social studies, science and technology as our morning core subjects.

3. Significant individual care. The model works with 60 students in a “mini-school” within a school. Each unit has a teaching ‘academic manager’ whose role is to ensure that every child is making significant progress. A unit has four classes of 15 students – one from each grade level (class size does matter if you are prepared to work hard to differentiate your pedagogy). One of the key ideas is that every child needs to feel that they and their progress matters to the significant adults in their life.

4. We split the school day. This age group was never suited to sitting behind a desk for six hours a day. We have a four-hour academic morning (three of the core subjects and the independent hour). The afternoon program offers opportunities in visual arts, music/dance/drama, health and physical education, community learning (field trips and guest speakers) and service.

The motivation for our staff on a day-to-day basis is that every student that comes to one of our schools is both worthy of the opportunity to succeed and is able to make remarkable progress given the right approach.

One of the key outcomes we have seen with the students engaging in the Project Based Curriculum is the quality of self-management, output skills and ability to innovate. These skills put them in a great position to succeed at the upper levels of high school and university. This is a solution to one of the major issues facing schools working with disadvantaged students across the globe where they are improving their standardized scores, but young people are tripping on the higher hurdles later on. I am eager to work with others on implementing this model.

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