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Meeting of the Board of Regents | December 2008

Monday, December 1, 2008 - 11:20pm


sed seal                                                                                                             







Johanna Duncan-Poitier



Charter Schools: Proposed Charter for the New Roots Charter School



December 8, 2008


Goals 1 and 2





Issue for Decision


Should the Regents approve the staff’s recommendations concerning the proposed charter for the New Roots Charter School (Ithaca)?

Reason(s) for Consideration


              Required by the State statute  Education Law §2852.


Proposed Handling


This question will come before the EMSC Committee in December 2008 for action.  It will then come before the full Board for final action in December 2008.


Procedural History


              The New York Charter Schools Act of 1998 requires the Board of Regents to review, in accordance with the standards set forth in Education Law §2852(2), proposed charters, renewal charters and revisions to charters and renewal charters that have been approved and submitted by other charter entities.  The Board of Regents may either approve and issue a charter, renewal charter and/or revision as proposed by the charter entity, or return the same to the charter entity for reconsideration with written comments and recommendations. 




Background Information


We received a proposed charter from the Trustees of the State University of New York (SUNY) for the establishment of the following charter school: 


  •  New Roots Charter School


The New Roots Charter School (“the School”) would be located in Ithaca.   In its first year (2009-10), the School will serve 125 students in grades 9-10, expanding to serve 225 students in grades 9-12 by the 2011-12 school year. It will provide a seven-hour school day, from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.   The School proposes that it will rent space for a primary school building at 1201 North Tioga Street, Ithaca, NY, and satellite office and classroom space in Tioga Place on the downtown Ithaca Commons, 118 North Tioga Street, Ithaca, NY.  The two spaces are about a 10-minute walk apart. The satellite location will facilitate the School’s access to Tompkins Cortland Community College’s facilities in Tioga Place, which includes computer labs and classroom spaces which the School has been offered scheduled access to during school hours.


The focus of the school program would be sustainability education, which the School defines as “environmental education, which integrates the social, economic, and ecological dimensions of the human endeavor, emphasizing the relationship between all three of these critical realms and building young people’s competence as system thinkers.”  The key program design elements include an integrated curriculum, service learning, mentoring communities (i.e., advisory groups), and concurrent enrollment for college credit.




              VOTED:  That the Board of Regents returns the proposed charter of the New Roots Charter School to the Trustees of the State University of New York for reconsideration, and with the following comments and recommendations: (1) provide an assurance that the School’s curriculum will address and be aligned with all 28 New York State Learning Standards prior to opening for instruction; (2) provide documentation demonstrating what good faith efforts the School will take to attract and retain a comparable or greater enrollment of English language learner students when compared to the enrollment figures for such students in the school district of location;  (3) eliminate the proposed bylaw provision purportedly authorizing the school to make loans; (4) provide evidence of adequate community support for and interest in the charter school from parents of students eligible for enrollment in the first year of instruction; and (5) provide a budget for the full five years of operation.


Timetable for Implementation


The Regents action for the New Roots Charter School is effective immediately.

State Education Department


Summary of Proposed Charter


Name of Proposed Charter School: New Roots Charter School (“the School”)


Address:         1201 North Tioga Street, Ithaca, NY  (Main School Building )

118 North Tioga Street, Ithaca, NY (Satellite office and additional classroom space )


Applicant(s):  Kristina L. Nilsen-Hodges


Anticipated Opening Date: September 9, 2009


District of Location: Ithaca City School District


Charter Entity:   Trustees of the State University of New York (SUNY)


Institutional Partner(s):  N/A


Management Partner(s):  N/A


Grades Served:                       2009-2010: 9-10

2010-2011: 9-11

                                                        2011-2012: 9-12

                                                        2012-2013: 9-12 

                                                        2013-2014: 9-12                


Projected Enrollment:         2009-2010: 125

2010-2011: 175

2011-2012: 225

2012-2013: 225

2013-2014: 225



Proposed Charter Highlights




                Ms. Kristina (“Tina”) L. Nilsen-Hodges is a New York State certified teacher (N-6 and secondary English), and is also an Ithaca community resident.  She is currently an adjunct faculty member at Ithaca College, and a coordinator of the Partnerships in Sustainability Education initiative, a collaborative effort between Ithaca College and EcoVillage at Ithaca.  She is a prospective member of the School’s Board of Trustees and intends to apply for the principal’s position once a charter is awarded.


