Community Partnership Charter School Leaders Inspire at State Conference

Lower School Leadership Team Shares Playbook for Academic Success

At a time of troubling declines for most students’ academic success across the country, Derrick Dunlap and Brigid Gala, the Lower School Principal and Assistant Principal team at Community Partnership Charter School, drew a crowd of educators for their presentation on academic turnarounds at the annual New York Charter Schools Conference last week. The session, “The Turn-Around Ten: Key Moves to Achieve an Academic Turn-Around in One School Year,” was one of the best attended at the three-day conference and led some attendees to immediately schedule follow up visits to the Brooklyn-based school. 

“I’m actually planning to go out and visit the school now,” said Tamaira Coleman, executive director at King Center Charter School, a K-8 school in Buffalo. “To see things in action and learn a little bit more. Just based upon how inspiring the session was,” she said.

Since Mr. Dunlap and Ms. Gala joined CPCS in 2018, students’ proficiency in English Language Arts and Math at CPCS Lower School have more than doubled. Students at Rochdale Early Advantage Charter School, a Queens-based elementary school where Dunlap and Gala previously served as the leadership team, also had strong gains during their tenure.

Mr. Dunlap and Ms. Gala’s presentation at the New York Charter Schools Association conference focused on ten moves that schools can take that are modeled on that track record of success, including insights on class schedules, assigning instructional leadership, the importance of clear instructional expectations that are vertically aligned, school culture and teacher support.

Mr. Dunlap’s emphasis on building positive relationships with staff was particularly appreciated by Ms. Coleman of King Center Charter School, which has a 23-year history and currently serves 425 students.

“Some of his staff members, he said, he sees them like sisters and not necessarily subordinates,” Ms. Coleman said. “That approach, I believe, has supported the results that they are seeing in their school.”

Like in many cities across the country, schools in Buffalo face post-pandemic challenges including falling test scores and teacher retention. The New York Charter Schools Association has provided invaluable support, Ms. Coleman said.

Held this year in Buffalo, the New York Charter Schools Conference featured presentations from New York State Education Department and SUNY Charter Schools Institute leaders, as well as from principals and other education professionals from across the state. Topics included parent engagement, crisis management, addressing transphobia and developing a compelling data story.

For Ms. Gala who is a product of Buffalo schools, the opportunity to speak to school leaders from across the state there was special.

“To take what I’ve learned, what we’ve developed together, and give back to that community,” she said. “[It was] special for me to give back in that way. And I think it was received really well.”

Ms. Gala attributed some of the success she has had with Mr. Dunlap to the way they balance each other out in terms of subject area passion. While he assumes ownership over math goals and instruction at the school, she focuses on English Language Arts.

Both Mr. Dunlap and Ms. Gala said students at CPCS are afforded more resources than students at the previous school where they worked. The school also enjoys significant support from its Board of Trustees and its charter network, led by the Beginning with Children Foundation, Mr. Dunlap said.

Free enrichment after-school programs at CPCS are an example of how those resources are used both to provide more academic time to students and to allow them to pursue interests in visual arts, chess, cooking, theater and other areas.

Though developing innovative programs and best practices is important, Mr. Dunlap said, successful school leaders prioritize accountability and follow-through. 

“You have to have courageous conversations with people,” he said.

Mr. Dunlap and Ms. Gala hope to share their lessons learned with those outside New York State as well. The pair are considering presentations at other, national charter school conferences, such as the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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