What We Believe

As we move into our fourth admissions season it is appropriate to reflect on our successes, and consider where we can improve. Because society has many conflicting expectations of schools, having a guiding belief is critical. ICS believes that education must provide children the background knowledge and cultural literacy they need to make sense of the world. We have ancillary goals, but if we do not enable children to escape “the morass of propaganda,” as Martin Luther King wrote, what will we really achieve?

King expressed this concern in 1947: 70 years later, the worry is even greater. Facebook, fake news, a nation where half of us are sincerely convinced that half of us are misguided or crazy. It begs Lincoln’s question about how long a house divided against itself can stand.

Three years cannot offer sufficient evidence that we’ve succeeded, but the trend is promising. About 80% of ICS students are reading at or above grade level expectations; for children with special needs the corresponding figure is 65%. These results are not directly comparable to the state tests our third graders will take this Spring, but they reflect our staff’s extraordinary work to lay a foundation of phonics – the building blocks of literacy – upon which the children and their teachers can then build knowledge and its handmaiden, comprehension.

But it is not simply skills that we teach, for every day our work also includes listening and learning lessons where the children hear about, discuss and respond to study units about plants, the human body, religion, history, literature and more. Our kindergarteners cannot spell ‘deciduous’ or ‘coniferous’, but teaching them why some trees lose their leaves in the Fall and others remain green gives them the skill to describe their world and understand how it works.

Parents take great delight when their six-year-old first sounds out a word like ‘esophagus.’ Knowing where that body part is and what it does comes with time and repeated exposure but decoding and comprehension are like a horse and cart; you need both to move forward at a reasonable pace. We like what the data are telling us about our English work thus far. And our parents do too.

We started math instruction with high hopes for a curriculum called Jump. It was praised by many and had some very strong results in several Canadian districts. But it did not work well for us, and in the middle of our first year we switched to Eureka Math. Our staff are confident with the new program, but we have not seen the same results yet. The data from our end-of-unit tests is in conflict with the results of the standardized tests we use, raising further questions.

This is confusing for two reasons: children typically score higher on math proficiency exams than on English, so it is unusual to find ourselves in the opposite boat. And since the same teacher delivers both lessons, it’s hard to fathom how a person has such an impact in English but struggles in math. So we continue to unpack the data and look to improve.

Another source of great pride is the evolution of our Family Organization. From scratch they have found areas of common interest and produced community events celebrating the great diversity of our school. This helps weave a strong web of support for our teachers and administration. From harvest festivals to school tours to advocacy meetings and social media marketing, our families have something to contribute.

Brooklyn is incredibly heterogeneous, and our school community reflects this. Our families speak languages from Albanian and Arabic to Russian and Swedish. (No Welsh or Xhosa, yet). They work as senior government lawyers and marketing execs, retail clerks, actors and subway conductors. They hail from Brighton Beach, the Bronx, Brooklyn Heights and Bay Ridge. At a time when so many forces seek to divide us, our shared commitment to building knowledge in common unites families.

No school is perfect. As part of the charter movement ICS favors a system where you are offered meaningful choices and are free to select the school that best fits your goals for your child. As we prepare to explain ourselves to the next group of prospective parents, we hope our clear commitment to building background knowledge and cultural literacy stands out.

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