We Are All Charters

Virginia Secretary of Education Gerard Robinson visited my school today to see it in operation and speak with division personnel, school leaders, and teachers about how we can work together to met students’ needs. I appreciated the visit, the attention to our school, and the time we spent talking as a group about how to raise up education for all students using the charter movement as one lever to do so. Secretary Robinson is well informed and experienced in education and policy. I really look forward to seeing how our school and division’s experience with Virginia charter schools and policy helps the state use charter schools as part of a tool set to reach learners at risk of complete disengagement with schooling.

Secretary Robinson speaks eloquently and directly for himself, so I won’t report out on his positions here or try to recount a play-by-play of our heartening conversation about supporting start-up schools in fulfilling students’ needs. Instead, I’d like to talk about what it’s like to work at a charter school that is entirely distinct from KIPP and the other name brands of the charter movement. I’d like to talk about what’s happening below the radar of politics. NB: The rest of this post reflects only my own opinions.

Below the radar, we are you.

  • We are trying to design and implement individualized literacy interventions.
  • We are trying to develop and enact an arts-infused, project-based curriculum.
  • We are trying to teach students the habits of quality work and the intrinsic rewards of mastering and sharing their learning.
  • We are trying to teach students personal responsibility without using a carrot or stick.
  • We are trying to integrate instructional technology and applications with opportunities for authentic and social learning.
  • We are trying to unlearn traditional instruction and traditional discipline.
  • We are trying to pass all the tests.
  • We are trying to fulfill our students’ learning needs.

Why are we necessary? For the same reasons you are. Our children need teachers dedicated to helping them connect their lives to learning. We have banded together as a small school rather than a department, team, or PLC so we can move more quickly together as a unit in finding what works for our learners thanks to the vision, mission, and flexibility our charter details. We try to act more like a classroom teacher than an entire traditional middle school in terms of knowing our students and reacting to the shifting circumstances of their lives and learning. Not every student needs us, but we’re convinced that ours do.

I understand why educators discriminate between charter franchises and public education. Large-scale charter operations want money so they can self-replicate. The point of their programs is the perpetuation of their programs. They need customers who fit their programs for their programs to succeed. They need their programs to succeed to get “results.” They need “results” to get press. They need press to attract customers – divisions and families – to get money. They believe in what they do. They are businesses.

We are a school. We are learners. We are classroom scientists testing our hypotheses about how to rekindle the love of learning in students who have learned not to love school. The point of our endeavor is to graduate students who have connected school to authentic learning and expect that connection to continue.

We are you.

When you think of charter schools, by all means, question anyone who tells you that they have it right.

Please also think of schools like ours as we try to serve our students, our division, and public education by creating a safe place for resistant learners to unpack their incredibly complex and complicated lives in pursuit of changing, growing, and learning into the brave and generous people they want to be.

We are you. Our students are yours. Whenever we take it upon ourselves to make learning better for children, we are all of us charters.