A Culture of Development Cultivates Excellence at Classical Charter Schools

South Bronx Classical Charter School II (“SBCCS II”) was recently awarded the National Blue Ribbon Award for exceptional performance.

This is an impressive accomplishment and with it, SBCCS II joins an elite group of high-performing, gap-closing schools. This honor not only recognizes the hard work and dedication that our staff, scholars, and families have demonstrated over the past six years, but also our relentless pursuit of excellence in all that we do, including developing the people who have contributed to this success.

When I joined Classical in 2006, we were one school with 60 Kindergarten and 1st grade scholars and only twelve staff. I joined a team of entrepreneurial and excited folks who were thrilled about the idea of creating excellence in education in the South Bronx. I assumed that hard work, humility and professionalism, values that were instilled in me from a young age by my immigrant parents, would lead to success in this profession. I quickly learned that I was unprepared for this work and I had much, much to learn. Teachability would become the most important aspect of my career at Classical.

As I reflect on my time at Classical, and how we got here as a network, I continue to think about our culture of humility and learning. Classical’s approach to deliberately developing adults has profoundly impacted our success. My own growth within this organization over the past thirteen years can be attributed to key leaders, mentors, and peers who have guided me along the way and have cared enough about me to provide me with the transparent feedback necessary to continue to grow, both personally and professionally. In the same way that we, as educators, care deeply about our scholars’ success and push them to be their best, academically, socially, and behaviorally, Classical’s approach to staff, or ‘adult’, development is equally deliberative and focused on potential.

We have carefully crafted our culture to continuously develop our staff, every minute of every day. Our dispersed leadership model allows for directors, managers, and instructional coaches to collaboratively participate in the development of staff and be mutually accountable for their growth, successes, and failures. Direct classroom instructional and curricular feedback is provided by instructional coaches and grade team leaders, school directors provide support and training to grade team leaders and managers, and managers across departments provide feedback and delegate assignments to the individuals on their teams, both to develop their skill sets and to ensure there is strong cross training. However, even with this support, staff occasionally struggle under the pressure of Classical’s high expectations for work quality, execution, and output. Our teachers and staff must be highly self-reflective and equally interested in developing both their technical skills and capacity to thrive at Classical. At Classical we are all accustomed to hearing, in equal parts, about our successes and failures, and how our support system of directors, managers, coaches, and mentors is going to develop us to do better and be better.

While we fundamentally believe that developing our staff in this way will allow them to continually grow as individuals, we also know that it will allow our organization to grow, adapt to change, and be sustainable. In Classical’s fourteenth year of operations, we have grown from one school to four schools, and twelve staff to 200 staff. We have had numerous accolades and can measure our success in many different ways; however, it is without argument that the key to our growth and success is our culture of development.


This post was contributed by Ms. Leena Gyftopoulos, School Director of South Bronx Classical II. As a non-CMO charter network, we rely on the thoughts, opinions, and innovations of our staff to move our mission forward and provide an excellent academic option to families in the South Bronx. To hear more from our staff, check out the next post! Or, click here to learn more.