Kuumba Charter School Embraces Wilmington as its Campus
Defying myths about urban people, urban families and how to achieve Charter School success.
(page 2 of 5)
From left to right: Fifth-graders Orrin Stanford, Ramata Diallo and Zaire Jenkins; Head of school Sally Maldonado helps Saniyah Pinder with her studies; Second-grader Jahim Ibrahim
Approved with five other schools in the state’s second wave of charters, in 1998, Kuumba’s board and supporters spent the better part of two years raising money for a new building. The first group of 121 students, kindergartners through fourth-graders, walked into 519 N. Market for the first time in September 2001.
Over the next six years, teachers struggled to find a rhythm while five heads of school came and went. Some took the job only to learn it was more than they bargained for. One of the most effective returned to his hometown in Pennsylvania to help an under-served population there. One of the most beloved passed away after a struggle with cancer. Academic performance flagged, with only 49 percent of its 240 students meeting proficiency standards in reading or math in 2007.
“That was the tipping point,” says head of school Sally Maldonado. Then dean for academics, Maldonado and her team knew they had to take swift, drastic action. For help, they turned to the Vision Network of Delaware, a nonprofit that provides professional development to schools. “They told us, ‘We understand you want to tackle the whole world right now, but you can’t really do it that way,’” Maldonado says. So the school picked one area to focus its improvement efforts on: math.
At the time, the Delaware Math and Science Foundation was looking to pilot a new instructional program called Singapore Math. The series of math books, originally written in British English, had been used in its technologically advanced home country for 25 years, with outstanding results, and a U.S. publisher was looking to grow a market for them here. Kuumba, known as a school that was willing to take risks, jumped on board.
A professor trained in the program traveled in to give Kuumba teachers 40 hours of intensive instruction on the curriculum, then returned for monthly follow-ups with teachers on Saturdays. The teachers started bringing in parents three times a year to show them how to tutor their children. And the kids worked hard. The school chose a mathematician of the day, and students and teachers celebrated every success. “Everything we did around school was math-centered for that first year,” says teacher Samantha Connell. The result: in three years, 86 percent of its students were meeting state proficiency standards.
The next year, Kuumba took a similar approach to improving its reading program, with equally stunning results. The science program is the next target. And always on the hunt for a better way, Kuumba will soon begin teaching a math program known as EngageNY, which orients the Singapore Math principles toward the new Common Core curriculum adopted by the Delaware Department of Education.