As City Year turns 25, the national service organization continues to solidify its presence in urban schools, where its AmeriCorps members have always had a strong presence as tutors and mentors. Now the organization—which was the inspiration for the national AmeriCorps program—is partnering with Johns Hopkins University’s Center for the Social Organization of Schools (CSOS) and a local founding school board to support the launch of a new public charter school in Denver, Colorado.
“They wanted to take their work one step further and not just partner with schools, but actually design one themselves based on evidence-based core components and what they know effective schools look like,” says SchoolWorks President Kim Wechtenhiser.
City Year has a quarter-century of experience in urban schools, but the organization has never designed a school from the ground up. Through its existing partnership with CSOS at Johns Hopkins, there had been a growing demand from districts and school leaders for the organizations to play a greater role in whole school design. So when leaders of the two organizations ultimately selected Denver as the proposed site for the school, City Year reached out to SchoolWorks for support during the charter application process.
“We knew that their design team was going to be really great at generating the vision and developing the model, but they needed a whole different set of skills to write the application and get it approved by an authorizer,” says Wechtenhiser.
SchoolWorks worked closely with City Year, supporting the school’s founding board and project design team as they prepared the charter application, providing project management support, and ultimately drafting key components of the application. SchoolWorks also prepared members of the proposed school’s founding board for the capacity interview with the school’s authorizer, including arranging a mock capacity interview with two former charter authorizers.
“We were able to bring that lens of what the authorizer is looking for to the process,” Wechtenhiser says.
City Year and Johns Hopkins CSOS’s charter application was approved by Denver Public Schools in June 2014. The new school is one component of City Year’s overarching strategic plan to increase the number of our country’s high school graduates over the next decade. “They want to demonstrate they have a larger contribution to make in improving schools and communities, and they are willing to stretch their organization by partnering to create a school,” Wechtenhiser says.
The work leveraged a long shared history between the two organizations. SchoolWorks former CEO Spencer Blasdale was one of City Year’s inaugural corps members in 1988 and later served as a City Year team leader at Trotter Elementary School in Boston as well as the organization’s executive director in Chicago. In many of the schools SchoolWorks serves, City Year corps members are key levers in improvement strategies such as tutoring, reducing student-teacher ratios, and providing near-peer mentors to students.
“Along with nationally recognized technical expertise, SchoolWorks brought a deep understanding of City Year’s core mission and goals to the charter application process,” says Jim Balfanz, the organization’s president. “With our strategic plan focused on sustained student achievement and building capacity within schools, we appreciated collaborating with and learning from an organization that shares our shared values and priorities.”