Ten years ago, during the height of the national debate around the positive and negative impacts of charter schools in urban environments, critics had a pretty strong argument:

The argument was that, in urban centers, the practice of screening in the brightest and/or expelling the “problem” students served to further “ghetto-ize” the surrounding public schools. Free of public and governmental oversight, the disciplinary methods of charter schools also were often called into question. Furthermore, initial studies of the academic performance at urban charters often proved only marginally better but still fell far below the state’s average.

Brooklyn Excelsior Charter School

Take Brooklyn Excelsior Charter School, for example– a K-8 charter school, located at 856 Quincy Street on the border of Bushwick and Bed-Stuy. BECS is a part of National Heritage Academies, a network of 87 charter schools across the country, three of which are located in Brooklyn. Founded in 2003, BECS’s student makeup is 94 percent black and Hispanic, with most of its 640 students hailing from underserved areas.

In its first few years after opening, the school was, like most new charters back then, a beacon of hope and a breath of fresh air for parents who desired a safer, more structured and academically challenging environment for their child.

However, by 2010, the school had developed a public relations problem: Parents began writing in on comment boards, complaining about the school’s disorganized staff; at-will instruction; questionable disciplinary measures; higher-than-average suspensions and less-than-impressive test scores– not unlike the complaints at many urban-area charters around the country at that time.

“The building was in disarray,” said Dr. Christopher Petty, principal of Brooklyn Excelsior Charter School. “The principals, the deans, assistant principals, the teaching staff… leadership period in the building was unstable.”

Dr. Petty was brought on board to BECS in 2016, following his success in turning around Alliance Academy of Cincinnati, another National Heritage Academies school. Since his appointment, the school not only has made a comeback, it has surpassed all of its goals!

Over the last four years, Brooklyn Excelsior’s state test proficiency rates in English Language Arts and Math have increased by 33 percentage points.

Additionally, more than 80 percent of BECS students this year outperformed their local district on the state proficiency exams in every grade and subject (ELA and Math), an improvement by more than 50 percent in less than three years! At the current rate of growth, that figure could reach 100 percent of students by as soon as next year– all of this while not a single one of the students has been expelled.  

Brooklyn Excelsior Charter School state proficiency exam results over the past four academic school years

What was behind such a dramatic change?

“The first goal was to stabilize the leadership and create recorded systems,” said Petty. “What happens every ten weeks when it’s time to distribute report cards? What happens semester-one and semester-two when we conduct parent/teacher conferences? What happens at lunch duty? What happens for dismissal? There were no recorded documented routines or procedures anywhere.”

The second goal was achieved through staff learning. NHA keeps an online portal accessible to staff whereby they can then track data in real time. The data is updated regularly and includes employee engagement, parent satisfaction, budget, attendance, disciplinary suspensions and of course academic performance. Dr. Petty, along with his staff, studied the school data objectively, mapped the results and began to make changes.

“Together, we figured out what is the something that the data is telling us, and then what direction do we need to go in to run the school,” said Petty.

“All of the research is clear: When the student is engaged in high quality instruction, discipline problems significantly decrease, if they exist at all.” ~ Christopher Petty, BECS Principal

That learning was facilitated by modeling what works and doesn’t work at some of the other NHA schools located in distressed areas around the country: “We’re in areas like New Orleans where Katrina hit, so there are multiple lessons to be learned from that; in Atlanta where the cheating scandal was, so there are a lot of lessons to be learned from that.”

The school looks for teachers who can create a classroom culture where engagement is so high, disruptions are rare.  Additionally, every teacher is required to chart and then post their classroom benchmarks on the wall so that students naturally begin to feel they are a part of that goal setting, while at the same time the school makes every effort in providing whatever resources teachers need to meet those goals.

“[NHA] actually has a funding formula where some of the extra money [we might need] comes from the other schools in the NHA network, so that we’re funded in a way that allows us to compete,” said Petty. “But all of the research is clear: When the student is engaged in high quality instruction, discipline problems significantly decrease, if they exist at all.”

Jaelyn White, a 13-year-old honor roll student who is in her second year at BECS said she can sense the teachers care about her progress: “Teachers I had in the past seemed like they wanted to do it because they get paid for it. But here, you can tell their passion is to teach. They really want us to understand the work.”