Institutional Partner




Management Partner






  • The School will provide a four-year college preparatory curriculum, which will be developed prior to the School opening for instruction.  The proposed charter does not include any curricula that demonstrate alignment with the New York State learning standards.  For example, reviewers determined that the proposed charter mainly included a reiteration of the New York State Standards and Performance Indicators but it is not clear what the content will be or how and when it will be taught.
  • The main model the School will draw upon for its curricula is the Environment as Integrating Context model. 
  • All students will be required to take a four-year sequence of courses in each core curriculum area: Science, Mathematics, Social Studies, and English.
  • Courses will be inquiry-based and will feature place-based applications of academic knowledge and investigations of the relationship between natural and human systems.
  • Students will attend classes from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm daily.
  • On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, students will attend core subject area classes in hour-long blocks. 
  • On Tuesday and Thursday, students will spend time in 90-minute labs, art studio, internships, and field trips related to core subject areas, in addition to an extended period of “Mentoring Community.”
  • Advisory groups called “Mentoring Communities” will meet daily, giving students an opportunity to forge a strong relationship with a Faculty Mentor.
  • All courses at the School will feature a systems-thinking approach and integration.
  • The Expeditionary Learning model, which features interdisciplinary project-based student “expeditions” that culminate in exhibits, performances, publications, and/or public service to the community, will be used.
  • Students will graduate from the School with college credits from Tompkins Cortland Community College, granted for concurrent enrollment courses taken in junior and senior years.
  • While the School will have no formal institutional partners, it will work collaboratively with other organizations such as the EcoVillage at Ithaca’s West Haven Farm, Cornell University’s agricultural education program, and the Cornell Small Farms program, to integrate the study of agricultural science into the School’s program, and to provide for a hands-on application of knowledge at local farms, in conjunction with the School’s meals program. 
  • In addition, a representative of the Moosewood Restaurant has expressed interest in collaborating with the School to develop a cooking program that supports students in meeting the New York State Learning Standards in Family and Consumer Sciences.
  • Student will take all State assessments applicable to grades 9-12, and will meet all of the requirements for the awarding of a New York State high school diploma.
  • The School will also use the Terra Nova exams for grades 9-12, for math and English Language Arts assessment. 
  • Student portfolios, a senior capstone project, and teacher-developed assessments will also be used to provide information regarding student academic achievement.




  • The number of trustees on the Board of Trustees (“BOT”) shall not be fewer than five (5) and shall not exceed 15.
  • Trustees will be elected to serve a one year initial term, and then terms will be staggered for one to three-year terms.
  • The principal, a parent, a faculty member, a student and (in future years) an alumnus of the School shall serve as ex-officio, non-voting members of the BOT.
  • The BOT will meet six times a year, but will receive regular reports from the principal.
  • The officers of the Board of Trustees are Chair, Vice Chair, Secretary, and Treasurer.
  • The BOT’s by-laws contain an impermissible provision that allows the School to lend money. 




  • The School proposes to serve 125 students in grades 9-10 in Year One.  
  • The School anticipates an average class size of 18-22 students. 
  • Students may attend the School up through the age of 21 years, or until a diploma is awarded, whichever occurs first.
  • The School has failed to provide information demonstrating the good faith efforts it would take to attract and retain a comparable or greater enrollment of limited English language learner students as compared to the school district of location (Education Law §2854(2)(a)).
  • The School’s admission policy also provides for decreasing the maximum number of student enrolled in grades 10-12, to account for expected student attrition.  However, this can also have the effect of denying a currently-enrolled student a seat in the next grade, if all currently-enrolled students in grades 9-10 seek to return the following year.  See proposed student enrollment table below.


















































