The key features of University Heights Charter School drive its success:
1. Admission free and open to all. UHCS is open to all Newark students from Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 8 on a space available basis and does not discriminate in its admission policy. Our founders chose not to establish a private school or magnet school, where admission is selective but to be a public charter school where admission is open to all. Our student body, which is 100% minority and 80% low income, is representative of our community as a whole. We serve a range of special education students with services ranging from targeted speech therapy to in-class support to special classrooms with very low student to teacher ratios.
2. More instructional time. At UHCS the length of the school year for students in grades PreK-8 is 184 days, and for kindergartners is 200 days due to a required two-week summer Kindercamp academic program. We also run an extended school day schedule from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm for all students, with breakfast available at 7:30. The extended day and year initiatives combined offer over 20% more learning time for students when compared with traditional district schools.
3. Demanding, standards based curriculum. The curriculum for every student is aligned to the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards (which will soon be aligned to the national Common Core State Standards) and includes language arts literacy, mathematics, science, social studies every day, and music, physical education/health, Spanish, and technology for every student at least twice per week. The school also aims beyond this with college-ready standards which will prepare students to be independent thinkers.
4. Common set of proven instructional practices. UHCS teachers employ proven instructional practices they have learned in professional development. This includes using a common lesson plan format based on strong objectives and standards, use of the I-We-You approach to gradually release students to independent practice, and frequent checking for understanding.
5. Intense recruitment and support of teachers. UHCS spends significant resources attracting and hiring the most highly qualified and certified teachers available. Over 400 applicants vied for 8 teacher openings this past year. UHCS worked closely with Teach for America and TeacherNex to upgrade its staff recruitment and retention. Once teachers are hired we provide extensive support and professional development, including two weeks of dedicated pre-service professional development before the start of school.
6. Culture built around the REACH core virtues. This begins with a student and parent orientation for new students where they learn our expectations, policies and procedures, and we mutually commit to abiding by them. All students wear uniforms to demonstrate school pride and avoid divisions caused by wearing different clothes. It also teaches the students the importance of professional dress in education and the work place. Culture is further developed at our morning meetings. During this time, character education lessons are given on the REACH core virtues. This happens through presentations, viewing of movie clips, acting out morality plays, and chants, including our Call and Response.
7. Rigorous discipline that reinforces culture. All staff members expect 100% compliance with school behavior standards. Failure to meet these standards is met with an escalating series of responses, from reminder and reprimand to time out, visit to the principal’s office, or suspension, according to our Code of Discipline. A system of rewards and consequences is also tracked through our scholar dollar paycheck systems, where scholars lose scholar dollars for infractions and earn scholar dollars for positive behavior that they can use at our school store.
8. Continual assessment of student performance. Teaching has not happened if students have not learned, and the only way to determine that is through assessment. Based on the results, teachers can then adjust and extend instruction to ensure maximum learning has taken place. UHCS employs a multitude of formal and informal assessments to track student progress and adjust instruction. This includes daily check for understanding, quarterly reading assessments, quarterly interim assessments (in partnership with the Achievement Network, and annual summative assessments. After each assessment the Principal guides each teacher though analysis during dedicated grade-level professional development sessions.
9. Involvement of parents in student learning. University Heights recognizes that parents s are the primary teachers of students, and therefore seeks their partnership in every way possible. The school organizes monthly workshops that train parents in how they can best support their child’s character development, health, and academic skills. Important information is provided in weekly green folders and on our website. Several times year the school also plans major parent/community events, including Back-to-School Night, Latino Cultural Celebration, Black History Celebration, and the Mid-Year Check-in.
10. Community partnerships to extend learning. UHCS builds community partnerships to enhance the school’s education program. See our Partners page for more details. The school is also partnering with Rutgers University and Newark Public Schools to obtain federal support to establish a Promise Neighborhood in the greater Fairmount neighborhood of Newark which will include continuum of academic programs and family and community supports, from the cradle through college to career, with a strong school or schools at the center, that support high student achievement and growth.