Key Messaging Strategies for Charter Schools: Insights from Diverse Charter Schools Coalition 2024

By: Jeremy Divinity

For the last recap of the Diverse Charter Schools Coalition 2024 Annual Convening, this blog focuses on key takeaways from an informative session led by the National Alliance for Public Charters and City Fund titled “Using the Words that Help Us Win.” In this session, the National Alliance and City Fund offered invaluable research-backed insights into crafting messages that build public support for charter schools!

Understanding the Power of Words

At the heart of the session was the recognition that words have the power to provoke action and shape perceptions. By carefully choosing our language, we can effectively communicate the core identity of charter schools and inspire support for our work. For example, simple shifts from passive to active language like “vote” to “be a voter” or “volunteer” to “be a volunteer” can evoke a sense of ownership and empowerment, encouraging your community to take meaningful action in support of charter schools.

Addressing Misconceptions

Despite strong support for the concept of “choice,” there remains a lack of awareness and misconceptions surrounding charter schools. However, through strategic communication strategies, there is an opportunity to dispel myths and highlight the unique benefits of charter education. By emphasizing key messages such as individualized attention, grade-level achievement, and close relationships, we can showcase the positive impact of charter schools on student success.

Building Support

An important theme that emerged from the session was the need to move away from messaging that criticizes traditional public schools. Criticizing traditional public schools or blaming educators for educational challenges is counterproductive and divisive. Instead, the presenters recommended framing charter schools as allies in the broader public education ecosystem. Highlighting the ways in which charter schools complement and enrich the educational landscape, while maintaining a positive and constructive tone, builds support among all stakeholders.

Effective Messaging Strategies

Crafting effective messages is essential for building support and dispelling misconceptions about charter schools. The session presenters shared valuable insights into key strategies for communicating the value of charter education to diverse audiences.Effective messaging strategies for charter schools emphasize their accessibility, individualized approach to learning, collaborative partnerships, and positive contributions to the public education system. For example, one of the most important messages to convey is that charter schools are free, public institutions that are accessible to all students, regardless of background or socioeconomic status.

Another messaging strategyproven to be successful is to highlight individualized attention as charter schools are known for their ability to provide personalized learning experiences tailored to the needs of each student. This message resonates with parents and caregivers who are seeking educational options that prioritize their child’s unique learning style and needs.

While waitlists and lotteries are necessary in the charter school enrollment process, mentioning them when not completely necessary can inadvertently create a sense of exclusivity or competition. Instead, focus on the accessibility and inclusivity of charter schools, emphasizing that they are open to all students and families seeking high-quality education options.

Lastly, rather than framing charter schools as alternatives to failing public schools, emphasize their role as complements that offer additional choices and opportunities within the public education system. Positioning charter schools as valuable contributors to the educational landscape is an effective messaging strategy to build public and community support.

In summary, here are a few Do’s and Don’ts ofcrafting effective messages that resonate with diverse audiences:

Do:

  • Emphasize that charter schools are free, public, and open to all.
  • Highlight the individualized attention and personalized learning environment offered by charter schools.
  • Focus on collaboration and partnership within the public education system.

Don’t:

  • Discuss waitlists and lotteries (outside of communicating key facts and dates to families), as too much focus on this can create a sense of exclusivity.
  • Frame charter schools as an alternative to failing public schools.
  • Engage in rhetoric that criticizes traditional public schools or blames educators.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the session underscored the importance of strategic communication in advancing the mission of charter schools. By conveying these messages with clarity and positivity, we can build support and advocate for the continued growth and success of the school choice movement.

Centering Mission and Values: Lessons from Phoenix International School of the Arts

By: Jeremy Divinity

As the second recap from our attendance at the Diverse Charter Schools Coalition 2024 Annual Convening in Los Angeles, this blog shares insights from a captivating Breakout Session titled, “Core Messaging: Communicating Values in Partnerships and Recruitment.” This session focused on the remarkable journey of Phoenix International School of the Arts (PISOTA) in staying true to its mission and values while forging partnerships and recruiting students.

A Visionary Instituion: Phoenix International School of the Arts

Founded in 2023 as part of the UnifiED School Launch Fellowship, PISOTA stands as a beacon of creativity and international perspective in Charles County, Maryland. Operating in collaboration with Charles County Public Schools, PISOTA offers a unique arts- and international-focused curriculum that empowers students to become leaders in a globalized world.

