Mayor Michael Bloomberg increased the number of public schools in New York City by 50 percent, bringing the total to more than 1,800 schools. With real estate at a premium, the increase means that over half of all school buildings share space or, in edu-speak, are co-located.
Principals have likened co-locations to arranged marriages. Sometimes they work but in many cases the relationships are fraught. This week, the Department of Education and the New York City Charter School Center, via NYC Collaborates, brought a group of principals together to talk about how to share nicely, or nicer anyway. Here are their top four lessons:
1) Visit each other’s classes. Louis Torres, the principal of P.S. 55 in the Bronx, said he sent his kindergarten teachers to observe the Bronx Success Academy 2 in August, when the charter was open but his own students hadn't started school yet. It was free professional development that gave his teachers good ideas for their own classrooms, especially related to the charter's literacy program.
Julia Chun, principal of New Visions Charter High School for Advanced Math and Science, shares space with seven other schools in the John F. Kennedy campus in the Bronx. She said teachers from a few of the schools have been able to attend professional development sessions in math sponsored by New Visions. But she acknowledged it's very tough for teachers at the different schools to visit each other's classes because each school has its own bell times.
2) Do things together. Torres said students from his school and the charter have some recess time together now. Steve Evangelista, principal of Harlem Link, said his charter school has sent students to mentor children with special needs in a District 75 program that's located in the same building. He said a couple of the other co-located schools in the building have done the same.
3) Make the best of it. When Bronx Success Academy 2 moved into the building that housed P.S. 55 for a century, the charter school invested $165,000 in renovations. Under state law, the city’s Department of Education was required to match that money dollar for dollar for upgrades at P.S. 55. Principal Torres said that money helped him purchase new technology. The charter benefited too, from the school’s healthcare clinic and its relationship with Montefiore Medical Center.
4) Use all available tools. If sharing a building is like an arranged marriage then, principals said, don't be shy about seeking outside help. Elaine Gorman, a senior superintendent at the D.O.E., said communication was key. She suggested every principal read the Building Council Toolkit which has guidelines such as signing a memorandum of understanding among the different schools, agreeing to meet once a week and investing in a campus manager.