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Thirteen Years Later, I’m Still an Ambassador for Charter Schools

This is the story of my senior year of high school, when I was applying to colleges in the early aughts. I was like a lot of students from my California hometown, applying for some public UCs and a few private schools in-state and back east (also known as “where it snows,” which was generally regarded with skepticism).

But, unlike most of those aspiring freshmen, I was one of twenty kids graduating from my town’s first charter school.

This presented a challenge, as the vast majority of the country didn’t even know what a charter school was back then, including college admissions personnel. My school knew that in some ways this put me at a disadvantage, as my high school experience was going to be approached by admissions officers with a degree of skepticism.

We were a team, me and my school. We had to win those colleges over and convince them not only of my merits as an applicant, but of the merits of my school and the rigor of my high school education. We had to be ambassadors for the charter school movement.

And now, in my career at NACSA, I’m still that ambassador for quality charter schools—but in a different way.

I’m no longer speaking for one great school, but instead speaking for charter school authorizers. In their role as the gatekeepers of the charter movement, authorizers see the best and the worst of the charter sector. They see those schools that are shining stars and changing lives, and those that let our kids down. And while their identities are varied, authorizers are the common denominator in the charter sector. Every charter school in existence now and every charter school that could possibly exist in the future has a charter school authorizer.

This means the impact of authorizing is huge. If an authorizer is doing its job well, it will set the bar high and only great schools will be allowed to open and remain open year after year.

If I can give one authorizer the tools it needs to do its job well, that might mean one more class of high school seniors is preparing for their first day of college.

And, if through policy change I can ensure all authorizers in a state have the tools they need to do their jobs well, that could change a lot.

 

Amanda Fenton is the Director of State and Federal Policy for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. Her blog post originally appeared on the Chartering Quality blog.

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Be EPIC with REACTOR at the #NCSC15 Brand Impact Workshop

We’re thrilled to be returning to the National Charter Schools Conference to present our Brand Impact Workshop for the second year in a row. We had an awesome time last year working with attendees to evaluate current brands, share best practices and set goals to guide marketing efforts, and we’ve added some new content to this year’s workshop to keep things fresh and fun!

If communications is part of your job description, it may seem unmanageable to find time to plan, post, tweet, publish, produce and create quality content and materials. However, even though your school may not be primarily focused on branding and marketing, they are still critically important to building equity in the form of community support and goodwill. At REACTOR Design Studio, we believe in the power of being E.P.I.C., or Engaging People in Conversation. Your school is designed in a way that encourages all students to thrive, but without a solid brand and effective marketing that gets people talking, you may be fighting an uphill battle to communicate with stakeholders, find success in fundraising or fight stigmas in the community.

The Brand Impact Workshop is a unique opportunity because branding and marketing are traditionally underrepresented as subject areas at the National Charter Schools Conference, but they’re topics that every school needs, whether established or start-up, big or small, urban or rural. We’ll give you the tools to critically assess your current efforts and to bring your ideas to life through concrete goals and strategies. We loved leading last year’s Brand Impact Workshop, not only because we got a chance to share and problem solve with everyone, but also because we enjoyed seeing the connections being forged during peer-to-peer discussion and having authentic conversations about your communications challenges and dreams.

When we’re not hosting the Brand Impact Workshop, where can you find us at #NCSC15? Before the sessions start, we’ll be celebrating at the Welcome Reception Parade to kick off NCSC in fabulous NOLA style. While we want to spend most of our time at the conference hanging out with all of you, we’re also hoping to carve out a few hours to walk through the French Quarter, admire the incredible historic architecture and experience some delicious New Orleans cuisine (jambalaya, gumbo, po’ boys and, of course, beignets… YUM)!

We were honored to receive the #1 workshop rating out of all of the sessions last year, and we hope to see you in our session this year! It’s going to be EPIC!

See you in NOLA!

The REACTOR team (Clifton, Chase, Emily & Julie)

 

Note: The brand impact workshop covers branding, marketing and PR/buzz, but if there’s something in particular that you want to learn about in the session, let us know and we’ll do our best to incorporate it! You can email us at hello@yourreactor.com, message us on Facebook or send us a tweet @reactorkc.

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An Oasis of “We Can” and “What’s Next”

Four years ago, I found myself living in Kansas City, MO, pregnant, and teaching in a neighboring suburban school district. I felt an impending urgency to find a public elementary school where I would be pushed professionally and my future child would be given a high-quality education. And I didn’t want to move away from the city I had grown to love.

Reflecting on those days of urgent conversations surrounding the state of public education, my passion for providing a high quality public education that I desperately sought for my own child grew to include all of the children of my beloved Kansas City. In one of many conversations about where I would be sending my son/daughter to school, I heard about Crossroads Academy of Kansas City (CAKC), a charter school that was set to open the following school year.

