Norman Atkins is not only a hero, he is a local hero. From 1989 to 1994, he was the co-executive director of Robin Hood. When Norman left Robin Hood, he founded Uncommon Charter Schools, recognized as one of the highest performing urban schools in the nation. In 2008, he co-founded and became president of The Relay Graduate School of Education. Under his leadership, Relay has trained more than 600 charter and district public school teachers in New York City, and is on course to prepare thousands more. Relay is well on its way to bringing about transformational change in teacher preparation. As a journalist, he has written about education, poverty, politics, culture and social issues for The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Parenting, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe. Norman has always been one of our heroes. The only difference is, this year, we made it official.
The Relay Graduate School of Education (formerly Teacher U) Three charter school programs that Robin Hood supports—Achievement First, Uncommon Schools, and KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program)—are, both literally and figuratively, best in class. They have devised practical, effective classroom techniques that keep students from New York City’s poorest neighborhoods focused, motivated and on a path to graduation from a four-year college. We wondered how we could take what was working in these charter schools and share it with New York City public schools. At our 2008 benefit, we raised $30 million to make this idea a reality. The Relay Graduate School of Education was created to “relay” those effective techniques to all New York City teachers. Specifically, Relay offers a part-time, two-year master’s program for full-time public school teachers and trains them to use those proven techniques to help New York City students excel. Relay’s master’s program is distinct from traditional teacher training programs. The curriculum is practical, emphasizing how to teach and the art of classroom management, rather than focusing on educational history or theory. In order to be granted a master’s degree, Relay graduate students must demonstrate increases in their own students’ performance. The teachers’ progress is linked to that of their students. This is even more critical now that recent reports show that less than half of New York City students can read at grade level. Within two years, the Relay School of Education expects to graduate 2,000 teachers. In turn, those teachers will affect the lives of 100,000 students. And that, without a doubt, is a heroic achievement.