Syracuse charter school seeks grant

The Syracuse school district will be getting some advice from a local charter school if a state grant is approved.

The Syracuse Academy of Science is the lead agency in a $500,000 grant application from the state. The grant would come from a state program that seeks to disseminate the successful practices of charter schools to traditional public schools.

The grant would steer most of the money to Roberts K-8 School in Syracuse, which would replicate some of the techniques being used at SAS. They would include making instruction in fourth and fifth grades look more like that in middle school, with students going to different teachers to learn the core subjects of English, math, science and social studies.

The changes would also involve using more technology in the classrooms, providing targeted support for students, building a college-going culture and ensuring a strong focus on science and math.

Of the $500,000, $416,749 would go to Roberts over the next three years. It would cover teacher training, extra work hours for teachers, after-school clubs in robotics and other science and math-related subjects, and the purchase of technology like SmartBoards, iPads, laptops and Chromebooks.

SAS Director Tolga Hayali, who approached the district with the grant idea, said he is anxious to show that charter schools and traditional public schools can work together to help both.

“I think this is a great opportunity to show that charter schools, parochial schools, district schools, we work for the same reason — we work for the kids,” he said.

There has been considerable tension between traditional public schools and charter schools in the past, partly because the charters drain students — and the per-pupil state funding that follows them — from district schools. Teachers’ unions also have an issue with charters because they are generally not unionized.

Hayali downplayed the idea that his school, which has posted higher test scores than most district schools over the past few years, would be teaching the district to do better.

“We are sharing the practices we have,” he said. “They have a lot of other programs and I am learning from them too.”

Syracuse School Board President Stephen Swift said the district is interested in the grant both to learn about best practices and because there is a significant amount of grant money involved.

“We thought it was a very interesting idea,” he said.

The board will vote to approve the grant application at its regular monthly meeting at 5:30 p.m. today at district headquarters, 725 Harrison St.

This news article was published on on Wednesday, April 10th, 2013. Here is the link to the article:

We’ve done a “guess the first inch of snow contest” for a few years at and The Post-Standard, but I’ve never had as much fun letting the winners know as I did Thursday, at the Syracuse Academy of Science Charter School.

Each year, we ask readers to make a prediction on when we’ll get our first snowfall of at least an inch in greater Syracuse. The winner – the person whose guess either nails the day itself or comes the closest – gets four half moon cookies from Mimi’s Bakery and Cafe (believe me, that’s a treasure worthy of a king) and a free night of family skating at the Clinton Square ice rink, courtesy of city parks Commissioner Baye Muhammad.

This year, we had an unusual situation: Out of hundreds of entries, the winners – the only two entrants to correctly guess Dec. 22, the day identified by the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell – were both pupils in the first grade class of Anna Szczesniak and Shannon O’Mara, teachers at the Academy of Science who’d asked every child in their classroom to take a guess. We’ve done the contest for a few years, but it’s the first time we ever had children as the winners.

So I put in a call to Szczesniak and O’Mara. They were delighted, and they agreed to keep the contest results a secret until I got a chance to stop by the school and break the news to Lonnie Moore and Mahoniss Graham – the two young winners – and the rest of the class.

Better yet, Gary Nigolian, owner of Mimi’s, donated 30 of his legendary half moons, so every child in the classroom could share in the reward.

If you watch the video, captured by our own Ellen Blalock, you’ll get a sense of how a roomful of first graders felt about their victory, once they heard the news. Lonnie, asked how he came up with Dec. 22, basically said: Hey, that was a long time ago, and I took a guess.

Mahoniss, however, offered a longer take: She told me her mother suggested a date, and then Mahoniss forgot it, and instead she she put down a day, and then she erased it, and then she came up with another day …

And, like Lonnie, she hit the right one. Congratulations, kids. Meeting you made my day.

- Sean

This news article was published on Post-Standard on February 18th, 2013. Here is the link to the article:

As other children across Central New York enjoyed their midwinter break, seventh-grader Carmella Biles sat behind a desk at the Syracuse Academy of Science, reading a passage of Helen Keller’s “The Story of My Life.”


“I think it’s a good experience, because you get more time with the teacher in smaller classes,” she said.

Biles and 18 other seventh- and eighth-graders are giving up their breaks to spend four hours a day at the charter school at 1001 Park Ave. this week. So are 19 elementary-age children at the school’s other location at 4837 S. Salina St.

It’s part of the school’s drive to keep improving its already impressive scores on the state’s English language arts and math exams, which will be given in April.

School Director Tolga Hayali said students who could use some extra help were invited to the midwinter break sessions, just as they are invited to classes every Saturday.

