During Reading Period this year, I had the opportunity to spend three days at University Heights Charter School in Newark shadowing the school’s executive director, Misha Simmonds ’97. This was an excellent way to see the inner workings of an up-and-coming nonprofit, specifically in the educational field. This school primarily serves underprivileged minority students from the surrounding schools. Mr. Simmonds was a very welcoming, friendly host, even picking me up from Newark Penn Station on the first day due to the frigid temperatures outside. At UCHS, he introduced me to other staff members at the school as soon as we arrived, putting me at ease in the place I would be working for the next three days.
The first order of business was a comprehensive tour of the school, which is actually comprised of two buildings. One contains grades pre-kindergarten through 2, and the other across the street houses grades 3 through 7. I also got an overview of the ongoing construction work, which will add a gymnasium and connect to the existing building, allowing for UHCS to expand and add an eighth grade next year. Back in Mr. Simmonds’ office, I learned about New Classrooms and their innovative Teach To One program, which is currently being utilized to teach math at about 15 trial schools around the country, including UHCS. My next main assignment for the day was to comb over the school website to check for any errors or outdated information and make a list of recommended changes for Mr. Simmonds to follow up on. Later in the afternoon I was able to listen in on a phone conversation on special education programming in the district; it spanned a wide variety of topics, such as developing a plan for greater equality and access for special needs students in Newark, and how UHCS fits into that plan. The final project for the day was to analyze Excel spreadsheets of assessment results for kindergarten to grade 2. I created a series of summaries to identify problem areas (standards that are particularly tough to reach) and which classrooms within a single grade are learning a particular standard best.
On day two I took the light rail to the school and continued working on the Excel sheets of K-2 assessment results. I then had the chance to sit in on another phone conversation regarding financing for the new building construction for the new addition across the street. The financial terminology was all new to me, but it was a great opportunity to learn more about the process of managing UHCS. Later in the afternoon I observed a second grade English class and a third grade math class.
For the third and final day, I spent the majority of my time labeling envelopes to be sent out to prospective students and their families, inviting them to apply to the UHCS in the coming months. As my last project, I crunched more numbers on Excel spreadsheets of enrollment data, taking the raw data and sorting it into the necessary categories, organizing the students by grade level, gender, and race/ethnicity.
This Princeternship provided a great look into how a charter school functions on a daily basis and offered the perspective of a supervisor who has spent his entire career in various aspects of the educational field. It was very interesting to hear about the path Mr. Simmonds took after his time as an undergraduate history major at Princeton, culminating in his position as executive director of UHCS. The best part of this experience was seeing how he efficiently handled all the responsibilities of executive director and dealt with a variety of situations as they arose. I would absolutely recommend this Princeternship for anyone interested in Education or nonprofit work.