Harvest Collegiate High School Part of Experiment in City School System

The city and teachers' union have come together to create a way for some traditional public schools to operate a bit more like charter schools. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

Harvest Collegiate High School is part of an experiment in the city school system. It's one of 126 schools granted permission to break some of the rules imposed by the teachers' union or Department of Education.

The program, known as PROSE, was introduced in the latest teachers' union contract as a way to let some public schools be a bit more flexible.  

"PROSE has let us take a lot of the innovative ideas that we had and wanted to do but might not have been able to do fully," said Kate Burch, principal of Harvest Collegiate High School.

At Harvest Collegiate on West 14th Street, that means many classes are scheduled in longer blocks than the standard 45-minute high school period.

"You get an hour and a half to learn one thing, and it stresses the importance of that class," said Dashawn Branch, a student at the school.

In January, students stop everything to take one special intensive class. Teachers design these two-week courses based on their interests. Many involve travel, like studying French in Montreal or politics in Washington D.C.

"I always wanted to travel out of state and my parents couldn't really go to other places. So I felt like it was a major opportunity," said Jerry Wong, a student at the school.

Teachers are also evaluated differently. They set their own goals and welcome other teachers into their classrooms for peer evaluations.

"All of the teachers are helping each other get better at their teaching practice every day," Burch said.

At Harvest Collegiate, they say the only reason this works is because the faculty and administration get along, and teachers vote on any changes.

"We have problems, and there are frustrations, but my sense is that as a teacher, I can impact that and be part of the change," said Zoe Roben, a teacher at the school.

They acknowledge that this flexibility and collaboration might not work at many city schools, and critics of the teachers' union say the changes allowed by the union are not nearly enough to make a real difference. But at Harvest Collegiate, the teachers say they believe the new program has allowed them to design a better version of a public high school.

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