Now as a kindergarten teacher at CAKC, I listen to incoming parents, many of whom had similar stories as mine. “Welcome to Crossroads Academy! How did you hear about us?” I ask. This simple question evokes passionate stories of how families have made the choice to send their scholar to start kindergarten in my classroom. Relief that they don’t have to move, or scramble to figure out how to pay for private school, or take a spot at a school where they do not have a belief that the school will provide the highest quality of education for their child. As I honestly respond, “Me too,” our bond to create a model of change in education is sparked. We are in this together, to show Kansas City that our children are scholars, can exceed any expectation that we set for them, will be raised to serve our community, and prove that the kids of Kansas City can!

We are three years into our mission at CAKC to become the premiere urban school serving Kansas City and as our waiting list grows, so does my passion and drive to serve the scholars who sit in my kindergarten class. My colleagues and I are given the professional freedom to create curriculum, assessments, and pacing guides that fit the needs of each individual class and child; we are encouraged to push forward with project based learning while partnering with the community; and to seek professional development to hone our craft.

To give you a brief look into the heart of what we are striving to accomplish, this spring our scholars were presented with information of an orphanage in Guatemala where one of the orphans had opened a bakery and was in need of many supplies to support his brothers and sisters. The kindergarten scholars decided they would hold a bake sale to raise money and set their goal at $800. When trying to give them an idea on how much that amount was, our Rosie the Riveter stood and passionately exclaimed with an arm raised, “WE CAN DO THIS!” They went on to raise over $1700.

In the age of naysayers concerning educational innovation, it’s refreshing to call a place like CAKC home. Crossroads is an oasis of reform. An oasis of “we can,” and “what’s next?”

Crossroads Academy of Kansas City

Kara Schumacher is a kindergarten teacher at Crossroads Academy of Kansas City.

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Increase in Charter School Enrollment According to 2015 Condition of Education

According to the newly released 2015 Condition of Education from the National Center for Education Statistics, the education landscape is shifting. Caitlin Emma and her team at Politico write today that there is a steady growth in charter schools since 1999.

“Since the 1999-2000 school year, the number of charter schools has grown about 300 percent. There were about 6,100 charters in the 2012-13 school year, vs. about 1,500 in ‘99. Over the same time, the proportion of small charter schools has shrunk. Back then, the overwhelming majority of charters had fewer than 300 students; now, it’s only about half. About half of all charters used to be dominated by white students; that’s changed too: Now the student body at only about a third of charters is majority white. More than half of all charters are based in cities, and more than two-thirds are located in the South or West.”

For more data about the prevalence of charter schools, readers can check out our Estimated Number of Public Charter Schools & Students from February 2015 or a state-by-state analysis of the Health of the Charter School Movement from last fall. 

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Finding the Right Fit

My mother has always expressed to me that she only wants “what’s best” for me, and this is where my charter school story begins. At 14, I had been attending the same public school for eight years, yet I was unfamiliar with most teachers and students. I often felt invisible, especially during the times where I needed help, and I never knew who to talk to. I didn’t feel comfortable expressing my needs. My mother knew there were better choices for me, places where I could thrive academically and socially.

We found that choice in Perspectives Charter School.

Attending Perspectives was the first time I had ever felt comfortable in school. It was smaller, there were students of many different ethnicities, and everyone took pride in wearing their uniforms. The teachers were dedicated – they seemed to care about my learning experience, made sure I stayed on track, and provided additional help whenever it was needed.

The school taught the importance of self-perception, relationships, and productivity, which gave me the tools to lead a productive and successful life. By senior year, I had participated in two business internships, excelled in my classwork and I was accepted to every college I applied to.

After college, I joined NACSA because I believe every child deserves to receive a quality education. I love working alongside colleagues who are also driven by this belief, and who believe in producing A-level work and setting high bars for everyone’s performance – including their own. It feels great to be part of a team working to ensure students like me will have access to choices that work for them. Choices like Perspectives.

 

Brittany Brown is the Communications Associate for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. Her blog post originally appeared on the Chartering Quality blog.

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30 Days of Grad: Chris Rowan

chris_rowan_demprep_WebI shouldn’t be standing here today. The odds say I should be at district high school, and if I graduate from high school I would likely be going to a community college. But that is not MY story. My story really started when I emigrated to the United States from Cameroon and was enrolled in the 6th grade.

I was born in Yaounde, Cameroon and came here when I was 12 years old. I moved to New York not knowing a word of English. This made my first years in school a challenge and made standardized testing really difficult. I worked hard with the help of my mother and family to learn English. By the end of the 6th grade I was reading at a 5th grade level. The hope for a better future is what motivated me to become educated. The American Dream.

