Achievement First:

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Our Mission and Vision

Achievement First is a growing network of non-profit, high-performing, college-preparatory, K to 12 public charter schools in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island. The mission of Achievement First is to deliver on the promise of equal educational opportunity for all of America's children. We believe that all children, regardless of race or economic status, can succeed if they have access to a great education. Achievement First schools provide all of our students with the academic and character skills they need to graduate from top colleges, to succeed in a competitive world and to serve as the next generation of leaders in our communities.

Achievement First was established in 2003 by the founders of Amistad Academy, a nationally acclaimed public charter school in New Haven, CT. Amistad Academy, which was founded in 1999 to prove that urban students can achieve at the same high levels as their suburban peers, enabled its students to achieve at such extraordinarily high levels that the founders were asked to use Amistad Academy's knowledge and best practices to have a greater impact. Achievement First has grown into a network that includes 30 public charter schools in five cities.

Achievement First will continue to create public charter schools that close the achievement gap, while also looking to partner with other like-minded, reform-oriented organizations and traditional school districts to maximize our collective impact. Our theory of change is that by creating the equivalent of an urban public school "district," Achievement First can serve as proof that closing the achievement gap is possible at district scale and inspire broader reform. Achievement First is focused on continuing to close the achievement gap and serving as an example for other public charter schools and traditional public school districts. We will continue our work until every child is given access to a great education and enjoys the real freedom that flows from that opportunity.

Our Curriculum

At Achievement First, state standards are the floor, not the ceiling. From this base, we work to build our rigorous standards and curricula, which are backwards-mapped against end-of-year standards and vertically aligned to advanced college-readiness standards.

The Achievement First family (teachers, principals, deans, coaches and a curriculum team) works together so teachers have a deep reserve of best practices and high-quality curriculum resources at their fingertips.

Our Instruction

  • Bite-sized, measurable, standards-aligned classroom aims: Every class has a bite-sized, measurable and standards-aligned daily objective. Whether the aim is to predict the plot of a novel or simplify fractions, the aim drives the content in the lesson. Using multiple forms of assessments, teachers track their students' mastery of the aim and progress toward their ambitious academic goals.
  • Modeled and guided practice: Teachers introduce the aim by clearly modeling a process to attack the day's aim. Then, the teacher leads the class into a guided practice of the aim, in which students model their own answers and thought processes, the goal of which is to ensure that every student is set up for sustained, successful independent practice.
  • Independent practice: Students spend the bulk of the lesson in a sustained, successful independent practice, with several "at bats" to practice the aim on their own. In other words, students do the "heavy lifting" of the task at hand, getting several chances to flex their academic muscles until they get it right.
  • Standards-aligned assessments, data-driven analysis and planning: Our curriculum is divided into five cycles, each of which culminates in a cumulative assessment where students demonstrate mastery of the standards they have learned throughout the year. A school-wide, day-long professional development day—known as a "Data Day"—follows each cycle, giving teachers the data-rich information they need to edit their unit plans, target their instruction and schedule interventions for struggling students. This data-driven lens on instruction gives teachers the unique flexibility to cater the curriculum for each individual student and anticipate challenges.

Ongoing Professional Development

  • Extensive support and training for our platinum teachers: At Achievement First, we recognize that teachers are the key to unlocking student achievement. As such, teachers have a network of content-area experts behind them for support. Every teacher at Achievement First—whether a 10-year veteran or a recent college graduate—has a coach. Coaches provide teachers with individualized attention to help them achieve their learning goals for each of their students. Our support is rooted in great modeling, lesson observation and feedback, collaboration and co-planning. Every teacher in the network comes together twice a year for a day of professional development. In addition, teachers participate in school-based sessions every Friday afternoon.

