Topics: Data Stories High-Quality Curriculum

New York City Montessori Charter School Leaders Welcome Great Minds’ High Standards

Charlie Anatra

by Charlie Anatra

December 18, 2020
New York City Montessori Charter School Leaders Welcome Great Minds’ High Standards

every child is capable of greatness.

Posted in: Aha! Blog > Great Minds Blog > Data Stories High-Quality Curriculum > New York City Montessori Charter School Leaders Welcome Great Minds’ High Standards

Before taking over as principal of New York City’s first public Montessori school in 2015, Abeku Hayes worked as an acting and dance teacher in Ohio, an English language arts teacher in Harlem, and an assistant principal in Philadelphia. Those jobs and his previous career in musical theatre taught him the importance of intentionality, focus, and high standards.
Abeku Hayes

Hayes appreciates the similarly exacting standards of Eureka Math® and Wit & Wisdom®, which the school began using in 2016 and 2019, respectively. He values their attention to detail, approaches to problem solving, and methods for engaging students in their own learning.

The results speak for themselves. The percentage of students meeting or exceeding standards on the state’s math test increased 10 points in Grade 3 and 13 points in Grade 5 between the 2017–2018 and 2018–2019 school years. (Because of COVID-19, no state tests were administered in 2019–2020, the first year that the school’s Wit & Wisdom results could have been measured. The state says that math scores before 2017–2018 cannot be compared with more recent results because of changes to the test in 2016–2017.) He and Assistant Principal Krystal Astwood single out the intentional progression from concrete to abstract learning in math; the beauty and intentionality of language in English language arts; and how both curricula focus on inquiry and exploration. “Wit & Wisdom and Eureka Math are the closest published curricula to Montessori, philosophically,” he says, adding that the focus on differentiation is “very Montessori.” Founded in the early 1900s, Montessori schools are now located all across the world. Montessori is a method of education that is based on hands-on learning and collaborative play.

Percentage of All Students Scoring Level 3 or 4 on New York State Math Tests

This chart shows Grade 3, Grade 4, Grade 5, and Grades 3-5 percentages for the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 school years. Grade 3 gained 10 percentage points from 48% to 58%. Grade 4 lost 4 percentage points from 30% to 26%. Grade 5 gained 13 percentage points from 18% to 31%. Overall, Grades 3-5 saw a 5 percent gain from 32% to 37%.

Source: New York State Mathematics Tests


Krystal Astwood

The school leaders appreciate the lessons’ built-in structures, such as the Sprints in Eureka Math and the Vocabulary Deep Dives in Wit & Wisdom. And they say the professional development opportunities from Great Minds® have been exceptional. “The Lead session was one the best PDs I’ve ever been to,” Astwood says.

Hayes says Lauren DelFavero, a Great Minds implementation support specialist, was instrumental in helping teachers own the math lessons and learn how to adjust their pacing without removing key content. “Teachers are generally fearful of PD workshops,” he says. “The secret is having [facilitators] who have actually taught the curriculum … who have actually had to navigate it with a set of kids who belong to them, and they had to do it from soup to nuts.”

Both Hayes and Astwood emphasize that it’s important to “trust the curriculum,” avoid shortcuts, pay close attention to the student achievement data, be accountable for your students’ learning, and avoid the unreasonable expectation that students will achieve mastery after every lesson.

“Know the entire module and what comes next,” Astwood says. “Don’t reteach; key concepts will come up again. And don’t omit any fluency activities. Know that the Great Minds writers have thought through everything.”


The school leaders and their colleagues worked all summer to prepare for the fall. The school has added 20 days to the calendar and phased in reentry gradually, adding about 25 new students a day. “We want to make sure our students, especially our younger students, get acclimated to masks,” Hayes says. They have expanded classrooms into hallways to create more space.

The school also is prepared for remote learning. It was among the first to purchase the new continuous learning and assessment programs Great Minds developed in response to the pandemic: Wit & Wisdom in Sync, Eureka Math in Sync, and Eureka Math Equip. The suite of products allows teachers to seamlessly toggle between classroom and at-home learning and to assess and bridge student knowledge gaps before every math module. Also, the school will implement PhD Science® from Great Minds starting in fall 2020, piloting the new open educational resource curriculum in Grades K–2 (the first year piloting is available for those grades), and the already nationally available materials in Grades 3–5. PhD Science is a comprehensive curriculum in which students act as scientists, investigating authentic phenomena to understand the world around them.

Summer professional development has included having teachers practice how to engage students remotely. For example, Hayes says he tells teachers to look directly into the camera as if they were addressing students face to face in the classroom “because a lot of teachers are teaching like this: ‘All right, do you see this?’ No, look at the children. Because they don’t know you can’t see them. It’s those kinds of things that really make a difference.”

Submit the Form to Print

Topics: Data Stories High-Quality Curriculum