Society of Illustrators hand raisingLogoHarlem Link celebration
Harlem Link Ink Title

Summer 2009

Thank you for taking a few minutes to review our final 2008-09 issue of The Harlem Link ink, our small bimonthly newsletter.  Please pass it along to those who might be interested! 

Founded in 2005, Harlem Link is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, public school.  Students are admitted by lottery, we collaborate with the New York City Department of Education on a number of issues and policies, and the demographics of our student population closely resemble the district public schools in our neighborhood.
With the end of a very busy, exciting and successful year, we have had a chance to reflect on the impact of the "charter choice" on our ability as a school community to execute on our very challenging goals.  As we head into new partnerships, being sited under one roof as a K-5 school for the first time, and plan for even bigger and better things in 2009-10, we hope you enjoy reading all about it!
Margaret Ryan and Steven Evangelista
In This Issue
What It's All About, Part I: Student Achievement
What It's All About, Part II: Social Studies
A Bevy of Events to Close the Year
Photo Congrats
From Many, One: New Links at a New Site!
What It's All About, Part I:
Student Achievement
Harlem Link capped another successful year of growth with improved performance on state English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics exams.  The school met established targets in overall ELA achievement and in third grade Mathematics, where the percentage of students scoring at Level 3 or Level 4 increased from 94.3% in 2008 to 98.2% passing the Math exam in 2009. 

Overall, the leadership team had set an internal target of improving the percentage of students passing the ELA exam by 10 percentage points, a more challenging growth target than event that set in the school's authorizer Accountability Plan.  With 70.2% passing, Harlem Link met that target.  In addition, the percentage students who have attended the school for two or more years who passed the ELA exam increased even more, by 14 percentage points to 72.7%. 
These figures, demonstrating that Harlem Link is one of the highest achieving public elementary schools in Harlem, put the school at the vanguard of the education reform movement.  Even more notable is the set of scores and improvement given the school's high poverty rate, at 87.5% this year based on eligibility for free- or reduced-price lunch; nationally, high poverty is correlated with low achievement on standardized tests.  With improved scores and plans in place to reach ever higher, Harlem Link is demonstrating that students living in poverty can and do achieve at high levels!
What It's All About, Part II: 
Social Studies
We promised parents and supporters that our curriculum would do more than just prepare students to meet state performance standards in Math and ELA (as if that isn't a tremendous challenge!).  Our first graders brought this promise home in May by opening their twin restaurants, Super Class Desserts and Ice Cream Heaven.  (No surprise here: give six-year olds their choice Kids Having Fun and Learning at Harlem Linkof restaurants and both classes chose to serve sweets.)  After months of demonstrating Active Citizenship by visiting local businesses, interviewing proprietors and workers and studying the jobs and systems required to run a restaurant, our little Linksters met school learning standards by opening their own little shops and taking reservations from special guests from across the school community. 

They even had room for "walk-ins," as one first grader spontaneously put it when a parent showed up without a reservation.  (He was only prompted by his teacher asking him, "Do you think we can accommodate this parent?") 
In a brilliant display of cooperative learning, students took different jobs to make sure all the functions of a real restaurant were covered.  There was even real-world accountability when a Department of Health (that is, teacher) investigation found "unsanitary conditions" and one of the first graders had to lose his job as a chef and be reassigned to a different post! 
Why do we spend so much effort on Social Studies activities?  Our mission requires that we teach children to "learn and serve in their communities."  A set of rich Social Studies units is for us, at the heart of a strong curriculum because it not only teaches children Boy Blastersessential content knowledge about the world in the disciplines of history, geography, and anthropology but it engages the mind in that most powerful of our core values, Wonder.  Like our Math and Science curricula, but unique in its focus on human activity instead of abstract concepts, our inquiry-based Social Studies units develop students' faculties of critical thinking and questioning, a core competency of intelligence that is too often ignored in the back-to-basic test preparation frenzy.  It does so, perhaps even more importantly, in a manner that is both engaging and authentically relevant to the students' lives, nurturing a lifelong love of learning and building investment and faith in school as a place where students can explore the intellectual and spiritual loves of their lives - a way up and a place to belong.

