Educators from NYC DOE and Charter School Get Together to Solve Literacy Gaps

UncommonSchools-Na’Jee Carter
Na’Jee Carter, an assistant superintendent at Uncommon Schools, led a professional development workshop recently for 125 NYC teachers

Before the pandemic, a partnership between the New York City Department of Education and Uncommon Schools brought educators together at DOE headquarters in Lower Manhattan to work on ways to help students become stronger readers.

Then the pandemic hit, and such joint professional development opportunities were put on hold.

NYC Public School teachers at an Uncommon Schools professional development in New York City in 2019.

Last week, the partnership came back to life via Zoom, with 125 NYC teachers participating in the first of three sessions, titled Great Habits Great Readers. Teachers were able to take the time to explore the techniques that master teachers use to pick the right texts for students to ensure they are growing in literacy.

“I know you’ve heard some very alarming statistics about what has happened during the pandemic,” said Celeste Douglas, Superintendent of NYC School District 18. “But I want to tell you this statistic. There are 125 people on this call. So there are 125 people committed to ensuring that every single student under our charge, becomes amazing readers.”

Douglas said she was thankful that the teachers joined because “we know that this is not just about making children amazing readers, this is about making sure that when they leave our schools they are able to comprehend, make inferences, and be the world changers that they need to be.”

The session was led by Na’Jee Carter, an assistant superintendent at Uncommon Schools, which runs 24 public charter schools in New York City serving nearly 10,000 students.  Carter showed teachers the various reading levels over the course of elementary school, and how quickly texts get more complex with every grade. This is why it’s important to start picking the best books as early as Kindergarten.  “Students will not be prepared for the rigor of higher levels of reading if they do not start to move up the staircase of complexity for their grade level,” he told the group.

While district schools and charter schools don’t routinely work together, Uncommon Schools has a long standing commitment to working with the district schools in their neighborhoods to share best practices.

“We share a love and understanding that our kids deserve to learn and grow in schools which provide them with the opportunities and skills to be their very best,” said Julie Jackson, President of Uncommon Schools. “Creating and curating those classrooms and schools requires that we work as a collective community.”

Uncommon Schools has been working in partnership with the New York City Department of Education since 2013. The partnership also includes professional development for school leaders.

“One of the pillars that David Banks has brought in is to scale and sustain what works, and so I love that we get to be part of this approach to reading through Great Habits, Great Readers, that we can learn about and then scale and sustain what works,” said Carolyne Quintana, Deputy Chancellor of the NYC DOE. “Here we are, something that started with small interactions between schools to something that has become as large as this.”