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Ivy Preparatory Academy school leaders recently returned from a national Best Practices Tour of charter schools in the Northeast that use innovation and a no-excuses mantra to boost student achievement.

The professional development trip, funded by the Partnership For Developing Teachers Grant, was organized by the Ivy Prep Foundation to help enhance the curriculum and culture of Ivy Prep’s schools in Gwinnett and DeKalb counties, which serve nearly 1,000 students.

“Some of our school leaders have never seen charter school environments outside of Ivy,” said Nina Gilbert, founder of Ivy Prep Schools. “There are schools that are doing some phenomenal things nationally and locally. As we undergo a very comprehensive school improvement campaign, we wanted to take a look at best practices and innovation at some of the highest-performing urban charter schools in the country.’’

More than a dozen educators went on the tour including Gilbert; Mrs. Victoria Wiley, executive director of Ivy Prep Schools; the administrators at Ivy Prep Gwinnett; the principal of Ivy Prep Kirkwood School for Girls; and Jacob Cole, Ivy Prep’s director of communications.

The group traveled to Boys Latin High School in Philadelphia, Pa., a single-gender middle and high school campus with a rigorous college preparatory curriculum that prepares young men for leadership and success in higher education. The school, founded in 2007, requires the academic study Latin for four years – a foreign language that promotes the study of government, art and a love of language. Among the innovations offered at the school is a summer session for freshmen that allows them to study for five weeks over the summer to boost their academic skills.

The tour also stopped at Mastery Charter Schools, a network of K-12 schools serving more than 10,500 students in Philadelphia and Camden, N.J. Mastery follows a set of core values throughout its organization from the classrooms to the superintendent’s office that focus on student achievement, customer service, fairness, determination, joy, humor, honesty, open communication, continuous improvement and team work.

Following the Philadelphia stops, the group then traveled to Washington D.C. where they visited Achievement Prep, the highest performing charter school in the nation’s capitol. Achievement Prep outperforms its neighborhood schools by 40 points on standardized tests using the manta, “Good is not good enough – GREAT is good enough.” The school is focused on raising student achievement and challenges staff, parents and students to live up to high expectations.

School leaders later visited SEED, the country’s only boarding charter school, also in Washington, D.C.

At each stop, Ivy Prep administrators went into classrooms and met students and teachers. They also talked to principals about the curriculum, budget and community support for the school. Ivy Prep administrators looked for ideas they may duplicate in the school network.

“I’m looking for new ways of doing things,” said Joy Treadwell, principal of Ivy Prep Gwinnett. “We don’t have all of the answers. If everyone in your circle is thinking like you, you don’t always get that innovation everyone is looking for. Trips like this are important for everyone because it allows us to connect to the charter school movement and examine what people are doing across the country to make a difference in student achievement.”

Ivy Prep school leaders went on a similar tour before the school opened to students in 2008 and borrowed some of the ideas they saw in classrooms.

“There were schools that had models and strategies that we wanted to replicate,” Gilbert said.

Professional development will continue as Ivy Prep enhances its programs. Wiley said school leaders were inspired by what they saw in the Northeast.

“Our best practice trip was truly transformational to us a leaders,” Wiley said. “The schools we visited were so welcoming and accommodating, and we plan to partner with each of them in the future. The leaders and I, plan to implement some of the best practices immediately. We are truly grateful for Dr. Gilbert for planning and leading the tour. ”

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