City Schools has recommended that Patterson Park Public Charter School receive a five-year renewal of its charter school contract.
“I think we’re in,” said principal Chad Kramer. “We’re moving forward with the idea that we’ve got a lot longer to evolve. Now instead of three-year goals, we’re making five-year goals.
The recommendation came earlier this month; the City Schools Board of Commissioners will make a final vote on Feb. 12.
Patterson Park Public Charter School, founded in 2005, educates 639 children in grades pre-K through 8. As a charter school, it is operated privately but must answer to City Schools, a city department.
Exactly half of the renewal criteria hinges on student achievement. PPPCS scored “highly effective” on overall achievement, which draws on state standardized test scores, growth trends, and the school’s aderence to its own charter.
PPPCS made only one low individual score; the Trend Reading score for grades 6-8 was “not effective.” Kramer said that the “trend” scores are based on improvement within the school, and a very strong group of students from a couple years ago has been difficult to improve upon.
“We had this one group that were just very strong test takers,” he said.
Kramer said that while he is proud of his students’ test scores, he doesn’t see them as a singular goal.
“I think we have to be real about what these tests are looking at,” he said. “They’re pretty good, but at our school we want to look at other things that make children succeed.”
In late October, PPPCS hosted Paul Tough, author of “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.” Tough identified characteristics—beyond intelligence as measured by standardized tests—that seem to contribute to success. “Grit” and “civility” were a couple of these “executive functions.”
“That’s part of the next step for us,” said Kramer, “continuing to achieve academically, but also to find out what builds grit in kids, or civility.”
“When I went to school, we just did ‘school stuff,’ and a lot of my friends weren’t successful,” he added.
In the next five years, the tests will change, from the Maryland Voluntary Curriculum (“They’re not really voluntary,” joked Kramer) to the Common Core State Standards. Kramer said that the Common Core tests will attempt to measure students’ progress and abilities beyond stark academic achievement.
“I’m not sure how that’s going to come out in a test, and be scored and aggregated to compare one kid to another,” he said. “There’s a chance that it will be like another bubble test—I would personally be very disappointed.”
In the meantime, PPPCS continues to educate in the manner that has made it successful, Kramer said. “Theme-based” learning is part of that. One theme taught in the third grade is “Myths and Legends.”
“They’ll be reading about mythology in Language Arts,” explained Kramer. “In Social Studies, they’ll be looking at maps of the places where the mythology happened. Then, in Math, they’ll look at a map and study what ‘scale’ is.”
“The more we can have a crossover in conversations between classrooms, the more likely the kid is to say, ‘Yeah, I get that,’” said Kramer.
Recess in a big park—Patterson Park—is another part. At PPPCS, the kids do a mixture of organized and less-organized activities on the north side of the park.
“They play old-school games, like “Steal the Bacon,” stuff you remember from when you were young,” said Kramer.
The school works in partnership with an agency called Playworks, which “helps us sync through what recess should look like, not just kids running around and tackling each other,” said Kramer.
The school takes advantage of the many community organizations in Baltimore, noted Kramer, including the Patterson Park Audubon Society and the Creative Alliance.
“It’s great to have partners within the community that are really doing things, not just talking about it,” he said.
by Erik Zygmont