Hayali said the reason for the extra sessions is obvious. The more time students spend in school — especially in small classes — the better.

“There is no miracle in education, there is no magic,” he said. “You have to work with the kids.”

Tuesday, the students spent 90 minutes on English language arts, took a half-hour break for a lunch provided by the school, and spent another 90 minutes on math.

In teacher Mike Cook’s seventh-grade ELA class, they read aloud from Keller’s work, then brainstormed to come up with good “short-answer” responses to questions about the passage.

Cook, wearing a school polo shirt with “SAS” on the front and “No Excuses” on the back, guided them.

“What is the first sentence in every short-answer response?” he asked. “What do you need to have? A topic what?”

“A topic sentence,” a student volunteered.

“Where do we get our topic sentence from?”

“The question.”

“Right, we just restate the question. So I want you to restate your question into a topic sentence.”

Cook said the extra work should help students improve on the state tests. But they get other rewards, too. They don’t have to wear their school uniforms this week, and if they attend all four days (Monday was a holiday) they can each pick a personal “dress-down” day later in the school year, when everyone else has to wear a uniform.

In addition, they will get a half-day trip to the WonderWorks “amusement park for the mind” at Carousel Center.

Both Biles and Jessica Reade, another seventh-grader, said those inducements were not why they came to school when they weren’t required to.

“I want to be here for extra help so we can do better on the ELAs,” Reade said.

If she wasn’t at school, she added, “I’d be in my house just watching TV.”

This news article was published on on Tuesday, February 19th, 2013. Here is the link to the article:

My name is Mary O’Neill, my daughter Grace is in Ms. Lawrence and Ms. Cox’s First Grade Class. I want to start by saying how thrilled my husband and I are with Grace’s teachers and your school. So Kudos to Ms. Lawrence and Ms. Cox!

Friday, the First Graders came to my place of employment, Clare Bridge of Manlius, an Assisted Living Community for people with Alzheimer’s Dementia. What a huge success!! I am a Recreation Therapist by trade but am now the Executive Director of our community. I have lead many Inter-generational Programs before, but have to say this ranks at the top. The kids were extremely well mannered and behaved. Each class was in a dining room sitting with residents making Valentine crafts and then having a snack together. The key word being “together.” The students and seniors engaged each other in an amazing way, bridging the gap between generations. My residents were smiling, laughing, singing, and socializing which some days does not happen as their disease has stripped them of these emotions.

The Grand Finale took place in our Town Square where we gathered both classes and several residents to sing a very special Happy Birthday to one of my residents whose birthday happened to be today… her 100th Birthday!! What a special treat to have 50 children sing to you on your 100th Birthday. Of course the morning wouldn’t be complete without the kids Winter Concert Songs, (so please give a shout out to Ms. Plunkett). This was truly a very special morning for our residents and community here at Clare Bridge. Several of my staff have since come up to me saying how well behaved the children were and how much our residents enjoyed them.

So thank you to your teachers, students and you for your great work at SAS. We welcome First Grade and any other grade to come and visit us again!

Seven people spoke at a hearing on the proposed expansion of the Syracuse Academy of Science charter school today, and all had high praise for the school.

“It’s an environment where getting good grades is cool,” said one of the parents, Chanel Turnquest, whose daughter Samantha is a senior there.

The school, which runs campuses at 4837 S. Salina St. and 1001 Park Ave., is seeking permission from the state to expand from 696 students to 975 over the next four years. It held a required public hearing on the plan at Syracuse school district headquarters today.

The six adults and one student who testified all had glowing comments about the school. No one spoke against the expansion.

Mary O’Neill said her first-grade daughter, Grace, had anxiety at previous schools she has been in, but was thriving at the charter school.

“It’s the teachers, the teachers, the teachers,” O’Neill said.

This news article was published on on Thursday, February 14th, 2013. Here is the link to the article:

The Syracuse Academy of Science Charter School is relatively new to the area, but parents of the students who go there say it has had made a big impact on their children.

The school is now looking to expand by increasing enrollment from 696 students to 975. Before anything can be done, a public hearing had to take place.

Thursday, a number of parents were at the Syracuse District Office to throw their support behind the expansion.

“Our son started in kindergarten in September. And we love Syracuse Academy of Science. And we think every child in Onondaga County should have the same experience and love of the school we have,” Dave Durfey said.

“The first conversation you’ll have with the school isn’t, ‘have you ever thought about going to college or what do you think about college?’ It’s ‘what college are you going to because here’s how we’ll help you get there,’” said Charisse Glass.

The Charter School was founded in 2002. There’s no word on how long it could take to have the expansion approved.

This news article was published on YNN on Thursday, February 14th, 2013. Here is the link to the article: