John W. Lavelle Preparatory Charter School
John W. Lavelle Preparatory Charter School will open its doors to 75 sixth graders this fall. The first charter school in Staten Island will offer a rigorous college preparatory program to its eclectic student body comprised of students with and without emotional and physical disabilities.
“This is a new group of kids that we are looking to address, and we felt that there was a need on Staten Island and probably in every borough,” said Evelyn Finn, founding principal and veteran school administrator. Prior to her retirement several years ago, Ms. Finn was the principal of P.S. 37, a New York City public school for severely handicapped children on Staten Island. She has returned to her role as an administrator because she believes in the charter’s mission. “I’m committed to this school and I’m excited about working in it,” she added.
Board members of The Verrazano Foundation, a non-profit organization that combats stigmas against people with disabilities, are the visionaries behind this project. “Research data on psychiatric illness says that people recover. It is not a death sentence… The expectation we have for kids is very powerful in shaping their behavior and how they will move on,” said Dr. Ken Byalin, founder and president of the Verrazano Foundation.
The incoming class has a 30 percent population of students with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), a document that assesses a student in need of special services and its goals for the student’s recovery and academic success. These kids are expected to graduate high school with a Regents Diploma, master multiple foreign languages, and participate in an intensive six-year wellness curriculum.
The rest of the student body is composed of high- and low-performing students as well as kids who do not have an IEP but are in need of remediation. “There are going to be kids whose parents did not want [their] kids identified with an IEP and saw Lavelle Prep as the opportunity for them to get the support they need without having the label attached,” said Dr. Byalin. The wellness curriculum is an extension of the health and physical education program that teaches students how to fight peer pressure, set goals, overcome bullying, and make healthy choices.
Since March, the new staff participated in numerous professional development-training workshops. “There is a real group forming and I think that has a lot to do with Evelyn’s leadership… Team work is going to be crucial for the success of the school,” said Dr. Byalin. A couple of certified teachers who were not selected in the competitive hiring process took a pay cut and joined the team as paraprofessionals. “I’m really proud of that because they decided to stick with me,” said Ms. Finn.
The school will be housed in the Elizabeth A. Connelly Campus in Graniteville.”#