If want to tell us we're wrong, try being greeted, seated and served by first graders at Super Class Desserts, and watch the look on their faces, before you do so!

Special thanks go to Dr. Susan Goetz-Haver, a founding board member of Harlem Link who has transitioned to being our contracted literacy staff developer, who donated the resources required to purchase the goods to get the restaurants off the ground.  Thank you Susan!
A Bevy of Events to Close the Year
What a year it has been - a banner year, we plan to tell our authorizer in our charter renewal application this summer.  School at Harlem Link lasts 190 days, five to ten days longer than the district schools (depending on the year).  This year, school lasts until July 3, and each day is still action-packed!
We are finishing the year with a slew of exciting activities, including but not limited to:

National Charter Schools Week Roundtables
When this winter our Board of Trustees' Development Committee decided to forgo our annual National Charter Schools Week cocktail National Charter Schools Weekparty in light of the receding economy, it settled upon a logical alternative way to celebrate the week.  Harlem Link brought interested supporters and community members to our Upper School on two separate days during the first week of May for roundtable discussions about pertinent issues facing charter schools and those affected by this reform.
National Charter Schools Week, sponsored by the National Alliance for Charter Schools, seeks to spread publicity and information about charter schools, including the fact that they are indeed public schools.  Harlem Link's roundtables focused on two hot-button issues: Facilities and Community.  The Facilities roundtable discussed the core program sacrifices charter schools often need to make due to the fact that in states such as New York, facility funding is not included in the state allocation.  Charters that are in private space, then, either must raise the significant dollar amount required to fit out, occupy and maintain a that space through private sources or extract it from their program budgets.

Harlem Link and many other New York City charters are in a unique situation thanks to the current reform-minded administration that is using public school buildings already owned by the city to house public charter schools.  There is no certainty, however, that this policy will continue indefinitely, so Harlem Link has been setting aside a reserve fund for future facilities use as a contingency.  The visitors lamented the possibility that Harlem Link might, in addition to raising private funds as it is currently doing, have to sacrifice some of the needed student support services that make the school able to support the diverse needs and challenges of our at-risk students.
The second roundtable focused on Community.  Who attends National Charter Schools Weekcharter schools?  Do lotteries create barriers to at-risk families for enrolling in charter schools?  Across the city, charters generally serve a lower percentage of English Language Learners and a similar portion of students with disabilities compared to district public schools.  There are also charter schools that specifically target such populations.  In fact, the state charter law itself highlights at-risk communities as a target population for charter schools, due to their history of low student achievement and the need for reform.  
The roundtable discussed the tension between providing avenues for choice for families and equitable access to services for all students.  If charter schools are to continue to grow to be part of the fabric of the New York City public school system, it is clear that more of this dialogue is needed.
2nd Annual Spelling Bee
April 30 saw the buzzworthy national phenomenon that is spelling bees descend upon Harlem Link for the second time.  This year, 2nd Annual Harlem Link Spelling Beewith the school crowning a champion in each grade and with expansion to fourth grade, our finalists kept themselves up well past their bedtimes battling it out into the night.  The third grade competition was particularly fierce, with Linksters Jared Voyd and Awa Cisse easily handling all of the third grade words and also getting through half of 2nd Annual Harlem Link Spelling Beethe fourth grade words!  With fatigue setting in, it was a victory of attrition for Awa, as Jared unfortunately was disqualified on a technicality (after so many correct spellings, he forgot to "say the word" before "spelling the word" although he spelled the word correctly), meaning on merits, both were deserving champions!  Awa joined her younger sister, Aisha, who won the kindergarten competition earlier in the night. 
The competition was no less intense in the other grades, with the other winners tasting success being Zamiya Warren (first grade), Joel Anderson (second grade) and Marie Traore (fourth grade).  2nd Annual Harlem Link Spelling Bee JudgesThanks to our judges, pictured at right, including board candidate Kelly Mack-Francis of City National Bank and Anthonine Pierre, liaison to Community Boards 9 and 10 for Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and congratulations to all our finalists and competitors!

