Sunday, February 12, 2012

Boogie Bowl & Raise Some Dough For Equality School. A Candid Conversation With Caitlin Franco

Shake shake shake, shake shake, shake your bowling ball! It's for charity you know. Let me explain. I came across a press release for a fundraiser being put on by Equality Charter School.  Having been a bowler when I was a teen I thought this was pretty cool.  That led me to contact Caitlin Franco to find out more about the school and the fundraiser.  Caitlin welcome to Candid Conversations.

Caitlin Franco:  It’s my pleasure, thank you for having me.

Cliff T.:  First what is a charter school and how is it different from a so called regular school?

Caitlin  Franco: In brief, charter schools are public schools that are held strictly accountable for academic achievement results in exchange for autonomy from many of the rules and regulations of the traditional school system.  The Equality Charter School was authorized by the Chancellor of the New York City Public Schools and approved by the State Education Department Board of Regents.

Cliff T.:  I see that you have a unique way of admitting students, by lottery, that must create some interesting results?  For example what happens if a student comes into your school with special needs or who has a trouble past, how does that get handled?

Caitlin Franco:  We accept all children, regardless of previous academic achievement, behavioral concerns, or special education status.  Every child who comes to Equality has a fresh start and we make sure that they have the tools required to be successful in the future.  Because there is no screening in our lottery process, our student population is truly representative of the community.  Because of this, we have a special education population of approximately 21%, one of the highest of any charter school in New York City.  We teach students with disabilities in an inclusive environment, meaning that they are educated in the same classrooms as general education students.  The majority of our classrooms are co-taught with a general education teacher and a special education teacher.

Cliff T.:  I know this is a tough question to ask but, do kids drop out of your school?

Caitlin Franco:  No.  At this time, we have not had any dropouts.  Overall, we have a very low turnover rate for students. Students who leave are primarily because they are moving away. We have a very high parent satisfaction rate which is what contributes to our success.

Cliff T.: What is the school day like for the students and what do they get taught?

Caitlin Franco:  Scholars arrive to school at 8:30am if they would like a free breakfast. Classes start at 9:00am. Our scholars attend four 90-minute standards-based classes throughout the day. All scholars receive ELA (English Language Arts) and math instruction for one period each day. They receive social studies or science every other day.  And then they receive either Home and Careers, Art, or Physical Education/Health each day.  We believe in an engaging and academically rigorous environment – which is very difficult to achieve with scholars who range across all achievement levels.  Our teachers work very hard to accomplish this. In addition, we offer academic supports and extracurricular activities during lunch and after school, including book club, mathletes, debate team, small group instruction, eight sports teams, HW (homework) help, and more.

Cliff T.: Do you cover all the grades or a specific grade range?

Caitlin Franco:  At this time, we are grades 6-8.  We will be expanding in the 2014-2015 school year to the 9th grade, and then we will expand one grade level each year afterwards until we are a full 6th-12th grade school.

Cliff T.:  Just looking at and reading your website I see a strong positive attitude and a desire to really help your students.  Miss Franco besides the academics is there also an emphasis on community and team building as well as individual growth?

Caitlin Franco:  Yes, we emphasize community and team building on a regular basis.  We have worked hard to create a culture that welcomes scholars, parents, community members and staff.  We want our scholars to feel a part of something special.  We accomplish this through many different outlets.  We built a stronger relationship between our scholars, families, and local community when we had our annual food drive where our scholars and families donated enough food to feed 75 local families during the holiday season.  In addition, to build the relationships between staff and scholars we had a staff-scholar football game and a pep rally which were both exciting events that brought our school community together.  We also work hard to build community within our school between scholars through many means, such as a Student Council where scholars get a say in the school environment.  There are more than the three examples I just gave, but that should give you a clear idea of some of the ways that we build community and a feeling of teamwork throughout our entire school community.

Cliff T.:  How do you measure success and has any of your former students come back to the school to show current students what they have achieved by being a part of Equality Charter School?

