Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Bormann Academy offers glimpse of education's future

It can be loud.   The noise level and the lack of desks are the first two things you notice when you walk into Patricia Murphy's seventh grade classroom at Bormann Academy where the desks have been removed to fit 108 students into classroom originally built with a capacity of 36.

As Ms. Murphy began her lesson on geometric patterns in math, 2 girls were sketching shapes on their notebook, while another boy was using a needle and several blue pens to give another student a geometric tattoo of a skull on his left arm.
“We don’t know what we are supposed to be doing, but we are learning about math,” Robby Burnett, 13, said.

Across the room Luis Cabrera, Ms. Murphy's teacher aide and custodian was lecturing some of the slower students on the need to improve their scores on the district's standardized tests while Ms. Murphy continued teaching her lesson at the chalkboard.

Ms. Murphy, a 23 year old Amherst graduate with a passion for public policy, describes life in the unconventional classroom as chaotic, but rewarding, "I was the students' third teacher when I arrived in November and it took me awhile to get their trust, even after they realized Mr. Boddicker wasn't there anymore."

Bormann Academy has a strict zero tolerance policy for teachers whose students fail to make acceptable progress on district tests.   "There is no tenure.  If you're not doing a good job preparing these students, I will call you into my room at lunch time and have security escort you out of the building," said principal Ellen Kingrey a 25 year old Yale graduate with a passion for public policy.
Bormann Students make their way to the cafeteria for lunch.

Bormann Academy, which is located in Oakdale, CA has a student body of 850 students and 9 full-time teachers plus 18 teacher's aides who double as custodians, lunch room staff, and office secretaries.   As a charter school, Boorman Academy is freed up from many of the regulations that stifle reform in public schools and as such is able to operate at an incredible profit for its investors.

Lessons can be a series of complex choreographies and it is extremely important that a teacher be very aware of their classroom environment.  When we were observing, one boy was pinned against a desk by a line of students getting calculators and turned blue before he was finally rescued.

"It does take some getting used to," said Ms. Murphy, "In the beginning there would be an argument or a shanking in the back of the room and before I could get back there, we'd have a major problem.  However, I've learned to coordinate with Luis and we always have somebody nearby when trouble breaks out.  That makes all the difference."


  1. "...desks have been removed to fit 108 students into classroom originally built with a capacity of 36."

    And you thought New York City schools were overcrowded! I am surprised that this is a charter school, though. Charter schools in New York usually have small classes, attentive teachers and strict discipline.

  2. Why is there barbed wire?

    What is this place, a prison camp!?

  3. Sally, ideally these principles will be applied to public schools. We have very strict discipline as you can see by the uniforms and while the class is large, it is that way by design.

  4. Dora, as you say this is not a prison camp and having barbed wire on a school is unsettling to say the least and unnecessary. What we use is called concertina wire.