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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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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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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).

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Thoughtful, Committed Citizens

Attending the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ annual conference each year has become a priority for the leadership at our K-12 charter school in Boulder County, Colorado. We have found that these three days in the summer allow our leadership team to spend extended, focused time together reflecting on issues of key importance to our organization. This year’s conference in New Orleans will be our fourth, and because of the wide variety of sessions and speakers featured each year, we continue to add to the list of staff members who attend.  

The conference serves many purposes for our school. The opportunity to participate in conversations about national charter schools legislation and funding always leads to deeper, more nuanced discussions of what’s happening in our own state. Workshop sessions targeting the challenges and opportunities unique to charter schools have enhanced and informed decisions we’ve made with regard to technology, teacher evaluation, media relations, and communication, to name a few. At the same time, the chance for us to share our own experiences and expertise by facilitating breakout sessions helps raise our school’s profile and leads to expanded networking and relationship building with other charter leaders around the country. Finally, the conference consistently features speakers doing critical work on the cutting edge of education, charter or otherwise. Their keynote addresses inspire important conversations among our school’s leadership team and between charter leaders across our state and across the nation.

Being part of the charter school movement means being part of a solution to the many troubled aspects of education. It means creative problem solving and innovating against all odds. It means coming to the table with an open mindset and the knowledge that Margaret Mead was right when she said that it only takes “a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens to change the world.” Attending the National Charter Schools Conference each year reunites and reinvigorates that small group of committed citizens, which is why it is and will continue to be an important priority for the leaders of our school.

 

Megan Freeman directs the Center for Professional Development at Peak to Peak Charter School. She leads workshops in best practices and consults with schools and universities throughout the state of Colorado.  She can be reached at megan@CPDcolorado.org.

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30 Days of Grad: 21st Century Charter School

Joseph Harris stood in his cap and gown Saturday afternoon and hugged his father as tears streamed down both of their cheeks.

“I’m going to the Army June 23,” Harris said. “I’m not going to have much time with anyone before then.”

Harris was among the 30 graduates of 21st Century Charter School in Gary. His father, Jean Harris, said the teen held down two jobs while earning his diploma. “It was a rough journey,” mother Joyce Harris said. “We stayed on him to make sure he got his education.”

Many graduates spoke of 21st Century Charter School as a family. “Today is a day of family because the way I see it, my class is family,” graduate Anthony Benion said. “We fought… but we love each other. [Our relationships] are forever and I’m happy to call each of them my family.”

This post was adapted from an article by The Times. Read more about Century Charter School in the article here.

Lauren Roberge

Share this story! Click the following link to launch and edit in Twitter: Learn why these @21stCharterGary graduates count the members of their school as part of their family: http://j.mp/1Jdx4dK #30DaysOfGrad

View more #30DaysOfGrad stories here.

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High School Winner – National Charter Schools Week Essay Contest

Leila from Western Sierra Collegiate Academy in California won the high school category of the 2015 Charter Schools Week essay contest! Read about why she loves her charter school: 

As people become increasingly aware of the unique learning systems offered by non-traditional institutions, the amount of students enrolled in charter schools continues to grow. Parents nationwide choose to enroll their children in charter schools for a variety of reasons; however, I love my charter school because of its welcoming campus culture, wealth of student opportunities, and heavy emphasis on college preparation.

At Western Sierra Collegiate Academy (WSCA), students are immersed in a rich campus culture that fosters great individual learning and growth. Enjoying high student diversity, WSCA is home to students from many different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Whereas diversity has sometimes led to social issues at other schools, at WSCA it is these very cultural differences that make us a stronger and more unified student body. Having attended WSCA for four years, I have definitely been on campus long enough to say that the people at my school truly feel like family. I am extremely grateful to have been able to thrive in an environment that not only respects but wholeheartedly welcomes individuality. When I go to school, I see students who are unafraid to be themselves and express their opinions, and I believe that WSCA’s positive campus culture is what makes this possible.

In addition to fostering a rich social environment, WSCA also offers numerous student opportunities unavailable at other schools. Because of WSCA’s open-minded mission statement, students have the rare chance to participate in competitions on a smaller-scale, potentially opening up doors for the future. Kids are also encouraged to start clubs according to their interests. Because of this, I have been able to found and lead my high school’s community service club and gain valuable leadership skills. Other clubs supported by WSCA include: computer club, international dance club, yoga club, and Pokemon club. Students also have access to extra-learning enrichment sessions and student tutoring should they need any further help in a specific area.

Finally, perhaps WSCA’s most defining quality is the emphasis that is placed on college preparedness. Students are encouraged to challenge themselves with rigorous AP classes and regularly attend the monthly college informational night to learn how to build college transcripts and start early preparations. At the College and Career Center, students can arrange a meeting with the college counselor to discuss future plans and make long-term goals for success. Whenever a senior receives a college acceptance letter, their name and school of acceptance goes on display on the big bulletin board so everyone can share their excitement. Counselors and faculty interact with students on such a personal level (often waving “hello” in the hallways, or asking about their day) that genuinely makes each student feel valued and important.

Western Sierra Collegiate Academy is truly a special school, and I love being a WSCA student for many reasons. However, although the list of WSCA pros is vast, without a doubt, its rich campus culture, broad range of student opportunities, and college-geared mission are primary reasons to love my charter school.

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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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Elementary School Winner – National Charter Schools Week Essay Contest

Lydia from Riverview Charter School in South Carolina won the elementary school category of the 2015 Charter Schools Week essay contest! Read about why she loves her charter school: 

Have you ever taken the time to think about why you love your school? I love my school in many different ways. Those ways are the teachers, field trips, school plays, and specials. In this essay, you will read about why I love my school so much.

First of all, I love my school because all of the teachers have amazing personalities and backgrounds. For instance, Mr. Malijenovsky is from France and now he teaches in America. Mr. Good is totally hilarious and he is always really kind. Next, the teachers teach us in awesome ways. They act out what we’re learning and they sometimes do funny voices! Lastly, they are all so different. Mr. Bridge loves sports and Mrs. Duffy loves animals.

Second of all, I love the field trips. They help us understand learning 10 times more! They make learning really exciting and enjoyable. There is a lot of hands on learning so we can touch interesting animals and such. Field trips are especially exciting when we get to go to Barrier Island in the second grade, Washington D.C. in the fifth grade, and Costa Rice in eighth grade!

Next, I love my school because we do school plays. Everybody gets a change to have a main role and lines. I especially like the plays because they are based on what we’re learning in class. They especially help us remember all of the information we need to know. The plays are awesome!

Last but not least, I love my school because we have specials. The specials are P.E., art, music, Spanish, French, technology, and drama. We get to play cool and boisterous sports and games! In music we have concerts, drum battles, and do singing contests girls versus boys. P.E. and music are two of my favorite specials. That is the last reason why I love my school.

Now you know that I love my school because of the teachers, field trips, school plays, and specials. One day you should visit my school, Riverview Charter School.

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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.