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A Decade of Doing

Girls Prep Bronx celebrates 10-year anniversary

By Gregg McQueen

Originally posted on The Bronx Free Press on October 31, 2019.

The students celebrated on the steps of the school. Yvonne Guillen has won the lottery. And she wants to share the winnings. The proud mother beamed as she described the experience of having her three daughters attend Girls Prep Bronx.

“I always say that coming here has been like winning the lottery,” she remarked. “It’s been an amazing school for my daughters.”

Guillen explained she was unhappy with other public school options in the area, and that her oldest daughter had struggled in her previous school.

“I switched her here. Within a few weeks, she loved school, loved learning,” Guillen said. “I think it’s the sense of community they have here. Every other week, the parents come in, we meet with the principal. They present it to us like it’s a partnership.”

Nearby, Ian Rowe, too, was smiling.

Surrounded by excited students, staffers, elected officials, and balloons, Rowe and Guillen joined together to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the charter school, which educates more than 800 children from kindergarten to eighth grade.

The Chief Executive Officer of Public Prep, which runs Girls Prep Bronx, Rowe said the students are “the future of our city, the future of our borough, and I could not be more proud.”

However, events on the steps at 681 Kelly Street were not always so festive, said Rowe.

“It’s been an amazing school for my daughters,” said Yvonne Guillen.

He recalled standing in the same spot a few years earlier for a rally to call out Mayor Bill de Blasio for failing to provide charter school with adequate building space.

“There were some people who didn’t want this school to expand or even exist,” he said.

The school, said Rowe, beat the odds to become a high performing and highly sought education option in the Bronx, with over 2,000 students on the waiting list.

Girls Prep has been outperforming other district schools on the state tests, with 80 percent of students passing the ELA Exam, and 71 percent of scholars passing the Math Exam, school officials said.

Rowe said that members of the school’s inaugural class in 2009 “are now sophomores and juniors at some of the best high schools in the city, and will soon be going to some of the finest colleges and universities.”

Current Principal Tomasz Krzyzostaniak, who the kids refer to as “Mr. K,” said the school is based on four core values: scholarship, merit, responsibility, and sisterhood.

“That provides an incredible educational experience that any child anywhere in the city is entitled to,” he said.

Josie Carbone, Assistant Superintendent of Public Prep, served as founding principal of Girls Prep and ran the school for seven years. She said the institution has made an impact on opportunities for families and the quality of education in the Bronx.

“Nothing makes me happier than to visit any school in our network and experience the impact the Girls Prep has had on our community,” she said.

Local entrepreneur and radio show host Majora Carter told the kids that it was important to build a sense of community. “It’s how you treat each other, it’s how you share knowledge,” she said.

“Some of you might not know how special you’re going to be, but we see it in you,” Carter stated.

Girls Prep Bronx consists of the elementary school on Kelly Street and a middle school on Cauldwell Avenue.

City Councilmember Rafael Salamanca said the school has been on the receiving end of $2.1 million in participatory budget funding.

“For the last three years, Girls Prep has been the number one recipient of that,” he said.

State Assemblymember Marcos Crespo told students that they prove the investment was worth it with their academic success.

“First and foremost, we are here for you,” he stated. “You need to come into classroom, do your work.
You’re going to help each other build and grow and be that next generation.”

Josie Carbone, now Assistant Superintendent of Public Prep, served as founding principal of Girls Prep.

The charter network will be fulfilling long-awaited plans to expand by opening Girls Prep Bronx 2 during the 2020-21 school year, said Public Prep Superintendent Janelle Bradshaw.

“We’re still looking for a building, but we will be incubating in our Boys Prep space while we look for a permanent home for Girls Prep Bronx 2,” Bradshaw said.

Rowe said the charter network worked hard to get one of the final charters available in the state, noting there is an extensive wait list for families.

“Our wait list between our Boys Prep Bronx and our Girls Prep Bronx schools is about 4,000 families,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking to tell parents that the best we can do is put people on an excruciatingly long wait list.”

State Senator Luis Sepúlveda remarked that public schools can learn lessons from successful charter schools. “We shouldn’t be afraid of looking at alternative methods are educating our children,” he said. “Look at Girls Prep. This is an example to the rest of the city of New York.”

Souwade Benissan and Fanta Kourouma were members of the first class of Girls Prep in 2009. Now attending high school in the Bronx, they cited the benefits of their time at Girls Prep.

“Going to an all-girls school, you mature at an earlier age. They focus on us, and it helps us to grow. You get things you won’t get at other schools,” Kouromo said.

“I feel like it gave me a lot of opportunities and opened a lot of doors that I didn’t know were open,” added Benissan. “They also planted the seed in my mind about women empowerment. You have to go out there and break the ground.”