CULTURALLY RESPONSIVE EDUCATION (CRE): We believe Black and Latino students who come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds can excel if a) their culture, language, heritage, and experiences are valued and used to facilitate their learning and development, and b) they are provided access to high quality teachers, programs and resources. CRE instills caring ethics in the professionals that serve diverse students, uses curricula with ethnic and cultural diversity content, employs communication strategies that build on students’ cultures, and nurtures the creation of school cultures that are concerned with deliberate and participatory discourse practices. Moreover, CRE fosters teacher reflection, inquiry, and mutual support around issues of cultural differences. (Gay, 2000) All aspects of the school—operational, professional and instructional—will be designed and implemented through the lens of CRE, including careful hiring, relevant curriculum and pedagogy, reflective staff training and professional development, and supportive school culture and discipline.
COMPETENCY-BASED ACADEMIC PROGRAM (CRE): Teaching and learning will be wholly organized around helping students to master specific competencies in three domains—Academic Knowledge and Skills, Academic and Personal Behaviors and College and Career Readiness—that collectively define what a student must know and be able to do in order to be considered college and career ready. The NMSSJ competency framework will be aligned to both the New York State Learning Standards, inclusive of the Common Core State Standards, and the NYCDOE College and Career Readiness Benchmark in order to help students master the skills and knowledge necessary to pass PARCC-aligned Regents exams, graduate from high school, and complete two years of college and/or a career internship of their choice. Teaching and learning will be organized into cycles, with four types of courses offered: Workshops (interdisciplinary, problem-based learning focused on a network-wide theme); Selectives (units of study focused on competency strands and/or clusters); Tutorials (targeted support for mastering discrete skills); and CORE (social-emotional and leadership development).
DIGITAL PATHWAY: Personalized instruction requires ready access to standards and benchmarks, curriculum materials, and instruction and assessment tools that meet the needs of both students and teachers. Based on growing evidence of value and effectiveness, NMSSJ will utilize a digital pathway that allows students to personalize their learning and share instructional resources across schools. NMSSJ intends to implement a secure technology platform that integrates competencies, students’ individual learning plans, curriculum resources and assessments, and performance data.
SYSTEMATIC ASSESSMENT: A competency-based school requires frequent assessment of discrete skills and knowledge so students always know what they need to learn to get to the next step and achieve their long-term goals. Competencies will be assessed using multiple measures and NMSSJ will employ authentic assessments that allow students to demonstrate mastery in culturally responsive ways. Units of study will culminate in performance-based assessments and all students will complete an annual Gateway Project.
DATA-DRIVEN DESIGN: The NMSSJ assessment system will be aligned to the competency-based framework to provide frequent and useful feedback to all stakeholders in the school, including students, teachers and parents. The school’s data management system will provide a robust and intuitive platform that allows students to document valid and reliable evidence of their competencies, teachers to plan instruction that addresses their remaining needs, and youth advocates to address internal and external obstacles to learning and growth.
FAMILY SUPPORT AND ADVOCACY: As a program designed specifically to meet the needs of urban Black and Latino youth, evidence clearly indicates the need for more than just rigorous curriculum and instruction to achieve desired results. The Nelson Mandela School for Social Justice will implement a comprehensive support system, including rites of passage, youth development and guidance, that organizes school culture around college and career readiness. Every student will be assigned a youth advocate who will counsel and support them individually and in single-gender groups as well as coordinate wrap-around community services for students and families. In keeping with the tenants of culturally responsive education, NMSSJ will utilize a Restorative Justice approach to school culture and discipline.
EARLY COLLEGE EXPERIENCES: Beginning in 9th grade, all students will take part in a sequence of early college experiences implemented through college access programs that include family engagement and financial planning. Students’ understanding of the intellectual and personal requirements for college success will grow as they prepare to do college level work during their high school career.
WORKPLACE LEARNING EXPERIENCES: Students will participate in a sequence of workplace learning experiences implemented through an apprenticeship infrastructure with industry and community partners. The groundwork for this element will be laid beginning in 9th grade with career awareness and lead to authentic work experiences that go beyond typical high school internships.
REDEFINED ADULT ROLES: The Nelson Mandela School for Social Justice will redefine leadership roles to focus on developing culturally competent human capital, including adults with expertise in meeting the needs of Black and Latino youth, English language learners and students with disabilities. Leadership will be distributed across campuses at the most effective levels. For example, there will be an expert teacher embedded at each campus to provide instructional leadership. S/he will coordinate the academic program on the campus, but also support staff in his/her content area across the network. Thus, while affiliated with a particular campus, s/he may spend time at the other campus observing, modeling, providing feedback or conducting trainings. Similarly, the NMSSJ teaching and instructional delivery model is designed to support the competency-based framework as well as college and career experiences by redefining adult roles in ways that are responsive to personalized student learning. A variety of staff positions will share responsibility for student achievement in both academic and social and emotional learning. Finally, a flexible staffing strategy allows students and staff to benefit from adult expertise across the schools.