Mission and Vision
Harlem Link Charter School, a K-5 public school, links academics, values and community to graduate articulate scholars who meet or exceed New York State Performance Standards and active citizens who learn and serve in their communities. Families, staff and community join together to provide a safe, supportive learning environment that empowers students to take an active role in learning and demonstrate good character.
Steve Evangelista and Margaret Ryan, the co-founders of Harlem Link, evolved their educational philosophy at Bank Street College’s Teacher Recruitment Initiative, a three-year partnership between Bank Street and Teach For America. Spurred by demand from parents for safer, more rigorous schools and the promise of greater autonomy in the charter law, after a two-year founding process they opened Harlem Link in the same building where they were teaching together, PS 242, with the blessing of that school’s principal. They put together a grassroots founding board with a diverse set of backgrounds and expertise, and chose the SUNY Charter Schools Institute as authorizer due to the consistency of message and high expectations exhibited by that office.
Vision: Five Key Design Elements
Rigorous, high expectations and a belief in students
Harlem Link seeks to uphold the same, rigorous, college-bound expectations for its students as those typically found in our nation’s most highly functioning and resourced communities. These are embodied in the strict uniform and homework policies, home-school compacts, consistent discipline code across the grades, challenging curriculum and common language in use among the staff that is based on the school’s Core Values.
- A data-driven curriculum and pedagogy that support the school’s mission
Harlem Link seeks to provide a curriculum and teaching structures that support the development of critical thinking skills and student independence. The school uses a balanced literacy curriculum and a set of inquiry-based math and science programs, in which students have frequent opportunities to direct their own learning, examine their thinking and speak and listen about their ideas and strategies with peers. Students must also acquire basic skills; therefore, the school incorporates highly structured academic programs that include a multisensory, sequential phonics program in the early grades and a teacher-created basic skills mathematics program.
Teachers choose instructional strategies (including reciprocal teaching, kinesthetic activities and more) based on data they collect and analyze that indicate student needs. This data is derived from the school’s comprehensive assessment calendar, comprised of formal school-wide assessments such as the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) and school-made interim assessments and curriculum-based measures such as tests, quizzes and student-teacher conferencing notes.
The school provides two teachers per classroom and has developed a specific model for co-teaching in which teachers choose from a small menu of appropriate structures and roles depending on the course, content and academic goals for students. The school also features at least one special education teacher among the four on each grade, a robust student intervention program and a rigorous promotion policy.
- High levels of professional development
The school utilizes both contracted and internal resources in order to support teachers in meeting the school’s mission and effectively executing the curriculum and pedagogy. Harlem Link has developed a professional learning community on its campus in which all adults are constant learners, and the use of professional development resources encourages collaboration among staff. Harlem Link contracts for professional development in areas such as mathematics, literacy and student interventions and provides on-site training and coaching in planning and assessing, co-teaching, differentiating instruction, and use of assessment data among other areas. Teachers have opportunities to visit each other’s classrooms as well as other schools and attend workshops related to the school’s curriculum and mission goals.
- Family and community involvement strategies
Harlem Link supports the development of its Harlem Link Parent Association, the primary means by which parents can be involved in the life of the school and decision-making. The school also maintains an open door policy, in which parents are encouraged to make appointments and spend time observing or helping in their child’s classroom. The school will employ parents where appropriate, and invite family members in for programs such as Friends and Family Fridays, potluck dinners, dances and other events and student performances. The school places a high level of importance on universal participation in tri-annual family-teacher conferences. As a community-based institution, the school is also committed to enrolling a student population representative of the community of location, in keeping with the spirit of the charter law.
- Supportive school culture
Harlem Link defines school culture as the tone created by the physical environment and all the actions and words of the people in it. The school places an emphasis on supporting teachers to promote their retention and continued growth and having an open, collaborative work environment for all staff. The school intends that teachers, administrators and all other staff members model the school’s Core Values and successful student behaviors at all times and that the tone of the school is serious about learning but also joyful and celebratory.