Mission and Vision: Empowering Through the Arts

At the heart of PISOTA’s mission is a commitment to providing students with daily immersion in the arts, including dance, music, acting, visual arts, and museum studies. This immersive experience is coupled with an international perspective woven into every aspect of learning. PISOTA believes that by exposing students to diverse perspectives, they are better equipped to tackle complex challenges and drive positive change in society.

Lessons in Recruitment and Partnership

During the Breakout Session, attendees explored PISOTA’s innovative approach to teacher recruitment and student enrollment. Central to their strategy was a focus on communicating core values and fostering meaningful partnerships within the community. By involving stakeholders in the mission and vision process, PISOTA ensured alignment with the community’s needs and aspirations.

Teacher Recruitment: PISOTA understood that the success of its mission hinged on the dedication and talent of its teaching staff. To attract top educators aligned with the school’s values, PISOTA employed a rigorous recruitment process that emphasized more than just qualifications. Interview questions were designed to gauge a candidate’s passion for arts education, commitment to cultural diversity, and willingness to engage with the community. By prioritizing these qualities, PISOTA ensured that its faculty members were not only skilled educators but also enthusiastic advocates for the school’s mission.

Student Enrollment: Building a diverse and vibrant student body is another cornerstone of PISOTA’s success. The school recognized that meaningful engagement with prospective families goes beyond traditional marketing tactics. Instead, PISOTA focuses on building authentic connections with the community by inviting parents, students, and local leaders to participate in “dream sessions” where they can share their aspirations for the school. By involving stakeholders in the enrollment marketing process, PISOTA fosters a sense of ownership and investment in the school’s mission, resulting in higher retention rates, a long waiting list, and a more cohesive school community.

Tactics for Success: Connecting with Purpose

PISOTA employed various tactics to connect with prospective students and families, from hosting community events to offering enrollment tours, each designed with the school’s mission and values in mind. These initiatives not only highlight the school’s unique offerings but also served as platforms for building lasting relationships with the community. Here are a few tactics employed that might be useful for your charter school:

Events/Bring in the Community: Central to PISOTA’s approach was the belief that education extends beyond the classroom walls and into the community. Hosting events and activities that appealed to both current and prospective families was a cornerstone of PISOTA’s outreach strategy. From art showcases and performances to wellness workshops and open houses, these events provided opportunities for community members to experience the school’s unique offerings firsthand and engage with faculty, staff, and students in a relaxed, informal setting.

“Community Uplift” and “Wellness in the Park”: PISOTA went beyond traditional recruitment methods by actively contributing to the well-being of the community. Initiatives like “Community Uplift” and “Wellness in the Park” not only promoted the school’s commitment to holistic education but also served as platforms for building relationships with local residents. By addressing pressing community needs and providing valuable resources and support, PISOTA demonstrated its dedication to being a positive force for change in the community.

Info Panels and Enrollment Tours: For families considering enrollment, PISOTA offered a variety of information sessions and enrollment tours designed to showcase the school’s curriculum, facilities, and extracurricular offerings. These personalized experiences not only helped families make informed decisions about their children’s education but also provided opportunities for school staff to connect with prospective students and parents on a deeper level, addressing their questions and concerns in real time.

By embracing these tactics and positioning itself as an integral part of the community, PISOTA not only attracted students and families who shared its values but also built a strong, supportive community that is actively engaged in the school’s success.

In Conclusion

Reflecting on the insights shared during this session, it’s evident that Phoenix International School of the Arts exemplifies the transformative power of charter schools when rooted in a clear mission and values. By prioritizing community engagement, fostering partnerships, and staying true to their vision for the future, PISOTA serves as a shining example of educational excellence and innovation.

Empoweirng Equity in Education

Empowering Equity: Insights from Dr. Pedro Noguera at Diverse Charter Schools Coalition 2024 Annual Convening

By: Jeremy Divinity

Recently, I had the privilege of attending the Diverse Charter Schools Coalition 2024 Annual Convening in Los Angeles, of which we are honored to serve as a sponsor. The theme of the conference, “Building Community for School Integration,” initiated thoughtful discussions regarding the importance of equity in education, which was highlighted in the thought-provoking keynote address titled “Excellence Through Equity” by the distinguished professor Dr. Pedro Noguera. As a leading voice in education equity, Dr. Noguera shared invaluable insights on the importance of equity in education and how charter schools can uniquely address equity issues.

This blog post is a reflection on the impactful and profound keynote address by Dr. Noguera.