Our School Culture

  • A joyful classroom tone: Walk into any Achievement First classroom and feel the palpable, urgent love of learning. Every one of our students is a scholar climbing the mountain to college. With a tone of positive correction, teachers and students incorporate our REACH values (Respect, Enthusiasm, Achievement, Citizenship and Hard Work) in everything they do.
  • Read, baby, read! In literature class, teachers make sure that the "nose in text" time is high. Teachers are students too, and all teachers, regardless of subject area, model an insatiable appetite for independent reading.
  • Climbing the mountain to college: Above all, Achievement First has high expectations for our students. Teachers insist on 100 percent student engagement, with no "desk potatoes" in sight. Students strive toward one fundamental, non-negotiable goal—climbing the mountain to college. As our mission states, "Achievement First schools will provide all our students with the academic and character skills they need to graduate from top colleges, to succeed in a competitive world and to serve as the next generation of leaders for our communities."

Results Across Achievement First

After a decade of growth, we are more optimistic than ever about our potential to deliver on the promise of equal education for all and that our students will climb the mountain to college. The hard work of our teachers, students and parents is
paying off as their extraordinary achievement results receive local, state and national attention. As our organization
grows, we continue to be committed to the core value
"People Matter, Mightily."

2013 Highlights

  • Interact with our digital annual report for a complete "year in review."
  • With the opening of three new schools in our network—AF Aspire Elementary, AF University Prep High and AF Providence Mayoral Academy Elementary—we served nearly 8,100 students across three states, five cities and 25 schools. 
  • At both of our full-size high schools, 100 percent of graduating seniors have gained college acceptance in every graduating class. Our students, most of whom will be the first in their families to attend college, are not only gaining acceptance to college, but they are persisting toward graduation. While only 16 percent of students nationwide who are the first in their families to enter college will graduate within six years, 82 percent of our high school graduates are still persisting in college
  • For two consecutive years, AF Bushwick received an A and scored in the top 15 percent of all city schools on the New York City Department of Education Progress Reports. The NYC DOE highlighted AF Bushwick as one of eight city schools with high-needs populations that excel at preparing students for college and careers. AF Bushwick earned special credit for making outstanding gains with special education students.
  • AF Brownsville also received an A for two consecutive years on the NYC DOE Progress Reports and was recognized for making higher-than-average gains in math and English Language Arts.
  • We announced our first class of 52 “Distinguished Teachers” in Achievement First’s Teacher Career Pathway, which has been nationally recognized by both the New Teacher Project and the Aspen Urban Superintendents Network as one of the most promising teacher evaluation and career paths in the country.
  • There is high—and increasing—demand from our families and communities for more Achievement First schools. Across all of our schools, we received an average of seven enrollment forms for every available seat.
  • We have been working hard to address issues of diversity and inclusiveness. We increased the percentage of new teachers and school leaders identified as black, Latino or multiracial from 28 percent to 36 percent and, last year for the first time, we retained a higher percentage of our staff of color than our network average.
  • Across Achievement First’s Brooklyn schools, our more than 1,600 kindergarten, first and second graders outperformed 92 percent of their peers across the country in math.
  • Achievement First’s eighth graders outperformed affluent eighth graders in Rye by 13 percentage points on the New York State Test.
  • More than 90 percent of Achievement First New York high school students are proficient in history and math.
  • We now have a Common Core-aligned curriculum in place in all Connecticut and New York Achievement First schools. While there is still work to be done (notably in K-4 ELA), our schools now have a much better sense of the realistic college-ready bar.
  • Achievement First was named one of three finalists for the 2013 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. According to The Broad Foundation, Achievement First was selected, in part, because its “students performed better than their peers in school districts with similar income demographics in Connecticut and New York in all available comparisons—elementary, middle and high school reading, math and science in Connecticut, and elementary reading, math and science and middle school reading and math in New York.”
  • At AF Brooklyn High, graduates were accepted to an average of 6.7 colleges per student, and at AF Amistad High, 40 percent of the graduating class was admitted to colleges and universities considered “more selective” or “most selective” by U.S. News and World Report.