Friends & Family Fridays
Beginning this past winter, Friday afternoons have transformed Boy BlastersHarlem Link into a truly special place, with the advent of Friends and Family Fridays.  For an hour at the end of the week, students and teachers have had the opportunity to switch classes and explore some of their passions and interests outside of the standard curriculum.  Teachers teamed up, typically across grades and classrooms, to offer five week courses such as Chess during Friends & Family Fridayscooking, clay modeling, percussion and chess to multiage, variously sized groups of children.  With collaboration, excitement building on the school Core Value of Wonder, and active learning, Friends and Family Fridays is truly helping our students and teachers step up to meet our mission.  The plans are in place to continue and even expand upon this exciting initiative in 2009-10, with even more multiage combinations possible now that all our grades are under one site!
Citizen Chip Competition
As a concrete and living symbol of our mission goal around Citizenship and our Core Values that support that goal, students and classes have been earning Citizen Chips all year for Kids Having Fun at a Reward Restaurant Tripdemonstrating these values appropriately.  And these symbols are not without rewards - the classes that earn the most Citizen Chips have received their choice of celebrations outside of school!  Congratulations to Class 1-332 and Class 3-214, enjoying the good times at Chuck E. Cheese and a Trinidadian restaurant, respectively as per their choices.  Keep up the courage, responsibility and kindness!
Photo Congrats
Congratulations to photographer Mark Twery, whose photo received an honorable mention in the on More Kids in the Woods Winning Photothe national United States Forest Service "More Kids in the Woods" photo contest.  The image of Harlem Link students with Gail Kimball, the Forest Service chief, is circulating on the Service's intraweb, and will be used along with the other winners in a screensaver, slideshow and the agency's photo database.  Thank you to the Forest Service for recognizing and celebrating Harlem Link's Core Value, Wonder, by choosing this photo as a winner!

From Many, One: New Links at a New Site!
This June, after several District 3 Community Education Council (CEC) meetings discussing the topic and a heavily attended Public Hearing on May 20th, Harlem Link has begun official conversations with our new shared space partners, PS 185, PS 208 and PS 226, about ten blocks south of our current Upper School home.  Finally, after two years of our Lower and Upper Schools being separated by no less than a mile's walk and the hill on which City College of New York stands, all of our Linksters will be educated together at one site!

It has been a trying transition of sorts already for our new space partners, who are being asked by the New York City Department of Education to share space with a charter school for the first time.  They have enjoyed the admirable advocacy of the District 3 CEC, which along with District 3 Superintendent Dr. Roser Salavert has clearly taken the mantle of speaking for the community of parents and school leaders.  We are doing everything in our power to alleviate the fears that naturally come with new ventures, and the answer to these concerns is written in our mission: the community must join together if we are to accomplish the herculean task of giving every child the respectful and rigorous education he or she deserves.  The word "Link" appears in our name because we are dedicated collaborators, and as we will be sharing resources with our new partners, as newcomers to the building with an established presence in the community we will also be bringing in new resources otherwise unavailable that will benefit all students in the buildings.

Harlem Link will occupy space in each of two adjacent, "tandem" buildings, housing PS 185, PS 208 and PS 226 and connected by a common area, creating a new impetus for unity in these sister schools. 