I was lucky enough to be selected to Democracy Prep through a lottery in the 9th Grade. On my first day, I remember sitting in a classroom called Columbia, confused about what a demerit was and its implications. I questioned the fact that I was not allowed to wear the nail polish color of my choice. I was disoriented about everything involving Democracy Prep and its immense number of rules. This school was so different from anything I was used to. But coupled with my confusion was amazement. What became obvious to me as I sat in Columbia on that hot August morning, four days before any other school in New York City had even started…. I realized something that has been proven again and again over the past four years: this school is a community that will help you, heal you, pick you up when you fall and celebrate your accomplishments. In this school a common trust exists between teachers and students. This bond is far stronger than the one that I had experienced at any of my other schools. I felt this bond with all of my teachers but especially my 9th grade math teacher Mr. Jones and 10th grade math teacher Mr. Lindquist, who is in the audience tonight. These teachers are among those who have helped me survive high school. They have been through my emotional trials… and there have been a few. They have been there when I needed them. And my experience, it’s not unique. You can ask any of my classmates and each one would have a story about a teacher who has changed their lives.

My classmates and I have also created a community. We have experienced our share of joy and of discord since we became the class of 2015 on that August morning, four years ago. One thing we can agree on is that we represent a unit of individuals that have been marginalized throughout American history. We symbolize a unit of individuals who have been victimized and villainized by many. We represent a unit of individuals who are not expected to succeed. We live in a society where the odds are stacked pretty high against us. But one thing’s for sure: Democracy Prep has never allowed that to be a barrier to our success. In fact it was created in order to help prevent that from ever being our reality. With the help and guidance of Democracy Prep we have achieved great things. We have traveled across the world to Europe, South America, Asia and Africa. With the help of Democracy Prep we have been accepted to some of the best schools in the country: University of Pennsylvania, Duke, Princeton, Stanford, Yale, Williams and Wesleyan to name just a few… proving to the world that we are individuals capable of excellence. Those odds? We beat them. Those stereotypes? We destroyed them.

Graduation is not the end of my story. It isn’t over until I graduate from college four years from now. Frankly, it never ends. The mission of Democracy Prep is that we are prepared for success in the college of our choice and a lifetime of active citizenship. That’s what high expectations looks like.

In a few weeks this chapter of my story, the Democracy Prep Charter High School chapter, will be ending with me graduating as one of the highest achieving scholars in my grade. I can’t wait for the next chapter of my life to begin… in Hanover, New Hampshire where, in September, I will be a freshman at Dartmouth College!

Chris Rowan is a senior at Democracy Prep Charter High School. This post is adapted from a speech she delivered at Democracy Prep’s annual gala, which you can watch below or click here.

Share this story! Click the following link to launch and edit in Twitter: Chris is graduating from @DemocracyPrep and is headed to @dartmouth in the fall! Read her #30DaysOfGrad story here: j.mp/1RFGrXB

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30 Days of Grad: Mario Arteaga

Mario Arteaga was born in McAllen, Texas, and has lived in the Rio Grande Valley his whole life. He is a graduate of IDEA Public Schools and was the President of the Student Council, member of the National Honor Society, National Art Honor Society, and National Hispanic Honor Society, and Editor-in-Chief of the Yearbook. He is headed to Harvard University in the fall and plans to double major in American History and Biochemistry and then moving on to medical school. He hopes to one day become a surgeon and help save lives. When asked about what has contributed to success, Mario was quick to point out his teachers. “[They] have been a huge influence in my academic interests and have helped me discover new ideas and perspectives I never could have seen on my own,” he said. “Also, my family has been the moral support over the years and my friends have inspired me so much and always been my main source of motivation and self-improvement. It is really thanks to them that I am able to take this next step in my journey.”

Share this story! Click the following link to launch and edit in Twitter: Mario is an @IDEAschools grad & hopes to one day become a surgeon and save lives. Read his story here: j.mp/1GiB5Q7 #30DaysOfGrad

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30 Days of Grad: Devon Haist

Before the Anderson Five Charter School opened, Devon Haist, a student with Asperger’s syndrome, found it difficult to learn in the public school system. He changed schools several times since middle school, trying to find the school that would be just right.

Haist is following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps and plans to become an engineer. While at the Anderson 5 Charter School, he took dual enrollment classes at Tri-County Technical College where he studied mechatronics. By the time he graduated high school, he also completed his first year of Tri-County, earning a certification in basic electronics. He plans to graduate next year with his associate degree.

“The public school system was very difficult for Devon,” his mother Cindy said.

Cindy Haist became an advocate for her son, and spoke to the school board when Anderson School District 5 decided to make a decision about starting a charter school in 2011.

Devon Haist found his home at the charter school, which opened in 2012, and graduated in the class of 2015. At the charter school, he was able to take classes in machine technology and robotics.

