The Lois & Richard Nicotra Early College Charter School (NECCS), which opened last September with a mission to promote an innovative accelerated pathway to higher education, will launch its second term next month.
The second term will feature an expansion to include a student population of 150 and the school will continue to push to foster the academic and emotional growth of Staten Island’s future leaders.
“We’ve always believed in the mission of the Charter School, believed in the idea of making a difference in children’s lives,” noted Richard Nicotra, the locally infamous businessman who along with his wife, Lois, lent both his name and financial support to the project. “We are extremely excited about what the future holds for this school.”
Divided into two phases, College Preparation and Early College, the school aims at providing equal opportunities for all students, including those with disabilities and the economically disadvantaged.
In the College Preparation Phase (grades 8-10), students are enrolled in accelerated Regents’ level high school courses designed to prepare them for college as well as earn credits towards a high school diploma.
Students begin their Early College Phase at St. John’s University as early as the 11th grade and are able to earn up to 60 college credits. During that phase, students can choose one of two pathways – Business and Entrepreneurship or Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice.
“We believe that education is the key to success and we know that the key to Staten Island’s future is an educational opportunity for all children,” explained Lois Nicotra. “We see the time and talent dedicated by the Integration Charter School team to the students in their current schools, Lavelle Preparatory Charter School and New Ventures. That’s what gave us the confidence to lend our name to this new school.”
Due to its rigor and demand, NECCS offers summer intensive courses and opportunities for students to meet the accelerated demands of college readiness. The courses are designed to help students develop their writing skills as well as their test-taking skills and studying skills.
“This school is about giving students who are historically underrepresented in college the opportunity to simultaneously pursue their high school diploma and college credits, an educational model that has been shown to significantly increase college graduation rates,” explained Joseph Zaza, the school’s founding principal. “We partnered with St. John’s and targeted students with special needs as well as minority students so that we can address systemic inequities and give those students the opportunity to meet and exceed standards and get them college and career ready.”
Zaza, who worked with the Department of Education for 35 years as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, superintendant and then deputy superintendant, came out of retirement to help found the Nicotra Charter School because he believed in its mission.
“The vision of this school – to assist students with disabilities, help them achieve at the same rate in an integrated setting – is very inspiring,” Zaza said. “It’s extremely fulfilling to see something like this come alive off a piece of paper. Building a collaborative culture of adults who share same vision and in our first year be able to build an active and vibrant parents association and student government. Watching that come to fruition is extraordinary.”
Temporarily located at the former Eltingville Lutheran School until classroom space at the Corporate Commons Campus is ready, the school is scheduled to move back over to South Avenue when construction is complete in 2020.
“In its new space, students will have access to a 40,000 square foot organic rooftop farm where they will learn about agriculture and plant their own fruits and vegetables,” reported Lois Nicotra, detailing plans for the school’s future curriculum. “The faculty will also have space to host outdoor classes, make use of walking trails and will be at the center of an innovative and nature inspired learning environment.”
And Zaza says it’s the support of the Nicotras that is making his school such a success.
“They are wonderful partners who are extraordinarily supportive and actively involved in our school’s planning and progression,” Zaza concluded. “They are not just lending their name to the school and walking away, they are working collaboratively with us to create a groundbreaking learning environment. They truly believe in our mission and are fully supportive of the children who attend this school. As Lois says: ‘These kids are our kids.’”