PS 185The process of being sited in these buildings has cast a spotlight on the success and effort of what have proven to be remarkable school communities.  PS 185, which includes grades Pre-K to 2, has been repeatedly hailed as a "little jewel" in the middle of Harlem, an early childhood community with a nurturing atmosphere, dedicated teachers and a strong principal who has brought in multiple enrichment opportunities for students in her nearly ten years of service as the school leader.  PS 208, which accepts many of the 2nd graders graduating from PS 185, educates children from 3rd grade to 5th grade, and is clearly a school on the rise.  The positive energy and bright future of its pupils are evident in both the warm attitude and professional demeanor of teachers and administrators, who are ahead of the curve in using data to inform instruction, and the colorful artwork that adorns the first floor walls.
Our school community is saddened to leave behind our school partners at PS 242, FLI Charter School and PS 129, who have been with us through the ups and downs that accompany any start-up, and who have taught us much about collaboration and a positive, affirmative spirit.  But soon to be gone are the days of administrators and support staff taking taxis (or their feet) between the sites to run from one meeting or event to another; office staff at our two sites spending much of the day calling each other to connect teaching and administrative staff; our many parents who have children attending both sites dropping off one child at one site and then making their way to the other; and second graders wondering just what exactly is on the walls at the Lower School and what the first graders are doing these days.  In other words, a promise we made to parents four years ago can be more fully realized; these operational distractions and the non-mission use of resources that could otherwise be spent educating children will be no more!
Our new address will be: 20 West 112th Street, New York, NY 10026.  Phone and fax numbers will be available on our website this summer.
Thanks to CNB Volunteers
City National Bank VolunteersIn May, Harlem Link received some help from new friends at City National Bank.  A team of volunteers assisted founding board member John Reddick with cleaning out and organizing a large storage area in preparation for our move this summer.  Thanks to our new friends for pitching in!
In Closing
Kids Having Fun and Learning at Harlem LinkIt has been an incredible four years of growth, change, challenges and success.  The Renewal process has given us a chance to reflect on all the elements that have come together to make our school community such a unique and dynamic place for students.
With the Link Improvement Plan (see sidebar) in place this summer and the move to the new site, 2009-10 will certainly be our most exciting and productive one yet. 
We hope you enjoyed a few stories about our school and would consider coming by to visit this fall!
Director's Blog: 
 Democratic Decision Making
With the authority and empowerment given to charter schools comes the opportunity for real democratic leadership and decision-making.  The need to feed the bureaucracy that a large system of 1.1 million children requires falls away, clearing the way for school- and community-based priorities to come to light.

In a big system a good idea can take more than two years to really take root.  As a veteran of the New York City public school system, I have seen reforms come and go, and I have also seen reforms come and linger.  With changing chancellors, priorities naturally change, and some reforms have stuck around but haven't received the support that they initially required to be successful due to these new priorities. 
One example is School Leadership Teams (SLT), which in theory have an important say in the development of each school's annual Comprehensive Education Plan (CEP), in itself possibly another example of this phenomenon.
In practice, the shift to treating SLTs, which include representation by parents, school leadership, teachers and other stakeholders, as the central locus of long-term decision making and goal setting for schools requires more than just a policy change; it requires a cultural and attitudinal shift.  In many schools, especially in at-risk communities, there are so many competing pressures on the administration that there is little recourse other than to make big-picture decisions and set goals independent of the SLT.  In fact, when I was an SLT officer as a district school teacher less than ten years ago, there was an ongoing debate about exactly what role the SLTs were empowered to play with regard to budgetary and other decisions made by the principal.  I believe in some communities that debate is still going on!
Link Improvement Plan Renewal Retreat
These kinds of issues have not been a factor in our preparation for the 2009-10 school year and with it, the hugely important Charter Renewal Application.  Instead, beginning with a retreat in early May that invited  representation
and input from administration, board, parents, teachers and non-teaching staff, Harlem Link has followed a process that truly takes into account all voices to build the strongest possible school improvement plan.  Following the retreat, in which after an involved discussion five broad priority areas were established, each and every employee of Harlem Link joined a design team based on one of those five priorities.  The teams met four times for a total of approximately 12 hours to hammer out a five-year achievable goal in the priority area as well as a detailed action plan to accomplish interim goals for the next year.  The result, our Link Improvement Plan (LIP), describes every effort our team will undertake in the next 12 months. 
Link Improvement Plan Renewal Retreat

