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Obama’s High-Schooler SOTU Guest’s Success Story



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Addressing Congress tonight, President Obama talked about a New York high-school student:

Estiven Rodriguez couldn’t speak a word of English when he moved to New York City at age nine.  But last month, thanks to the support of great teachers and an innovative tutoring program, he led a march of his classmates – through a crowd of cheering parents and neighbors – from their high school to the post office, where they mailed off their college applications.  And this son of a factory worker just found out he’s going to college this fall.

An excellent story — made possible, in part, the president didn’t say, because Rodriguez attends Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School, part of a national network of innovative schools with an impressive record of success. The school was founded in 2006 by a Teach for America alumnus, Brett Kimmel, and more than half its faculty are former TFA teachers.

So highly regarded is WHEELS, 500 city students apply to start at the school in the ninth grade each year — for 12 to 15 spots. (Estiven started at the school in the sixth grade, when it admits 85 new students.) 

Estiven will be attending Dickinson College this fall.

UPDATE: This post has been edited to reflect that WHEELS is not, as this post originally reported, a charter school. WHEELS is an Expeditionary Learning school, a network that includes charter schools across the country, and is part of the NYC Outward Bound Schools, which runs eleven Expeditionary Learning schools in New York in cooperation with the city’s Department of Education. One of the NYC Outward Bound schools is a charter. WHEELS describes itself as “a highly innovative, district-run public school and a poster child for how the NYCDOE and nonprofits like NYC Outward Bound can work together to co-operate a network of district-run schools that are excited about innovation.”

It’s a school with some significant degree of independence that receives a lot of support from privately funded foundations, but it’s not a charter, and they’re doing great work. You can read more about the NYC Outward Bound system, which places an emphasis on professional development for teachers and strong leadership from principals, on the organization’s website.

Apologies for the hasty mistake.



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