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Elmhurst's First Charter Elementary School Could Open By Next Year

By Katie Honan | April 12, 2017 4:06pm

ELMHURST — A new elementary charter school is eyeing space within the overcrowded District 24 for its 400-seat school focused on science, strong writing skills, creativity and emotional resiliency.

Elm Community Charter School is the dream of Priscilla Walton, who has spent a decade teaching in schools, including Success Academy and Elmhurst's Central Queens Academy, where she was the dean of instruction. 

Her vision for the kindergarten through fifth grade school, which would be the district's first charter elementary school, stems from her own experiences as a teacher and as an English language learner growing up in Elmhurst.

She's always lived in the communities she's taught — including Baltimore and Harlem — and returning to Queens set off a stronger passion for educating. 

"In my last few years when I moved back to Queens and I started working in Elmhurst, it ignited a whole other side of my passion for teaching, my passion to see communities thrive," she told DNAinfo New York. 

As the proposed principal of the school, she'd like to focus on five core elements, according to her proposal with the State University of New York's Charter Schools Institute.

That core is collaborative learning, student-led integrative studies, small class sizes, self-resiliency and awareness, and creative courses, including hands-on shop work.

These were developed after meeting with parents around District 24, with help from the New York Hall of Science and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. 

She built the curriculum after developing the school's mission statement: "We strive to see our children discover their passion, talents and power to enrich their communities."

Walton is working with a board of trustees and support from the School Empowerment Network, where she's been accepted as a 2018 fellow. 

The nonprofit organization, funded by the Walton family (no relation) provides support in developing the mission and the planning to get the school off the ground, she said.

The school doesn't receive financial support from the organization, although as a fellow she's eligible to apply for grants, she said.  

The biggest challenge Elm Community Charter School will likely see is finding available space in the most overcrowded school district in the city. 

At Tuesday's Community Board 4 meeting, members asked about co-location. Walton said their focus is in finding private space. She said she's ready to think creatively about solutions, like the Central Queens Academy — which is housed in a former apartment building.

"The number one piece of feedback that we get is concern in finding a facility," she said. "I'm very aware that space is an issue."

The school would open in September 2018 if it's approved.

"We can create a new possibility for families in Elmhurst," Walton said.