Charter School Bid Gets Lift From NYC Public School Cheerleaders

  • The Urban Assembly seeks to open Bronx high school in 2017
  • Perella's Steel, Two Trees' Walentas at Wednesday night gala

When the cheerleaders appeared in front of the suits, it was clear the Urban Assembly meant business at its annual gala Wednesday night. The students from UA’s all-girls School of Criminal Justice in Brooklyn -- wearing white bows in their hair, long-sleeved jerseys and pleated skirts -- jumped on shoulders and shouted, as cheerleaders do, though generally not at the New York Public Library, where the event was held.

Raising the roof

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The high-energy show reflects the nonprofit’s push to open its first charter school, adding to its network of 21 small public schools that got off the ground in the late 1990s with funding from the Gates Foundation. The move is the equivalent of a hand spring, allowing UA to bring its model of career and technical education, or CTE, into the charter environment.

Jed Walentas and Robert Steel

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

“There are a lot of advantages to doing a charter for a CTE school,” said Richard Kahan, UA’s founder and chief executive officer, whose cocktail hour companions included Robert Steel, CEO of Perella Weinberg Partners, and Jed Walentas of Two Trees Management Co. “We can have a longer year and better work opportunities with much more flexible hours, and it’s much better in terms of getting industry teachers to come in."

Technical Education

That means a Google programmer can teach a 7:30 a.m. class and head to his job afterward for the entire school year, Eric Watts, UA’s director of career and technical education, said just as dessert arrived (a “pie in a jar" with ice cream on the side).

Ronay Menschel, UA Founder Richard Kahan and Kerry Decker, principal of the UA School for Green Careers

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Watts has direct involvement in UA’s seven CTE high schools (including a Maker Academy and others focusing on emergency management, health care, and green careers). He’s also on the board of UA’s Charter School for Computer Science and the co-author of a UA report about CTE that was passed out at the benefit along with actual literature -- paperback editions of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the like -- used as table decor.

Watts’s work begins with a definition of CTE programs -- to prepare students for careers and college with a combination of skills training and academics -- and proceeds to outline seven “essential components" of the UA model, including career paths that take advantage of economic and labor-market trends, industry partners who help with advising and curriculum design, work-based learning and early college experiences.

Open Enrollment

Katie Galvin and Marium Dar, a UA school graduate now an undergraduate at Columbia University

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The report didn’t mention cheerleading, but the squad’s performance, and students and alumni who spoke during dinner, got an important point across about UA’s approach: when you do something you’re interested in, you learn more, and you’re able to see the possibilities of where it might take you.

Abby Jo Sigal, Perrin Wicks and Angel Morales

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

UA’s CTE charter school, like all the UA schools, would have an open enrollment policy and serve low-income youth. It would be part of the UA network, receiving the same support and services from UA staff, who specialize in things like social-emotional learning and instruction. The charter school’s application with the State University of New York, filed last month, is pending. If approved, the school would open in 2017 in a to-be-determined Bronx location, and could eventually do its own fundraising. Some UA schools, such as the New York Harbor School and the Bronx Academy of Letters, already have their own foundations.

Julia Bator, Kristin Kearns Jordan and Marielys Divanne

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The central nervous system of the entire network is the organization Kahan runs, which raised $538,000 from its benefit. Among the 200 guests were Abby Jo Sigal, executive director of the James and Judith K. Dimon Foundation, who said its focus is on “career pathways” for youth from low-income neighborhoods, and Julia Bator, executive director of the Robertson Foundation established by Julian and Josie Robertson.

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