The Achievement First Approach: Athena

At Achievement First, we refuse to let any student "fall through the cracks." We are committed to researching and developing innovative methods for analyzing student assessment data to inform our planning and instruction to ensure that each student receives the support that he or she needs to be successful. The launch in 2007 of AF Athena™, Achievement First's custom-built, web-based interim assessment platform, has been instrumental in increasing the efficiency of our data analysis and the effectiveness of our planning and instruction. AF Athena provides performance data analysis and knowledge management for teachers and school leaders to create data-driven instructional battle plans as they help every student climb the mountain to college.

In the years since our founding, Achievement First has developed an extensive practice around using internally developed interim assessments to plan instruction, student interventions and professional development for teachers. Every six weeks, teachers administer an interim assessment and analyze the data, which is predictive of subsequent student performance on state exams, to track class progress toward goals, identify which standards require further instruction and determine which students require specific interventions.

Achievement First designed and built AF Athena to replace a laborious and manual process of tracking and analyzing interim assessment results using Microsoft Excel, pencil and paper. Teachers and school teams devote a full day to professional development–known as "Data Day"–after each interim assessment cycle and use AF Athena to analyze the data by teacher, student, standard and question in order to diagnose areas of student misunderstanding and to collaborate on developing instructional strategies for re-teaching, reviewing and working with struggling students who require more targeted small-group instruction.

As of now AF Athena is unavailable to external audiences, but plans are being developed for broader implementation beyond Achievement First.

How does AF incorporate professional development into the school year?

AF teachers receive more than quadruple the typical amount of professional development received in traditional public schools. Professional development opportunities include:

  • Staff training: New teachers participate in three weeks of new staff training and planning time.
  • Network-run Professional Development Days:
  1. AF Regional Day of Practice In the fall semester, teachers across each regional network of schools gather for a day of professional development and collaborative planning. Click here to see elementary sessions offered at the 2012 NY Day of Practice.
  2. AF-Wide Professional Development Day All teachers across our network of schools come together in the winter for a full day of professional development sessions. Click here to see a sample of the sessions offered at AF-Wide PD Day 2013.
  • School-site Professional Development Days: School leaders design professional development for their individual schools, including a mid-year retreat and visits to other schools.
  • Data Days: Every six weeks, teachers administer an interim assessment and analyze the data, diagnosing areas of student misunderstanding. Teachers then come together for a full day of reflection and planning to ensure these gaps in understanding are closed.
  1. Click here to see a sample Data Day agenda.
  • Friday professional development:
  1. Weekly Each school holds at least two hours of professional development each Friday. 

  2. Quarterly On four Friday afternoons each school year, all teachers from each region gather together for targeted professional development.

