Jessica Roman-Salazar Alexander Hamilton Community School:A Challenge Foundation Academy

Jessica Roman-Salazar is the school director for Alexander Hamilton Community School:A Challenge Foundation Academy.

Dr. E. D. Hirsch Jr. once said, “For the sake of academic excellence, greater equity and higher literacy, elementary and middle schools need to teach a coherent, cumulative and content-specific core curriculum.

“Our society cannot afford a two-tiered system in which the affluent have access to a superior education, while everyone else is subjected to a dull and incoherent classroom experience. Academic excellence, educational equity and fairness demand a strong foundation of knowledge for all learners.”

That quote is the rationale of the Core Knowledge Sequence curriculum Hirsch Jr. created. And that curriculum is, in turn, the basis of the new Alexander Hamilton Community School — as well as other TeamCFA-affiliated schools.

Classes will commence at the Glendale-based K-2 public charter school on August 5. Administration is targeting an initial enrollment of 150 students, though plans are to add an additional grade level, through eighth grade, each subsequent year of operation.

Though currently based out of the First United Methodist Church at Glenn and 58th drives, the school will eventually transition to either a newly built campus or some other repurposed facility as growth is achieved. Despite being based out of the church for the time being, the school has no religious affiliation.

“It’s not uncommon for not just TeamCFA schools but charter schools in general to incubate within a church or another purpose facility and either kind of grow and develop within that facility or move into a new build-up or a retrofit,” TeamCFA Arizona State Director Tony Best said.

One segment

of a larger network

TeamCFA is a growing national network of open-enrollment, public charter schools that provides access to start-up funding, grants, training, services, the Core Knowledge Curriculum and even facilities, according to the Alexander Hamilton Community School’s website.

The website continues that professional development, curriculum mapping and implementation support, assessment tools, educational technology tools, attendance at the annual TeamCFA educational conference, and access to a network of professional educators are benefits of being involved in the network.

Team is an acronym for “Together Each Achieves More,” while CFA is an acronym for Challenge Foundation Academy, which according to the Glendale school’s website is “a private family charitable trust that supports over 187 charters schools through more than $20M in grants.”

As explained by Best, Alexander Hamilton Community School is a charter management organization (CMO).

Though the original TeamCFA model was to help fund the launch of its schools, leading to eventual financial independence after five to seven years, Best said the new CMO model takes “the expertise of what we learned from developing our other schools … and then (uses) the schools as a way to kind of build and further the organization.”

According to the school’s director, Jessica Roman-Salazar, Glendale was the perfect fit for TeamCFA.

“When we are looking to open our next school, at least within our TeamCFA network, we look at the areas that do not have as many (high-performance) schools, per se … and try to bring a different option to parents,” she explained.

A ‘rigorous’ curriculum

Alexander Hamilton Community School’s curriculum, as purveyed by Hirsch Jr., is the Core Knowledge Sequence. According to a rubric on the new Glendale campus’ website, the pre-K-8 curriculum covers language arts/English, history and geography, visual arts, music, mathematics and science.

Roman-Salazar called the curriculum a roadmap of the kind of knowledge and skills administrators want students to graduate with.

“It’s a research-based curriculum that was developed to support students in their learning and also to expand their knowledge so that they can be better able to participate in our society, they can have more opportunities, and (it helps them) as they decide whether they’re going to college” or taking another path, she explained.

The program, she expanded, starts youngsters lightly in certain subject matter, and each subsequent year builds upon it, exploring the details in greater depth.

“The purpose of it is to expand the knowledge of our students so that they are not only able to read better, but also (become) better consumers of the world around them and can participate in a more active and proactive way in our society,” she said.

Administrators at the Glendale campus also plan to utilize the Singapore math curriculum.

Calling this curriculum rigorous, Roman-Salazar said it helps students “understand math at a deeper level” by not just teaching them to memorize formulas; rather, it teaches them to understand the concept of mathematics so they can in turn apply that knowledge to various uses.

“We really want students to be able to understand easily, so that then they can apply their knowledge and really inquire, ‘What does it mean when they’re answering a problem?’ And then be able to apply that knowledge in new circumstances, in new examples, in areas of mathematics,” she said.

Having rigorous curriculum is important to TeamCFA and Alexander Hamilton officials, as closing the achievement gap is a foundational belief of administration.

Explaining the achievement gap, Roman-Salazar noted geographic location can determine a person’s education level, so she and her colleagues are aiming to bring a certain level of rigor and activities to areas perhaps not as affluent as others, as well as to allow disadvantaged and underserved students to “be exemplars.”

Aside from its primary curriculum, officials are looking into before- and after-school options for parents and students. But it all depends on teacher capacity, parent interest, and grade levels served — though the expectation is to expand options as the school itself grows.

“We have big dreams and visions for what we want to offer; however, it’s our first year,” Roman-Salazar said.

She noted physical education will be offered everyday, and there will be a second elective, most likely in music. In the future, administrators intend to launch a variety of elective choices, including in the arts.

She even said financial literacy courses would make an interesting possibility as expansion adds older grade levels.

A ‘community’ school

Emphasizing the “community” in Alexander Hamilton Community School, administrators are looking to be exactly that: part of the community.

It all starts within the school.

As Roman-Salazar tells it, it’s important to engage parents and help them feel as if they are contributing to their own child’s education. This comes through having open communication with parents or guardians.

And according to the school’s website, partnerships are just as important outside of parent-teacher relationships. Partnerships have been established, pursued or are being sought with Maryvale Branch YMCA, Maryvale Adolescent Providers Partnership and Maryvale Revitalization Corporation, Teach for America, Golden Gate Community Center, West-MEC, Grand Canyon University and Arizona State University.

In other recent news, the school recently partnered with Protection Plus Dental for free dental screenings, and Sporting AZ FC for a free soccer clinic.

“We’d also like to continue those events, but as we are established as a school we’d like to continue partnering with different organizations to connect families to resources or support that they may need and also offer our space as a place where those organizations can come here,” Roman-Salazar explained. “We know that parents are going to come to school; they already have a reason to come to school. Why not help them have easier access to the things that they need?”

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