  • The School has received a $600,000 federal Charter Schools Program grant for planning, development and implementation activities. 
  • The School’s initial start-up costs will be supported, in part, by this federal Charter Schools program grant.  First year expenses include salaries for the Principal, a secretary, a Business and Operations Manager, and the Dean of Students.
  • The School proposes that it will rent space for a primary school building at 1201 North Tioga Street, Ithaca, NY, and satellite office and classroom space in Tioga Place on the downtown Ithaca Commons, 118 North Tioga Street, Ithaca, NY.  The two spaces are about a 10-minute walk apart. The satellite location will facilitate the School’s access to Tompkins Cortland Community College’s facilities in Tioga Place, which include computer labs and classroom spaces which the School has been offered scheduled access to during school hours.
  • Under the terms of the proposed charter, the School would be in operation and would provide instruction through part of the 2013-2014 school year.  However, no budget information was provided regarding the 2013-2014 school year.
  • The Year One budget anticipates total revenues of $1,966,374 and total expenses of $1,950,656.
  • The Year Four budget anticipates total revenues of $3,273,432 and total expenses of $3,265,827.
  • The School ensures that it will “perform all programmatic and fiscal audits annually as required by the New York State Charter Schools Act, in accordance with auditing standards and Government Auditing Standards issued by the Comptroller General of the United States.”
  • The potential fiscal impact upon the District is represented below.  Please note that these projections are based upon several assumptions, which may or may not occur: that the charter school will be able to meet its projected maximum enrollment; that all students will come from Ithaca and no other districts; that all students will attend everyday for a 1.0 FTE; that the District’s budget will increase at the projected rate; that the per pupil payment will increase (and not decrease); and that the per pupil payment will increase at the projected rate.



Projected Fiscal Impact of the

New Roots Charter School


2009-2010 through 2013-2014

School Year

Number of Students

Projected Payment*

Projected Impact





















*Assumes a 3 percent annual increase in the District’s budget from the base of $95,702,930 in 2008-2009; and a 4.5 percent annual increase in the average expense per pupil per year from the 2008-2009 rate of $12,113.





  • The School will be led by a Principal. 
  • The qualifications for the principal include having a master’s degree, ten years of teaching experience, and possession of a school building leader certificate. 
  • The work of the Principal will be supported by a Dean of Students, a Director of Curriculum, and a Business and Operations Manager.
  • The School may hire teachers in accordance with the provisions of §2854(3)(a-1) of the Education Law.  Otherwise, teachers must possess a bachelor’s degree (master’s preferred), and certification.
  • All teachers will be highly qualified per the requirements of No Child Left Behind.


Community Support


  • The School has received support from the following community leaders and institutions:
    • Gerald Lieberman, Ph.D., Director of the State Education and Environment Roundtable;
    • Ron Berger, Northeast Field Director of Expeditionary Learning Schools;
    • Jaimie Cloud, President of the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education;
    • David Niguidula, Ed.D., founder of Ideas Consulting; and
    • Kathy Edmondson, Assistant Dean for Learning and Instruction, Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine.
  • The School did not provide evidence sufficient to demonstrate that it would operate at full capacity upon opening.  Documentation containing parent signatures did not indicate that they were parents of potential students within the grade and age limits to be served by the proposed charter school in its first year of instruction.


Public Opinion


  • A public hearing was held by the Ithaca City School District on August 14, 2008.

There were 218 comments forwarded to the Department, with 104 in support of the School and 114 in opposition.   


Comments supporting the School referenced the provision of different approaches to learning as opposed to the traditional setting, increased competition and performance of schools, another alternative school in the Ithaca City School District, provision of a sustainability focus, and opportunity for this School to be a model. 


Comments in opposition to the School include the Ithaca City School District’s concern that the district cannot support the charter school financially.  No other comment was provided from any public or private school in the same geographic area of the proposed charter school.


The community comments in opposition referenced the financing of the charter school, the Ithaca City School District budget, high school taxes, financial commitment to a small student body, and inclusion of the sustainability focus in the already existing curriculum at Ithaca City School District.


  • In addition, the Department received a letter from the New York State United Teachers dated November 18, 2008, which raised three main objections to the proposed School:
    • the letter asserts that the educational program does not meet the New York State requirements in that “the Global History and Geography, Science, Math and ELA descriptions are not in alignment with the state core curriculum”;
    • the letter asserts that the Ithaca City School District is “a district where students already have an opportunity to receive much more than a sound basic education” and as such “the district should not have to take on the burden of supporting a charter school”; and
    • the letter asserts that “the creation of this school would place a serious financial burden on the school district at a time when the state is going to have a difficult time meeting the 4-year foundation aid promise. The charter school will cost the Ithaca School District more than $1.5 million in the first year, when the district may also be trying to cope with reduced aid from the state.  Ithaca is scheduled for a $1.9 million cut under the Governor’s proposed mid-year reductions.”