Starting a Charter School: Ann Wallace Tells the Story of TECCS

It’s not always obvious what the options are in terms of educating our children. Every child in Jersey City (aged 3 through high school graduation) has a free neighborhood school. If you don’t know which school you’re zoned for, you can call 201.915.6000 to find out. Alternately, Jersey City parents can look into charter schools (which are also free to parents), private schools, and religious options.

Because of the conversations I have been having with parents, I reached out to Ann Wallace, one of the founders of TECCS, to learn more about what goes into starting a charter school, and what the process entails.

“When I was at Garden, some of us were having the same conversation that parents are having with you today. We wanted more options in terms of schools. So Shelly Skinner and I met with some of the founders of LCCS. They said it was worth it, but joked that it was such an enormous undertaking that they wouldn’t do it again.

“The first step was calling the state – The Department of Education. There’s a charter office.

“The people from the state joined our group up with another group from Manhattan – they were Fieldston School students. The Fieldston team wanted to replicate the school’s ethics-based curriculum and culture.

“In order to approve a charter, one of the state requirements is that there needs to be community support. You need letters. That’s why the state partnered us with the Manhattan group. They had the curriculum, but they needed our help demonstrating community buy-in. For us, that was the easy part.

“And then the group from Manhattan stepped back because they had also applied in NY and got their charter. But the ball was rolling so we forged ahead without them.

“If you want to apply for a charter, you need to form a team that includes a curriculum writer and a budget person. You also probably need an education person because you need to be able to spell everything out in your application. That might include, for example, are you going to have a speech therapist on staff? A social worker? Probably not – you can contract that out. But all those details need to be spelled out in the application.

“And there’s a lot to do after you get the approval. Once you get the charter, you need to find a space, hire a principal, and enroll students. We started young and then grew as the kids grew. A lot of charter schools do that. We did that because we wanted to build a school culture.

“TECCS is different from the public schools because we have lower overhead, and we have more flexibility. Teachers are really committed. They’re helping build the school – that’s exciting. They build the curriculum, that’s the buy in. Teachers have more say, their voice is louder here. It’s a special kind of teacher who wants that. They also connect differently with the parents – all the parents chose this school.

“Here’s something else that parents might want to know: there’s a consortium of charter schools. Marta Gergemini – the principal at TECCS – has a community of other principals to connect with. There’s no antagonism between the charter schools. They share notes. They’re on the same team.”

Other Jersey City Charter Schools include:

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Mel Kozakiewicz a professor, editor, writer, and mother of two.

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