The third priority, said Petty, was to develop a relationship with the students individually. BECS does not screen its students, so the majority of them come directly from the neighborhood outside of the school’s walls. And many of them are arriving from troubled, poor or unstable environments. Getting them to buy into a different set of rules and expectations meant creating a safe space for and gaining the trust of both the children and their parents.

“We have to spend the time hearing them out, whether they are right or wrong,” said Dr. Petty. “Then we have to make sure they have space to vent through conflict mediation or counseling. We have to hold expectations high; and then we have to make sure that kids have a path to meeting those expectations.”

Dr. Christopher Petty, principal of Brooklyn Excelsior Charter School points to exam results and the goals set for the next two years. So far, the school has exceeded each benchmark for every year.

Roderick Hutcherson is the Student-Parent Liaison at BECS. He was hired, ironically, following a successful conflict resolution between him and his son’s kindergarten teacher– something he says was resolved because the school was willing to listen: “I enjoy the structure and, at the same time, the openness,” said Hutcherson. “Working here has changed the way our home functions even and has propelled our family to a different bracket, financially and otherwise.”

“One of the things we leverage,” added Petty, “is encouraging kids to find a personality in the building that works for them. For some kids, that’s Mr. Hutcherson. For some kids, that’ll be me. For some kids, it’ll be one of the secretaries sitting at the front desk. And pretty much, the whole staff knows that if you have that relationship with the child, then when there’s an issue, we’ll call you.”

(l to r) Honor Roll students Jahara Adossa, 11; Carlos Simmons, 12; Jaelyn White, 13; and Claudenski Souvenance, 11. “I like the environment, because here, it’s challenging academically,” said Souvenance, who wants to be a writer. “It’s important to be challenged because when you’re challenged, that’s when you’re at your best.”

Interestingly, it seems, Brooklyn Excelsior is not the only charter school that is pulling ahead. A recent Stanford University study shows a sudden uptick in the performance of urban charter schools nationwide. The main reason, notes Margaret Raymond of Stanford University, is that regulators have shut down many of the worst-performing charters, which rarely happens with ineffective traditional schools.

The other reason, Raymond states, is because so many of the old charters have been overhauled and reformed. Enough time has passed and enough data has been collected for charters to figure out what they are doing wrong and then customize a fix!

Whether that fix addresses structure, quality of instruction, engagement, trust and safety or all of the above depends on the school’s environmental needs.

“When I leave this school, I feel safe.” said Carlos Simmons, 12, who is an honor roll student in his fourth year at BECS. “It’s important, because I sometimes don’t feel safe in my neighborhood. But if I feel safe, I can study and focus and do my best.”

Still, one success factor that is universal and clear: Schools where students learn best are those where the instructors, the parents and the staff are committed to doing precisely the same.

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  1. This is a great article and I’m happy to hear/read this story. Let me first state that I’m a parent of a now adult daughter whose education I navigated in both public and private schools. I’m not an educator, but let me express some opinions about charter schools. I begin by stating, as a parent, my goal, and, I believe every parents goal is to make certain that their child receive the best education possible.
    My objection to charter schools is that they siphon monies from the public school system, thereby decreasing the financial resources for the community schools. Now, if charter schools were acknowledged to be prototypes because the public school system is failing too many students, perhaps I would feel differently. Because then the model developed in the charter school would be transferred to all schools.
    2. The goal and objectives of public school systems must be remembered. And that is the general education of all the children in the community, not a select group. That’s the foundation of public schools and when other models are created, it leaves some students behind. Most likely these are students whose parents, for whatever reasons, are not the vigilant advocates for their children.These children should not be left behind.
    3. Public education facilities should not have stockholders. Stockholders always are seeking returns on investments.
    4. The overall promotion of charter ring similar to private schools, and they are not.
    The question therefore is creating educational structures and systems where your zip code does not define the quality of education provided.

    1. Lies and Fairy Tales!

      DONT ALLOW THE PANERA BREAD Catered-ORIENTATION LUNCHES FOOL YOU!!!