“The charter school was such a great fit for Devon,” Cindy Haist said. “I don’t know what we would have done without the school.”

Devon Haist received the Principal’s Award for overcoming great obstacles his senior year at the charter school.

“It feels pretty good having overcome everything,” Devon said.

This post was adapted from an article by The Independent Mail. Read more about Devon’s story in the article here.

Devon Haist

Share this story! Click the following link to launch and edit in Twitter: Asperger’s Syndrome caused Devon to struggle in school, but he found success at this charter school: http://j.mp/1duOwyQ #30DaysOfGrad

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Want to start a charter school and don’t know where to begin? We’re here to help.

Each year, the National Charter Schools Conference serves as a great resource for both veterans and those new to the charter school community. It is a great place to meet with people dedicated to improving lives of children around the country and to learn best practices and helpful tips to improve the quality of your school.

This year’s operations strand will feature great information that will help your school chart a course for success, with sessions on topics like how to effectively engage your community and finance your facility.

Are you applying to open a charter school but a little overwhelmed about where to start? Or have you received a charter and plan to open soon? Maybe you’re in your first year of a new school and hitting some roadblocks along the way. If you’re in any of these situations, plan on attending a roundtable discussion I’ll be leading at NCSC15.

“Three Phases of New Schools: Application, Pre-Opening, First Year” will give you a comprehensive look at what you need to know to start a charter school. The session will bring together experts in a variety of areas. From the initial application process to finance, academics, board governance, media and communications, and staff hiring, we will have you covered.

For instance, you’ll hear from Charlene Reid, Executive Director for the Bronx Charter School for Excellence (BCSE) – a nationally-recognized Blue Ribbon School that has been selected to share best practices with a neighborhood district school in the Bronx. BCSE students are proving that zip code doesn’t determine academic success. Charlene is a friend, but also a role model for other school leaders. If you want to hear a success story, you’ll definitely want to hear from her.

I feel strongly about the charter school movement and have been working with schools for 17 years. I’ve guided hundreds of new schools through the opening process and can tell you without a doubt what you need to know. 

Most importantly, I want you to know you’re not alone. We’re here to help. And we want you to succeed.

A new charter school can literally change a child’s life. That’s why this work is so important and why I sincerely want to impart the best information to new applicants early on. And what better city than New Orleans to share that information.

We hope to see you in June!

 

Jill Shahen is Managing Director for the Northeast Charter Schools Network

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Three Reasons Why Authorizer Accountability Is Right Policy for Every State

In a new report, “Holding Public Charter School Authorizers Accountable,” the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the National Association for Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) take a closer look at why policy that creates quality, strong authorizing is an essential part of model charter policy.

Quality authorizing looks after the interests of students and the taxpayer, while protecting school autonomy and fostering high standards. As the field has coalesced around these core principles, it has also concluded that policies can be powerful levers for authorizer quality—with authorizer accountability chief among them. Get authorizer accountability right and you create an environment where quality charter schools can thrive and grow. Get it wrong and it may lead down a path where school autonomy, a fundamental part of the charter promise, is threatened.

We can get authorizer accountability right. The recommendations and case studies in this report demonstrate how authorizer accountability can be used in every state to enhance the quality of their charter sector. The specific policy changes that will help the most in each state require customization and an understanding of the particular challenges the individual state faces. But you don’t need to start from scratch. Authorizer accountability includes three core tenets that are appropriate everywhere:

  • Standards of Practice: Authorizing is both a major public stewardship role and a complex profession requiring particular capacities and commitment. Professional standards help set the bar for authorizing high and establish a uniform measure to hold authorizers to.
  • Transparency: States should require authorizers to report annually on the performance of the portfolio of schools they oversee and, separately, on select practices authorizers employ. These reports not only help schools, policymakers and parents know how each school is performing academically, but also help identify patterns of school performance or authorizing activities that may point to poor or hostile authorizing practices.
  • Accountability for Practices and School Performance: We trust authorizers to serve the public good. Authorizers who are too willing to grant charters to poor applicants or continue to allow persistently poor-performing schools to remain open are violating this trust. By the same measure, authorizers who are hostile and erode school autonomy are also violating this trust. Policymakers should have an appropriate mechanism for evaluating authorizer behavior, intervening, and, if necessary, pushing these kinds of authorizers out of the sector.

Authorizers exist to facilitate the creation and maintenance of a quality charter school sector. Authorizer standards give authorizers a roadmap to do their job; and transparency and accountability give the public the tools they need identify and correct authorizers if they go off course. Let’s continue to push all states to adopt accountability policies that incorporate these core tenets. Through authorizer accountability we can protect students and the public from failing or fraudulent charter schools, while protecting the autonomy of great charter schools.

Alex Medler is the Vice President of Policy at the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA).