In 1998, a group of New Haven founders came together with a clear goal in mind: to prove that urban students can achieve at the same high levels as their affluent suburban counterparts. Confronted by the popular attitude that demographics were destiny, we decided that the best way to address the problem was to change the system.
We set out to create a public charter school—Amistad Academy—that would enable its students to achieve at high levels. Over the last 10 years, Amistad Academy has produced Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) results that have shattered the notion that "those kids can't learn." For the past seven years, Amistad Academy students—100 percent of whom are selected by blind lottery, 78 percent of whom receive free and reduced lunch and 98 percent of whom are African American or Hispanic—have beat state averages in reading and math, demonstrating that they can achieve on par with their wealthiest peers statewide.
In June 2003, we created a separate 501(c)3 non-profit, Achievement First, with the goal of using Amistad Academy's knowledge and best practices to have a greater impact. We opened the second school, Elm City College Preparatory, in 2004 and expanded the model to include elementary grades.
In fall 2005, under the leadership of New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, Achievement First expanded into Brooklyn. One of Klein's core reform strategies was to locate high-performing public charter schools in New York's lowest-performing districts. Achievement First opened two new schools in central Brooklyn—Achievement First Crown Heights Charter School and Achievement First East New York Charter School.
The Brooklyn network continued to grow in 2006 with the opening of Achievement First Bushwick Charter School and Achievement First Endeavor Charter School, followed in 2008 by Achievement First Brownsville. Thanks to changes in Connecticut charter law, we were also able to open Amistad Academy High School and Amistad Academy Elementary School, paving the way for Connecticut's first K to 12 public charter school. Achievement First's Connecticut network was able to expand into Bridgeport with a new middle school in 2007 and, in 2008, into Hartford with new elementary and middle schools.
Achievement First has grown into a network that includes 25 schools in five cities. In 1999, Amistad Academy opened with 84 fifth and sixth graders. Now, in the 2013-14 school year, Achievement First is serving 8,100 students in grades K to 12.