A proposed charter school for Schenectady, Destine Preparatory, envisions opening in fall 2022 with 104 students and growing to nearly 400 students by its fifth year, according to the charter proposal now available for public review.
The proposal, submitted by former Brooklyn educator Re’Shawn Rogers, is asking the SUNY Charter Schools Institute for an authorization to establish a K-5 elementary school in Schenectady. If approved the school would be the first attempt to create a Schenectady charter school in over a decade.
The school plans to develop its students into “future change makers through rigorous academics, social and emotional learning, and affirmation of their identities,” according to its guiding mission. Focusing on the city’s Hamilton Hill, Vale and Eastern Avenue neighborhoods, the school plans to serve some of the city’s highest-poverty students and families and potentially site the school in one of those areas.
“We believe that all scholars and families deserve to choose a school that prepares their child for life and career success,” Rogers wrote in the application before citing Schenectady school district’s far-below-average proficiencies on statewide English and math tests. “All communities deserve high-quality schools that build foundational skills within scholars.”
The proposal includes letters of support from City Councilwoman Carmel Patrick, prominent Schenectady developer Jeff Buell and Union College official Matt Milless, all of whom offered words of support to the charter school effort.
“As an elected official, an educator, and a community volunteer, I am confident that the Destine Preparatory Charter School will complement other educational initiatives and services in the City of Schenectady,” Patrick wrote in a letter of support under her official City Council letterhead. “Our children need many dedicated individuals like these founding team members to help them learn, stay safe and lead healthy, meaningful lives.”
A handful of other local business owners and educators also provided letters of support, including longtime Union College administrator Matt Milless.
“Having been a member of the Schenectady community for so long, it seems to me there is room for different types of education,” Milless, the assistant dean of students at Union, wrote in his personal letter of support. “The founding team’s efforts to create opportunities for community feedback… has been impressive. I am confident that the school will meet the needs of the community.”
Rogers, now 31, grew up in Detroit, where he said he struggled to learn how to read in a public school system where he felt lost. Before high school, he moved in with his grandparents to qualify for a local charter high school, where he said he was finally challenged and supported by his teachers. He earned his undergraduate degree at Eastern Michigan University, where he studied history, English and education, before packing up his car and moving to New York City as soon as he graduated. In New York, Rogers worked as a teacher and eventually an academic supervisor for eight years at Achievement First Aspire Elementary School in Brooklyn.
Eventually, Rogers struck out on his own, earning a fellowship with BES, an organization that provides support to educators looking to establish new charter schools. He and the organization circled in on the Capital Region, and Rogers moved to Albany in September, thinking that city could be home to the new school. But after starting discussions with people in the region, Rogers said in an interview last month, he noticed that there was no charter school in Schenectady and heard from people suggesting he focus his efforts there. Rogers, who plans to move to Schenectady in the coming months, said he wants to focus the school’s recruitment and enrollment efforts in the Hamilton Hill and Eastern Avenue-Vale neighborhoods, seeking out high-need students. The proposal, which tops 400 pages, includes a detailed account of Rogers’ community engagement efforts since arriving in the Capital Region.
The Schenectady school district is required to host a public hearing about the proposed charter school in the coming weeks, and the SUNY Charters Institute plans to approve qualified proposals at its June meeting, SUNY spokesperson Mike Lesczinski said.
Rogers highlights in the proposal that “another proponent of opposition we anticipate is the Schenectady City School District,” noting how recent budget cuts have negatively impacted the district and how district leaders have long pleaded for increased funding.
“We believe that there will be some tension in the relationship because Destine Prep proposes to operate off public funds,” he wrote.
The plan estimates the Schenectady district would pay the charter school $12,675 for each student from within the district that attends Destine Prep, providing the bulk of the school’s funding.
The proposal offers the implicit argument that more academic options for families will work to improve those options. Some district educators and community activists have expressed concerns that a charter school would drain resources from the city school district.
“In providing an equitable education to all residents of Schenectady, it is our duty to act as a resource to all schools that fall under the purview of the Schenectady City School District,” according to the proposal. “We believe in the betterment of the (Schenectady school district) and the effect of productive competition that charter schools bring to communities.”
But the proposal also seeks to strike a collaborative pose, suggesting the proposed charter school could serve as a resource and partner to the school district. Rogers said he hopes to visit district schools and plans to invite district leaders to visit Destine.
“We will continue to be open to any partnership model that is in alignment with Destine Prep’s mission and supports as many students in Schenectady as possible,” Rogers wrote in the proposal.
In its proposal, the school promises to set high expectations for students, offering a school day and school year significantly longer than what’s offered in most area districts.
“Our vision is achieved by striking the balance of a warm and demanding school climate,” according to the plan. “Teachers will build authentic and strong relationships with individual scholars and are regarded by scholars as captains of their classroom communities. With nuance and finesse, teachers set the bar high for what is expected of all scholars, and they utilize techniques to support individual scholars who need additional coaching to meet the bar.”
Part of that plan includes a “branded (school) uniform” requirement, with each student receiving a free uniform shirt at the beginning of each school year.
The school would start with kindergarten and first grade in its first year, growing gradually by adding more students and a new grade in each subsequent year. In its first year, the school would have just shy of 20 people on its staff, including five general education teachers, two enrichment teachers, one special education teacher, one English as a new language teacher and one school counselor. By its fifth year, the proposal envisions growing the staff to 23 general education teachers and three enrichment teachers, who would be overseen by three instructional coaches. A special education coordinator would oversee five special education teachers and two English as a new language educators. Teachers in the school will start with a base salary of $50,000 a year, according to the proposal.
As head of school, Rogers would take a salary of around $105,000 for the first few years of the school, eventually shifting to a higher-paid executive director position as the school grows in size, according to the plan.
Committed board members listed in the proposal include: Raysheea Turner, the proposed board chair, Mark Muscatiello, Raul Castillo, Josh Koss, Ashley Whiteside, Cherly Almonte Lare and George Borum. The board will be required to follow state open meetings laws, holding public board meetings.
“Mr. Rogers believes that students will do and prove more when expectations are set high,” according to the proposal. “Mr. Rogers believes that students deserve to feel safe in school, and if they do, they can tap into parts of their brains and beings that allow them to block out distractions, focus, and do hard work.”