Determined educator opens new school

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The International Leadership Charter High School held a grand opening for its new building at Riverdale Avenue and West 231st Street on Jan. 27. 

The school had planned to open its doors for the 2013-2014 school year, according to a previous Press report, but construction delays pushed the opening to fall 2015 and then again to last month.

Students have been in the building since Jan. 4, but the event last Wednesday gave CEO and founder Elaine Ruiz-López a chance to show off the new building to local elected officials, stakeholders and other community members. 

The building, located at 3030 Riverdale Ave., boasts two science labs, Smart Boards in every classroom, a library and media center, a cafeteria and a health clinic.

After opening in 2006, the institution occupied a leased space at 2900 Exterior St., a mixed-use office building across the street from the Marble Hill Houses.

Ms. Ruiz-López said she long sought a permanent home for the charter. She added that amenities at the new site will help the institution build on its successes so far, which include a graduation rate of 93 percent and listing among the country’s top public high schools by “U.S. News & World Report.”

“I think that now that we have these amenities, with the science labs and the full-size cafe and state-of-the-art technology… we’re going to have 100-percent graduation rate and 100 percent of our students are going to enroll in the college of their choice and they’re going to do amazing things,” the CEO said.

During her remarks, Ms. Ruiz-López, who was born and raised in the Bronx, said the school is a tangible testament to the importance of adhering to a vision. Years ago, she tried to secure a tax-exempt bond from Build NYC, a division of the New York City Economic Development Corporation. She said the first time she applied, she was denied because she did not have a property for the new building. 

“So I went to work and I contacted real estate brokers and I contacted everybody that I could think of in the Bronx, and lo and behold, I see a sign for this property that the school currently sits on,” she said. “The property at that time was at $2.25 million. And I had zero dollars.”

But Ms. Ruiz-López was determined to secure the space, where an abandoned animal shelter was located at the time. She convinced her banker to give the school a loan of $1 million, and the next time the charter applied with Build NYC, it won a $17.5 million bond for the Riverdale Avenue project.

“We still have zero dollars in the bank. But what we lack in wealth and liquid cash, we have in our vision and our love for students, our scholars, and our love for our community,” Ms. Ruiz-López said.

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