Four years ago, the National Alliance convened the inaugural Charter School Leaders of Color (SLOC) Capitol Hill fly-in as a direct result of members of Congress—particularly in the Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucuses—questioning whether leaders of color existed at charter schools. Now they know.
At the same time, the initial cohort of African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American leaders have felt left out of the narrative about charter schools nationwide and like their voices weren’t being heard. They wanted more opportunities to tell their stories—like at the February 2019 national fly-in—but they also wanted to interact more with each other, share best practices, and receive assistance with securing funding.
The National Alliance is now responding to the needs of charter school leaders of color by offering year-round support, assistance, and peer-to-peer connections—starting with the first-ever pre-conference for school leaders of color at the 2019 National Charter Schools Conference in Las Vegas.
The all-day pre-conference brought together 30 school leaders from 12 states and D.C. for an engaging in-depth conversation that covered many of the topics charter school leaders of color have told us they want to know: from grant writing to real-life example problem-solving. Other highlights from the day included a call to action from Dr. Howard Fuller and hearing from parent leaders Maya Martin Cadogan of Parents Amplifying Voices in Education, Keri Rodrigues of Massachusetts Parents United, and Gwen E. Samuel of the Connecticut Parents Union on the need to develop authentic parent networks within schools, with specific strategies on how to grow these networks.
Attendees also began consideration of an equity statement—a commitment from White-led organizations to support increasing equity within the charter movement nationally, which will hopefully lead to discussions on how to increase the number and support of existing quality independent charter schools and networks led by people of color.
We continued the conversation with a larger group during the main event of NCSC19—our most diverse conference yet. Breakout sessions included a more general parent engagement and grant writing session as well as two additional panels regarding trauma-informed schools—led by Melissa Agudelo, principal at San Diego Unified School District, and Greg Callaham, senior director of culture at Alpha Public Schools—and one dealing with the hiring and retaining of charter school teachers of color—led by Ashley Griffin, director of P-12 research at The Education Trust, and Hiewet Senghor, founder & CEO of the Black Teacher Collaborative. All of the sessions were well-attended and engaging, including the last session of the conference for teachers of color.
In addition to outstanding content, there were also opportunities for social and professional interaction with school leaders of color. The National Alliance co-sponsored a reception with the National Charter Collaborative attended by over 120 conference attendees of color from a variety of roles within the movement. NCSC19 also added homerooms for affinity groups at this year’s conference—a major draw for school leaders of color with one attended by over 150 registrants of color and another for members of historically Black Greek-lettered intercollegiate fraternities and sororities. These ‘safe spaces’ led to a number of insightful conversations and—I hope—the start of lifelong professional relationships.
The most telling comment I received was when I apologized for the SLOC reception being a crowded standing-room-only event and this was the response from an African-American school leader: “This was great. I have often wondered why the National Alliance did not offer this kind of event in the past. I feel seen.”
Our job now—and in the future—is to make sure she and other leaders like her remain seen, heard, respected, and empowered. When we empower the leaders in our movement who reflect the families and communities that we serve, then we grow stronger as a movement.
More importantly, we earn the right to grow because we are doing it the right way and that is how we are different from our opponents.
Ron Rice is the senior director of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and a former city councilman for Newark, New Jersey. He leads the National Alliance’s convening of School Leaders of Color.