  • Weekly support: Every teacher receives weekly support from a coach, including co-planning, data analysis, feedback and observation.
  • External professional development: Teachers attend training and development sessions with other high-performing schools and organizations.
    • 2015-16 School Teacher All Subjects, Kindergarten – Grade 12 Start Date: July 1 st , 2015 Location: Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport, CT; Brooklyn, NY; Providence, RI About Achievement First: Achievement First, a non-profit 501(c)3 charter school management organization, will operate 29 public charter schools in Brooklyn, Connecticut and Rhode Island for the 2014-15 school year. The mission of Achievement First is to close the achievement gap and deliver on the promise of equal educational opportunity for all children, regardless of race or economic status. Achievement First currently educates more than 9,500 students in historically underserved neighborhoods, with over 90% of our students identifying as Black and Latino. With its college-preparatory focus, the Achievement First approach is attaining breakthrough academic gains throughout the network. Beyond our students and schools, Achievement First is an engaged and prominent partner in the larger conversation about how to improve public education and student achievement in our country. Achievement First’s approach to teaching and learning enables every student to succeed at the highest levels. This involves:
      • Recruiting and developing successful teachers and school leaders and empowering them to use student data to strategically drive instruction;
      • Creating a joyful school culture where it is “cool to be smart” that emphasizes character education and focuses students on college;
      • Providing students with more time on task and intense intervention when they are struggling so that no child falls through the cracks. For more information about Achievement First’s mission, approach, schools and team, please visit our website at Teaching at Achievement First: Achievement First invites passionate educators to apply for the position of school teacher for the 2015-16 school year. Teaching at Achievement First is an ideal position for an educator with deep passion for instruction who is eager to gain rigorous development to help perfect his/her craft. In addition to participating in weekly professional development and team planning meetings, teachers receive consistent high-impact coaching and feedback from a school administrator or teacher-leader. Furthermore, Achievement First has recently launched Teacher Career Pathway, a systematic, coordinated approach to recognizing and developing great teachers as they progress through five career stages. These stages were developed to celebrate excellent teachers and are accompanied by increased compensation, recognition and professional development opportunities. Achievement First is committed to recruiting, developing and retaining excellent teachers. Responsibilities of Achievement First school teachers include but are not limited to:
        • Outstanding academic achievement and student character development
        • Create a positive, achievement-oriented and structured learning environment that excites and invests students.
        • Motivate students to realize high academic and behavioral standards.
        • Build classroom community by investing families in children’s academic success and development of REACH values (REACH stands for Respect, Enthusiasm, Achievement, Citizenship and Hard work). Achievement First is an equal opportunity employer. 2
        • Utilize data from Achievement First’s interim assessments to drive instruction and intervention.
        • Design and implement unit and lesson plans in collaboration with grade or subject team.
        • Hold all students accountable during transitions, meals, trips and school events.
        • Exemplify AF’s core values in all interactions with students, families and colleagues.
      • Professional learning, development, and growth
        • Collaborate with coach, grade-level chair and school team to improve instructional, culturebuilding and leadership skills.
        • Attend all professional development, team planning and data analysis meetings.
        • Participate enthusiastically in structured and informal learning and development opportunities. Skills and Characteristics
          • Strong instructional and classroom management skills.
          • High level of personal organization and planning.
          • Team player: maturity, humility, strong work ethic, follow-through, sense of humor, willingness to respond positively to feedback and a “roll-up-my-sleeves” attitude.
          • Strong belief in the Achievement First mission and educational model.
          • Mastery of and enthusiasm for subject matter. Educational Background and Work Experience
          • Two years of teaching experience highly preferred with a proven record of high student achievement.
          • Bachelor’s degree from a competitive college or university; Master’s degree preferred.
          • Willingness to seek valid state certification if needed. Compensation Salary for this position is very competitive and commensurate with experience. Additionally, Achievement First offers a comprehensive benefits package. Teachers receive funds for supplies and materials as well as a laptop computer. To Learn More About AF and Apply: Please visit the Achievement First careers site at Achievement First is an equal opportunity employer and an organization that values diversity. People from all diverse backgrounds are strongly encouraged to apply. Spanish language proficiency is a plus. You can learn more about diversity at Achievement First here:

The Achievement First Approach: In the Schools

Achievement First's approach is not based on any "silver bullet" about how to achieve breakthrough student achievement. Rather, it consists of a set of basic principles that, when combined and executed well, have consistently demonstrated an ability to enable all students to succeed at the highest levels. Several critical elements of the school approach include:

  • More time spent learning
  • Regular use of interim assessments
  • Integration of performance data in planning
  • Recruitment and development of talented teachers and leaders
  • Intensive intervention for struggling students
  • Disciplined and joyful school culture

Our ultimate goal is to demonstrate that gap-closing student performance can be achieved at a scale. Achievement First plans to continue growing so that it will serve more than 12,000 students, of which at least 70 percent qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program. At this size, Achievement First will have more students than 95 percent of all United States districts, and will be serving more low-income students than 97 percent of all United States districts.

All Achievement First schools share six core program elements that have emerged and are constantly refined: 

Unwavering Focus on Student Achievement

All Achievement First teachers and principals are focused on completely closing the achievement gap for our students, and student performance is the chief factor in school, principal and teacher evaluations. This focus is translated into practice through the Achievement First Essentials Observation Rubric and the Cycle of Highly Effective Teaching.