Caitlin Franco:  Every scholar who enters Equality is measured differently in terms of success.  Yes, standardized tests are a part of the equation, but where a student has come from and the gains that they have made from beginning to end, the more experience they have had, the more well-rounded they are as young adults is just as important to us as are their academics.

In addition, we measure success by assessing if we have fulfilled every aspect of our vision.  Progress is something we should acknowledge, but true success is when your ultimate goals are met.  Our vision for this year is: Equality will have a firm commitment to supporting and consistently recognizing high academic achievement and social development.  At Equality, there will be a respectful, engaging, and academically rigorous environment where all staff and scholars believe that all scholars can achieve. Equality’s educational impacts will extend through service and connections to the Bronx community at large.

We have had several former scholars come back to visit, and at this time 5 of them volunteer on a weekly basis.  To me, this is an additional indicator of success.  Scholars have moved on to other schools, but they feel welcome in our environment and they look to us as a source of stability and support.

Cliff T.:  I noticed that you accept donations, do you get any government funding or is everything paid for by donation?

Caitlin Franco:  Our school is primarily funded by government money.  We get the same amount of money as public schools, yet we have to do more, such as fund our entire back office.  We have not relied on donations for our daily operations. 

Cliff T.:  Miss Franco, what or should I ask why this kind of school?   What was the draw for you to get involved with a charter school?   How long have you been at Equality?

Caitlin Franco:  I have been at Equality since the beginning.  We started to write the charter in 2007, and the school opened in 2009.  For me, it has been a labor of love.  It is a lot of work, but I have learned more in the past 2 ½ years from our scholars, families, and staff than I think I would have learned doing anything else. In addition, this school is a true opportunity for us to change the lives of students, who would not want to be involved in that?

Cliff T.:  This must be such a different feel from a public school.  Not only do you have to keep staff and students motivated you have to also keep the lights on.  How do you find the time to balance school life with school finances?

Caitlin Franco:  I am not the person who balances school life with school finances. I have to give credit to our amazing staff.  There is no way that this school would be where it is today without all of the amazing individuals that make our organization.  I especially have to give credit to Favrol Philemy, our Associate Principal, and Gabriel Park, our Director of Finance and Operations.

Cliff T.:  Speaking of funding, Miss Franco, lets talk about your fundraiser.  I love the concept, having been a bowler when I was teen.  How did you come up with a charity bowl?

Caitlin Franco:  We have never had a fundraiser before.  When we discussed our options, what was most important to us was that it would be a community building event.  Bowling seemed the perfect way to accomplish that! Our fundraiser is more about bringing everybody together than to raise money.  Our hope is that this will become an annual event that our school community looks forward to each year to enjoy each other and celebrate all of our accomplishments.

Cliff T.:  How does one go about getting tickets for the event and can a team of bowlers participate in the event?

Caitlin Franco:  Please visit for more information on the event.  Through this link, you can sign up to attend the event or to donate money if you cannot attend.  Even a donation of $5 helps us!  Your donations help to fund our scholars to bowl for free and participate in this wonderful community event.

Cliff T.:  Besides the disco bowling are there going to be any special things that people can look forward to I.e. trophies and other door prizes?

Caitlin Franco:  There will be a raffle. We are in the process of obtaining raffle prizes, so they will have to stay a secret for now!

Cliff T.:  And, when and where are you holding the event and what will the proceeds do for Equality?

Caitlin Franco:  The event will be held at Bowlmor in Union Square in New York City on March 4th from 10am-4pm. The proceeds will first and foremost help to fund our scholars attend the event free of charge. The remaining proceeds go to Equality Charter School and its scholars.

Cliff T.:  Well Miss Franco you sure do have a challenge ahead, I hope you have a great time and thanks for speaking with me and my readers.

Caitlin Franco: Thank you again for your interest in Equality.  It has been a pleasure.

Caitlin Franco is the principal at Equality Charter School. For more information about the school and to donate you can go to their website at Miss Franco wrote to us from the school located in the Bronx NY.