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Red Hook Private School Rigorously Recruits and Trains Teachers, CEO Says

By Nikhita Venugopal | December 16, 2013 9:48am
 Basis Independent Brooklyn is a private school that plans to open next fall at 556 Columbia St. in Red Hook
Basis Independent Brooklyn is a private school that plans to open next fall at 556 Columbia St. in Red Hook
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Facebook/Basis Independent Brooklyn

RED HOOK — Basis Independent Brooklyn plans to move to Red Hook with a teaching staff that’s hired through a rigorous recruiting process and trained at an exclusive institute.

The controversial private school that charges $23,500 in annual tuition hopes to open for elementary and middle grades next September and has already started hiring teachers for their 60-member staff, which includes veteran Basis instructors.

”We’re new to Brooklyn but we’re not new to education,” said Basis CEO Mark Reford at a parents' information session hosted at Basis’ DUMBO office last week. “It’s absolutely all about the teachers.”

Teachers at the new Red Hook school will also have their own private offices, Reford said.

About one in 50 candidates are chosen to teach at Basis schools after going through nationwide hiring events and weekend demonstration classes observed by students, school officials and parents.

The charter school company does not require teachers to have education degrees but seeks “deep content expertise” and degrees in their chosen subject, said Reford.

All incoming teachers, regardless of experience, are shuttled to the “Basis Institute” in Arizona during the summer for a training program that lasts more than a week.

Veteran Basis teachers and administrators lead the group of new teachers through different learning methods and classroom situations where they “get time to really think actively,” said Reford.

“They come out of that training institute feeling very competent about being able to start the school year,” he said.

Red Hook is one of the first private schools that Basis has opened. The company runs charter schools in Texas, Washington, D.C. and Arizona.

However, some local teachers who have criticized Basis as a poor fit for Red Hook also questioned the school's method of training instructors.

“It sounds like they have their own teachers college,” said Kristin Eno, an educator in Red Hook who said the model sounded “limited.”

Basis’s reliance on subject expertise and not teaching degrees raised red flags for Alev Dervish, who has been teaching at P.S. 15 in Red Hook for more than a decade.

“Just because you’re a really great scientist or a really great mathematician, does not mean you’re a really great teacher,” she said.

Dervish said her degree in elementary education was extremely valuable for her career as a teacher.

“Teaching is an art and it’s nothing you can learn in a week,” she said.

Community Board 6 refused to back the school’s proposal for an 89,556-square-foot building in Red Hook last week for its “inappropriate location” and “failure to engage the community,” local educators and community members said.

The final decision lies with the Board of Standards and Appeals, which will schedule a public hearing to decide on Basis’ application for a special permit to construct the school at 556 Columbia St., which is not zoned for school use.

But Basis has already planned its arrival to Red Hook, with a partly modular building that will be constructed in Pennsylvania.

“It allows us to do things concurrently,” Reford said at the parents' session, adding that the prefabricated upper floors would most likely be delivered by the end of June.

Basis will also offer Mandarin classes as a compulsory part of their curriculum for kindergarten to fourth grade.

While dozens of city public schools offer Chinese programs, only a handful teach dual-language programs for gaining fluency in two languages.

About 30 are transitional bilingual programs for students looking to change over to English-only classes, according to the Department of Education’s website.

The language enhances learning by “exercising a variety of cognitive centers of the brain,” according to the school’s website.