Focus on Talent

Achievement First firmly believes that one of the most important determinants of student achievement is the quality of the teacher in the classroom. Likewise, the quality of school leaders is the most important driver of teacher success. Consequently, Achievement First goes to great lengths to recruit, develop, recognize and retain a team of talented teachers and school leaders. All new Achievement First school leaders train for two years before launching a new school, and all new Achievement First teachers participate in nearly four weeks of professional development. Achievement First schools release early on Fridays to provide two additional hours every week of staff meeting and learning time. Every Achievement First teacher has a coach (a principal, dean or lead teacher) who meets with them at least once every two weeks to provide individual coaching and support. 

More Time Spent Learning

The Achievement First school day is nearly two hours longer than the traditional public school day, allowing many students to have two reading classes and an extended math class every day, with tutoring available during and after school, an average of one to two hours of homework per night, and an intensive independent reading program so that students READ, READ, READ both at home and at school.

Rigorous Curriculum

Achievement First has clearly defined "scope and sequence" documents that outline the ambitious academic standards that all Achievement First students are expected to master at each grade level, so that success in one grade can be seamlessly built on in the next. Teachers understand that "covering material" is not our goal; what is important is how well students master the standards.

Strategic Use of Data and Targeted Interventions

Every six weeks, Achievement First teachers give interim assessments (IA) that measure whether students have actually mastered what we have taught them. These results are then uploaded to Achievement First's Athena, a custom-built assessment system. Teachers and principals spend a "data day" after each IA dedicated to reviewing the individual assessments and together creating data-driven instructional plans that target whole class, small group and one-on-one instruction to address any gaps in student learning. There is designated time during the school day, after school and on Saturdays for small group and individual tutoring. Both teachers and students believe that we need to do "whatever it takes" to make sure all students learn.

Strong School Culture

Immediately upon entering an Achievement First school, you can feel a sense of urgency, order, rigor, focus and joy. Key elements of Achievement First's school culture include the following:

  • Core values: We call them our "REACH" values, and they are: Respect, Enthusiasm, Achievement, Citizenship and Hard Work. They appear in every classroom and are taught, cultivated and reinforced as explicitly as academics.
  • Sweating the small stuff: In many urban schools, teachers and leaders "pick their battles," only addressing egregious instances of poor behavior. Achievement First, on the other hand, has adopted sociologist James Q. Wilson's "broken windows" theory that even small details can have a significant effect on overall culture, and we believe that students will rise to the level of expectations placed on them.
  • College focus: The message at Achievement First schools is that ALL students are going to college. We continuously expose students to college: all of our classrooms are named after universities, and students make field trips to college campuses, hear speakers talk about college, write research papers on colleges and, most important, master a college-preparatory curriculum. From the moment our students arrive, they know what year they are expected to graduate from college (our current kindergarteners are known as the "Class of 2029"). In our achievement-oriented culture, it is cool to be smart, and all students work hard to climb the mountain to college.
  • Teachers know and care: Achievement First schools are small learning communities in which all the teachers and leaders know the names of all the students. Achievement First schools use a co-advisor system in which a class of 25-27 students is co-advised by two teachers, which enables them to develop meaningful relationships with all the students in their advisory.
  • Parents as partners: At Achievement First schools, parents, students and school leaders all sign a contract that outlines their shared commitment to hard work and consistent support of one another. While this contract is not legally binding, it is an important symbolic commitment and plays an important role in strengthening the relationship between parents and the school.
  • Focus on attendance: At Achievement First schools, class time is sacred. Clear attendance goals are set, and strong, swift intervention with students and parents occurs if student attendance falters. A significant part of a dean's evaluation consists of his or her ability to maintain 97 percent or greater student attendance.
  • Uniforms: All Achievement First students wear their school's chosen uniform.
  • Joy factor: Achievement First believes that great education should be rigorous AND fun, challenging AND engaging, structured AND joyful. In fact, we evaluate teachers on their ability to ensure that the J-Factor (the JOY factor) is high in every class and dominates regular school-wide celebrations.