Building community connections and fostering joy in education:

Meet Katie-Lyn Santacruz and Noel Peguero

In the bustling borough of Queens, at the Academy of the City Charter School, Katie-Lyn Santacruz and Noel Peguero are doing more than just running a school—they’re building a haven for students and families alike. Over the past 10+ years, they’ve dedicated themselves to creating a welcoming atmosphere where learning isn’t just about books, but about self-discovery, community and happiness.

“School is not just an obligation, it’s a place where students can be exactly who they are, find themselves, and grow,” said Santacruz. “We want families to feel joy every time they come through our doors.”

With that in mind, the two have been strengthening bonds, spreading positivity and making a difference in the lives of countless students and families through innovative programs and services aimed at supporting families both in and out of the classroom.

From her early days teaching second grade to now leading the elementary and middle school as principal, Santacruz has been a guiding force in shaping the school’s inclusive culture.

Peguero’s journey at Academy of the City started from day one when the school opened its doors in 2011. He’s worn many hats over the years, teaching music and Spanish while also serving as a parent coordinator.

Together, they have made it their mission to ensure that every child who walks through the doors of AoC feels valued, supported, and ready to thrive. Their impact reaches far beyond academics, touching the lives of everyone fortunate enough to be part of their school community.

For example, when a significant population of migrant families and asylum seekers relocated to the area, it was important for Santacruz and Peguero to ensure that those families had easy access to critical services. To help make that happen, they brought everything from banks to churches to libraries into the school.

“Instead of having to go out and search for these resources, families could find them right here,” said Santacruz. It was important that the school help ease at least some of the burden on these families new to the neighborhood.

Language support is another cornerstone service provided by the school, catering to a diverse population of 720 students and families speaking 37 different languages. To ensure that every family feels empowered within the school community, Santacruz and Peguero spearhead programs such as the ‘parents translate for new parents’ program, enabling families to communicate effectively about educational issues in their native languages.

“In all that we do, we are focused on community and belonging,” said Santacruz. “In addition to the academic success of our students, our goal is always to build relationships with our children and families and to provide them with whatever they need to stay together, stay healthy and stay successful.”

As a parent coordinator, Peguero plays a key role in fulfilling that mission. Santacruz describes him as a parent lifeline. “They feel so comfortable talking with him, and just feel better having him around,” she said. “That is how we are able to help so many families.”

Along with his team, Peguero routinely coordinates monthly workshops for families, each with a different focus. Recent topics included details on obtaining citizenship, how to apply for funding, testing expectations, and a general “how education works in US” workshop–presented in several languages–specifically geared toward immigrant families.

“We really prioritize parent engagement and communications, as that is the key to successful and engaged students,” said Peguero, who feels fortunate to have the flexibility to offer a wide variety of sessions based on changing community needs.

Santacruz agrees that flexibility, and the ability to pivot when needed, is the name of the game.

“As an educator working in the public charter school space, you are allowed to be very creative,” said Santacruz. “We are not a ‘one program fits all’ model. Every year you have a different group of students who need different things, and charter schools give you lots of autonomy to change and maneuver as needed,” she reflected.

She noted how much public charter schools, like her own, take pride in the children and families that they serve.

“Each and every day, it’s a parent’s choice to stay or go. The fact that our families stay is the true measurement showing that what we are doing is right and that things are working for their students and families,” said Santacruz. “Parents keep coming back and we could not feel more fortunate.”

Opened in the fall of 2011, Academy of the City Charter School is a tuition-free, community-based public charter school originally located in Queens, NY. The school currently serves 720 students in grades K-8 using a progressive educational model aimed at motivating and preparing students to engage in a lifelong love affair with learning. Academy of the City was named a Reward School by the New York State Education Department in 2017, 2018 and 2019 for making the most progress with no significant gaps in student achievement. To learn more about the school, please visit their website at: https://www.academyofthecity.org.

If you know someone making a significant impact in your school community, please consider nominating them for an upcoming Our Charter Stories feature. If selected, our communications team will conduct an interview with the nominee to delve deeper into their experiences and contributions. Nominations are completely anonymous, which means we won’t share nominator information with anyone selected.

Submit a nomination TODAY!