Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 1
 
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
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Profiles in Education

(Photo by Ellen Gilbert)
“We want to make sure that everyone knows about us, a local, free, public, and small K through 8 school, with a strong academic focus.”
— Broderick Boxley, Head of the Princeton Charter School

In July of 2008, Broderick L. Boxley became the second Head of the Princeton Charter School (PCS), which was founded in 1997. Prior to coming to Princeton, Mr. Boxley, who has a doctorate in Educational and Organization Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania, was the Mathematics Supervisor for the Cherry Hill Township Public Schools, and Curriculum Supervisor for the Pontiac, Michigan School District. Earlier, he was a Program Administrator, Portfolio Assessment Developer, and Teacher Facilitator at Educational Testing Service.

Ellen Gilbert

I’ve seen a lot of schools, and I’ve seen remarkable children. Every school has its signature imprint, and in the short time I’ve been at Charter it seems to me that the defining characteristic of the students here is how energetic they are about learning. The school’s board, teachers, and previous head created a culture of learning with purposeful energy; you see kids running in from outside breaks to get to their science class. There is enthusiasm.

Teachers

The teacher makes the difference. Research supports that. My colleagues here have a remarkable level of dedication and expertise in terms of meeting student needs, and taking them somewhere. It’s popular in education right now to talk about ‘meeting students where they are.’ The reason why I consider these teachers remarkable is because they not only meet students where they are, they take them somewhere beyond that point, where the child might otherwise not have gone. Part of my work here is to systematize that work: to take what we do really well and to pass it on to those who follow.

I’ve already developed a good working relationship with the faculty. I’ve benefited from opening the door and getting input from teachers and consultants before decisions are made. I’ve also benefited from the feedback I get after something has been implemented. There’s a thoughtfulness about the faculty here: they don’t only think about the boys and girls in front of them, but about the school as a whole.

I will be teaching middle school mathematics — I insist on it — but I wanted to ensure the success of my transition so I’m waiting to teach until next year.

During a typical day, I walk into classrooms, I visit the assistant heads of school, and I take 15 or 20 minutes to check in with the construction manager. I visit classrooms for two reasons: one is that I want to give substantive feedback to teachers each day, and the other is because I want to have something curriculum-based to discuss with boys and girls when I meet them on the playground.

One of the quiet secrets that some folks don’t know about Charter is that we just don’t say “oh, our fifth graders do sixth grade math.” The school’s charter insists that we don’t leave kids to flounder by setting the highest achievement standards without supporting them. We have tutoring during the day, and after school programs. We support the work of the typically-achieving child, the struggling student, the special education student, and the high-achieving child.

One of the important things that I believe I’ve brought to the school is maximizing opportunities for teacher collaboration. We have “achievement roundtables” for children we’ve identified as needing support. We bring all of their teachers together, along with counselors and a facilitator, and we identify the child’s performance strengths and areas where growth is needed. Then we plan a strategy for supporting the child. There’s a strict protocol for our conversation to keep it focused. The reason I was able to get to this point so quickly is because there was an existing foundation that lent itself to a collaborative culture.

Faculty here are very interested in professional development, and we’ve formed faculty academic study teams that meet regularly. Teachers support each other by discussing and observing each other’s work, and reading on particular topics.

Outreach

It would be quite appropriate to discuss opportunities to collaborate with the Princeton Regional School District that would benefit everyone involved. Here are two successful educational entities in the community; that would be a worthwhile conversation.

The new campus center is a reflection of our standards of excellence. We will finally have a gymnasium and a place where the entire school can come together. Everyone is excited about it. We’re noted for our achievement scores, our world language program; this was an opportunity to excel in a different way. We’re grateful to our donors and parent volunteers who help us get through financially challenging times. We don’t have the resources that PRS has in this arena; the law doesn’t allow charter schools to build the way public schools do.

We’re having an Open House on December 6, and we’re looking for representation from all across Princeton to come learn about us. Last night we went to the Clay Street Learning Center to encourage applicants, and we’re continuing to do more outreach. We want to make sure that everyone knows about us, a local, free, public, and small K through 8 school with a strong academic focus.

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