Academic Rigor

Storefront Academy’s model features a rigorous academic program based on the Common Core standards. Though a data-driven organization, Storefront Academy teachers don’t teach to the test, and instead focus on building key competencies, including critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

Storefront Academy employs a cluster model to assure vertical alignment of curriculum and strengthen our professional learning community. Teachers and Assistant Teachers in each cluster meet weekly for common planning periods with administrators to focus on student learning needs, curriculum alignment, and to share strategic resources for instruction. See below for information on the curriculum and academic model employed by each cluster.

Cluster 1: Pre-K, K and 1st Grade

School citizenship and basic literacy skills are central to day-to-day learning for Storefront Academy’s youngest students. Teachers in Cluster 1 target age-appropriate reading and writing skills and basic numeracy, and integrate science and social studies lessons in thematic units. Kindergarten graduates are expected to be early readers, and our first grade class is a capstone year for our early childhood program when students begin to take part in community service projects.

Cluster 2: 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Grade

Instruction in Cluster 2 classes focuses on building fluency and reading comprehension skills, and strengthening higher order thinking skills in mathematics. These students are given greater accountability for their own learning, and are immersed in print and expected to read authentic children’s literature in school and at home using additional resources to strengthen reading skills. In addition, our 4th and 5th grade classes act as a bridge to middle school, designed to ensure that once students enter 6th grade, they are accustomed to many of the changes that come with the transition to middle school (including different subject-specific instructors, increased need for self-management, and more responsibility as school leaders).

Cluster 3: 6th, 7th, and 8th Grade

Middle school students focus on reading for comprehension and content, with a humanities curriculum that ties literature and historical information with current events, encouraging students to examine comparisons and participate in debates. Math curriculum builds to pre-algebra work in 8th grade, and special supplemental subjects (including statistics and computer programming) are integrated into math and science lessons.

Beyond cluster-specific curricula, there are several key academic tools that are deployed school-wide to ensure academically rigorous instruction and comprehensive curriculum development, including:

Integration of the Common Core Standards

Storefront Academy Harlem began integration of the Common Core Standards in 2011. Adopted by 44 states and the District of Columbia, the goal of the Common Core Standards is to ensure that all students are college and career ready in literacy and mathematics no later than the end of high school.


Storefront Academy faculty members are specially trained to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of all learners. Since Storefront Academy admits students with no regard to academic level or test results, teachers must effectively scaffold lessons to ensure optimal support for optimal learning, always with the goal of moving every student toward independence.

Academic Support Services

Department of Academic Support Services staff members work with faculty to proactively address academic concerns before they escalate. When academic issues do arise suddenly, these staff can quickly respond to teacher concerns without the need to navigate any bureaucratic red tape. In addition to in-classroom support, our Academic Support Services team manages many volunteers and paid personnel who tutor during the school day, as well as oversees our formalized school-wide intervention programs, including our extended day and summer programs.

Understanding by Design Unit Planning

Also known as backwards design, unit and lesson planning using the Understanding by Design framework demands that teachers use desired performance outcomes to inform curriculum units, performance assessments and classroom instruction. Storefront Academy faculty members use this framework to inform cluster-wide curriculum development and improve instructional practice.

Technology Integration

Technology is integrated across all grades in response to the world’s changing landscape. This includes the use of SMART Boards in all classrooms, regular use of desktops, laptops and Chromebooks for research projects and writing tasks, computerized assessments, as well as use of e-readers and tablets.

Close Reading

An important aspect of the Common Core Standards, close reading is taught in grades 3-8 at Storefront Academy. Teachers lead students in close reading, often using digital document readers, in order to uncover layers of meaning, leading to deep comprehension. Close reading asks students to examine meaning thoroughly and methodically, encouraging them to read and reread deliberately, ultimately empowering them to understand the central ideas and key supporting details of text.

Professional Learning Community

Storefront Academy prides itself on being a Professional Learning Community, building a culture of collaboration where educators work closely together to ensure that curriculum and instruction result in student learning. Teachers collaborate at weekly full faculty meetings as well as in clusters during weekly common planning periods.

Professional Development

Storefront Academy faculty members are passionate educators who are encouraged to continuously develop as professionals. All teaching staff participates in a three-week summer institute each August, focused on strengthening key academic initiatives and school culture. During the school year, peers visit other classrooms to learn from each other, with a goal to build a consistent cycle of feedback leading to best practices in all grades. Teachers also regularly attend and then turnkey information from professional development workshops throughout the year on new curricula, resources and approaches.

Faculty Leadership

All Storefront Academy faculty members are encouraged to take initiative to respond to the needs of students and to provide unique enrichment opportunities. Teachers enjoy autonomy to build partnerships, head school clubs, and act as the coach or coordinator for various school programs. In addition, experienced faculty members act as Cluster Administrators, working closely with members of administration, with special projects and assignments delegated to each Cluster Administrator to ensure ever higher levels of student achievement.