      I personally was sampling this school… And it’s literally a fake school. National Heritage Academy is a for-profit school that has been grandfather claused in …
      (That is how NYC will even allow this abomination to continue)

      These disadvantaged students are not properly secured, hence when a 3rd grader escaped and ended up on the train tracks on 2017. Let’s not forget all the millions of dollars that are missing and are being constantly invistigated. And have been rated by the IRS more than once in the past.

      You have amazing “teachers” more like “angels” that try their best and want the best for students. There is a higher turnover rate than aspetos-related work. -_-

      NHA, has cheated our students, parents and the community as a whole. Remember, just because something is polished and shines .. doesn’t mean it’s gold. National Heritage Academies are an obomination to our low income/ severe poverty areas and is a whole unconstitutional facility/ company

      The concept looks beautiful on paper as well as the 100 dollar + stipends, Petty is awarded to drink beers in his office while students (8 year old ) runs away and end up in train tracks. (During school hours) This school is a liability. Whatever is done in the dark will turn to light.

      If anyone attends here.. please have your students moved by the end of 5th grade. The junior high school is a whole money scheme. Thus, this will not be the first time Or last administrations lie on their teeth to pull miraculous results/ records.

      Dr. Petty is currently being invistigated and honestly… I do not know where in Mississippi he purchased this “Doctorate” . He’s an incompetent leader… Permiscous, un-focused. Beligerent, loquacious, narccistic . And is simply collecting a pay check and traumatizing students and their families. He likes to make sure that the “school looks good” but there are lacking smart boards, a real gymnasium , or even a proper study hall….but that… …along with detention..is all taking place in a basement ??!!!

      Eh….is a hard pass for me. I don’t believe in any school….Private or public, has the right to abuse, misallocate, and plagiarized resources.

      If , “Petty” can create a lesson plan for a P.E class… I would be baffled and flabbergasted. The clueless cannot lead.

      P.S He has terrible communication skills with parents and has been threatened on multiple occasions to stop harassing certain students “ghetto hood rats” to keep it verbatim straight from Scholar’s Petty mouth. : The school has had countless legal affairs as well.. parents and students suffering from the reprecussions.

      However, we need to get this community and students the support they need.

      Starting with a sober principal that does not speaks of partaking in illegal activities during (permanent-contract binded) staff meetings. 🤮

      (Please excuse any grammatical errors as I was free writing based on research and personal observation)

      Teachers just leave when they are not valued. I wouldn’t recommend this school to Hitler’s descendants. Our community deserves what is right.. and “”DR”” : Mr.Christopjer Petty was and will never be it.

      And just to throw this out there…. National Heritage Academies purchased that school over 15 years ago… And they have since then failed to live up to their mission statement. (Never have met their mission statement (promising 70% .. and they are dragging and just reaching the 30% field..::::: all of this promised over a decade and a half ago…. 🤮 )

      National Heritage Academies , for the last 15 yr (for profit — no union ) has charged NY- NYC millions of dollars (rent it back to the city to provide a building to house “Brooklyn Excelsior Charter school” Thus, making an insane amount of profit… But there’s no theater.. gym.. proper court yard (not parking and spaces to line up ) smart boards? Resources to support student growth and learning.

      I have teamed amongst the best at B.E.C.S ( Brooklyn Excelsior Charter School ) and it’s sad that those exceptional educators — are no longer there.

      I leave you the reader to think about this…. Since now you are fully aware that National Heritage Academies are a *for-profit” school… How many millions you think they are making due to this “unexpected ” growing results. .. Or what they promised our community… 15 yrs plus ago🤮

      #Blacklivesmatter
      #SaveBedstuy
      #BrooklynBeHeard

      Everyday this school is open “BECS” and this “third party company : National Heritage Academies”.. is a day of injustice that our constitutional rights are being imbezzeled.

      There is no such thing as a “bad school” just severly poor leadership or lack thereof.

      (My name on here: well that’s the name “Dr.Petty” will call me because I’m Muslim. )

  2. You are so correct about the lies. The man was a bully Principal, the worst person I ever worked for in my entire career. The only thing he was ever good at was slinging the bull as you can see here.

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