In short, the charter governance vehicle has given our school community the opportunity to execute, swiftly and efficiently, the good ideas and the fostering of true ownership that could take years to accomplish in the larger system.  As we prepare our 2009 charter renewal application based on the goals and actions in the LIP, we also know that we have the strongest possible vision and plan for a future in which our mission of graduating articulate scholars who meet or exceed state standards and active citizens who learn and serve in their communities will be realized.
Four Important Thank You's
For any venture with lofty, challenging goals to be successful, true teamwork is required.  For charter schools, the board of trustees is the most important locus of a diverse and authoritative set of skills and perspectives, and Harlem Link has benefited from a number of talented people who have served on our board.  Few if any have had as big an impact on the success of the school as Bernard R. Adams, who served as Harlem Link's Treasurer from the founding of the school in 2005 to the expiration of his second term this June.  Under Barney's leadership, the school established strong internal controls policies and procedures and garnered praise from the state authorizer for the consistency with which the board acted upon its duties for fiduciary oversight.  Barney led the Finance Committee and assured that a fiscally conservative, appropriate budget was passed each year, bringing a wealth of knowledge to the table and holding the school to high standards throughout his tenure.  Barney is moving on to his many other successful activities, and though he will remain a friend and informal advisor to Harlem Link, his commitment, expertise and unmatched integrity will be missed.  Thank you for all of your work and dedication!
Harlem Link is blessed to see the return of nearly all faculty and staff members this fall, but we would be remiss not to thank two talented educators for their contribution to Harlem Link as they move on to new experiences.  Katie Carroll taught first grade and then served as Harlem Link's Dean for two years, holding together the school culture of the Upper and Lower Schools when we had a split into two sites.  Katie built strong relationships with students and supported teachers in her role, having an immeasurable impact on the constant improvement in order and discipline at the school.  This fall, Katie is taking a founding senior leadership position at a new charter school, Girls Prep Bronx, a school with which we certainly look forward to collaborating, perhaps formally through a pending federal Dissemination Grant.
Finally, Jessica Risley is passing up the opportunity to continue teaching first grade with the school all under one roof, in exchange for an opportunity that she just could not resist: to teach in the Pacific Ocean's Marshall Islands.  For what will be quite a change from Manhattan, Jessica was recruited from literally the other side of the world.  It's no surprise to us, since our school has had the privilege of knowing how professional, hard-working and successful she is as an educator.  She taught her colleagues a great deal while fostering a safe, rigorous and joy-filled classroom environment with her co-teacher.  Jessica and her husband are starting their lives in the Marshall Islands with a two-year stint, and we certainly hope to see her back on the Harlem Link faculty when she comes back to the States!
And finally, big Thank You's go out to our Community Outreach Group executive board: President Shatima Baker, Vice President Lawanda Joyner-Tamimu, Treasurer Shakira Carter and Secretary Shamika Hollington.  As a vehicle for parent input and communication, COG held a number of events this year and is looking forward to continued growth commensurate with the school's growth!
Support Our Cause
You can join our list of supporters.  As a charter school, we are our own, single-school public school district.  Because of the charter funding formula (and the mind-boggling recent decision by the state legislature to freeze charter funding while increasing overall public school aid), we depend on private donations to supplement our state tuition allocation.  In the coming years we anticipate raising as much as 25% of our budget in our Annual Fund.  Tax-deductible donations can be made to our fund by clicking here.
Title Art Credit
Harlem Link celebrationMark Griffith is ready for fifth grade, spending the summer at Summer on the Hill, a highly selective enrichment program, along with two other Linksters, Johnathan Gregg and Joel Anderson.  Mark designed the title art for this newsletter.  Good luck in your summer work!
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