Achievement Prep Has A Take No Prisoners Approach...To Learning

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Feb 10, 2015 2:15 PM
Achievement Prep Has A Take No Prisoners Approach...To Learning

Sometimes logistics can get in the way. On the second leg of our school choice tour, we had no idea Achievement Prep (AP)–a K-8 grade institution–had two campuses. We weren’t able to see the school due to time constraints, but we received a very thorough overview by their Chief Academic Officer, Susie Cannon.

The school opened in 2008 with 68 students–grades 4-5–and no building one-week before it opened its doors. It’s part of the charter movement, and now has 22 classrooms operating at once. At the Whaler Place Middle School, Achievement Prep’s middle school campus, there is a total enrollment of 400 students, or scholars as they call them. Their sister campus, Mississippi Avenue Elementary School, has 280 students enrolled in K-3 grades classes.

AP is aimed at serving students east of the Potomac River.

The school is focused on high standards and expectations from their student body, regardless of their socioeconomic background. There is a “show what you know” quiz every Friday for all classes. The results are analyzed and used to reteach areas where students fell short. Like Archbishop Carroll, students at AP outperform their peers from wealthier school districts.

AP also has an extended school day, with a school year being 10-15 days longer than DC’s public schools. This might be needed, as most of the new students that arrive are very far behind in their reading, math, and science comprehension. Then again, AP prides itself in a near 100 percent success rate with their graduating 8th grades classes that have gone to other schools, including Archbishop Carroll. They’ve graduated three 8th grades classes so far, and those students leave advanced in math.

Teachers start their four-week orientation and curriculum overview in the third week of July. Students begin their one-week “Prep Academy (orientation)” before the first day of school. As a result, no time is wasted on introductions; day one is the first day of instruction. Prep Academy is critical given that it totally reconstructs what school has meant to these kids–and what it will mean from here on out at AP.

The average class size is 22, but Cannon noted that some might be smaller. Teacher pay is about 3 percent higher than DC public school teachers.

Cannon said that no school opens to fail, or hurt their prospective student body, but overtime expectations and standards sink, which causes an institution of learning to produce lackluster results. AP doesn’t see themselves as pro-charter, pro-public school; they’re pro-children. At the same time, being a charter school allows them the autonomy to choose their curriculum, or make immediate staff changes in order to fix issues efficiently.

Now, while funding is different, AP is still subject to the same standardized tests as the DC public schools.

As mentioned on their website–and by Cannon–the school sees parents as mutual partners. Cannon said at first, they sat down with every family before the school started, addressing who they are and what they stand for regarding their child’s education. After all, what makes AP attractive to prospective parents could also irritate them as well; dress code violations are prime examples.

Nevertheless, the autonomy that the school has shown it lead to results, and those results means AP has more room to maneuver academically.

You can just look how AP is closing the achievement gap in science, math, and reading.

It seems that AP’s D.R.E.A.M values (Determination, Respect, Enthusiasm, Accountability, and Mastery), which they instill in their student body is paying off dividends in a major way.