Understanding Equity in Education: What It Is and What It Is Not

Dr. Noguera began by exploring the fundamental concept of equity in education. He emphasized that equity is not just a buzzword; it is a commitment to providing every student with the support and opportunities they need to succeed. Equity means recognizing and addressing the social, economic, and academic needs of all students, especially those facing the greatest challenges due to race and class disparities. Importantly, equity also recognizes the diverse learning styles and paces of students, fostering a commitment to developing the talents of all learners.

Contrary to misconceptions, equity is not about lowering standards or making excuses. It’s about dismantling barriers and ensuring that every student, regardless of background, has access to a high-quality education. Dr. Noguera urged us as educators to embrace a holistic, empowering approach to education.

The Unique Role of Charter Schools in Advancing Equity

One of the key themes Dr. Noguera highlighted was the potential of charter schools to lead the way in advancing equity. Charter schools have the flexibility to provide individualized support and learning experiences tailored to the needs of students. This includes promoting student agency, empowerment, and prioritizing the holistic development of every child.

Moreover, fostering partnerships within the community was also highlighted as integral component to promoting equity. By leveraging external resources and engaging with local stakeholders, charter schools can create inclusive, supportive environments that increase student success.

Promoting Equity: Strategies in Action

Dr. Noguera challenged us to move beyond rhetoric and take tangible steps toward equity in education. This begins with acknowledging the intersectionality of race and class and concentrating efforts on students with the greatest needs. Additionally, to make meaningful progress, schools must clarify their equity goals while avoiding the trap of reducing equity to a mere slogan.

Throughout his keynote, Dr. Noguera outlined practical strategies for promoting equity. He stressed the importance of engaging with students directly to understand their needs and experiences. Additionally, he emphasized the critical role of educators in building relationships, cultivating student agency, fostering deeper learning opportunities, and building both technical and adaptive capacities.

Conclusion & Key Takeaways

Dr. Pedro Noguera’s keynote address served as a powerful call to action for all of us in the charter school world be committed to building a more just and equitable education system. As I reflect on Dr. Noguera’s powerful message, several key takeaways resonate deeply that I would like to share as a closing summary:

  • Equity in education is about removing barriers and providing every student with the support they need to succeed.
  • Charter schools have a unique opportunity to innovate and lead the way in promoting equity through individualized support, student empowerment, and community partnerships.
  • Promoting equity requires a holistic approach that addresses students’ academic, social, and emotional needs.
  • Educators must prioritize building relationships, cultivating student agency, and fostering a sense of belonging within their schools.

In conclusion, Dr. Noguera’s address is a call for charter school leaders, educators, and advocates to continue to work together, learn from one another, and strive towards a future where every child has the opportunity to thrive.

An Interview with Hilary Moore: Empowering STEAM Educators Through Grant Opportunities

Hilary Moore is a STEAM Coordinator at Cirrus Academy Charter School in Georgia and a recent grant recipient of the Teacher Innovator Institute at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.! After receiving the Winter 2022 EdTec Grants Newsletter, which her school’s founder forwarded to her, Hilary was encouraged to apply.

The Teacher Innovator Institute is a professional learning community of middle school STEAM teachers who spend a two-week intensive in Washington, D.C., working with education and STEAM experts to explore the connections between informal STEAM education and authentic learning.

We reached out to Hilary to learn more about the process of applying for the grant, her experience participating in the National Air and Space Museum Teacher Innovation Institute, and the impact that her experience will have in the classroom!

 

EdTec: Please tell us a little about yourself and your role as STEAM Coordinator at Cirrus Academy Charter School.

Hilary: I love science and technology. I have worked in science/STEM education for almost ten years from tutoring and camps to schools. I’m in my fourth year of classroom teaching. As a STEM coordinator, I teach STEM/STEAM as well as share resources with my teachers, and plan STEAM events. I am always on the lookout for new technologies, strategies, and resources in STEAM.

EdTec: How did you learn about the Smithsonian grant? What was the proposal process like?

Hilary: The founder of my school recently received the Winter 2022 EdTec Grants Newsletter. He forwarded the newsletter to me and encouraged me to apply to the program. Applying to the program at the time required a video introduction, signed principal approval, two recommendation letters, and professional learning goals. Applicants were also required to provide responses to short answer questions about their school, community, and teaching goals. During the program, I learned applicant criteria varies every year.

EdTec: How did it feel to be awarded such a prestigious grant? What was your first reaction?

Hilary: Like many others, initially, I was shocked that I was accepted into the 2022 cohort. Afterwards, I was thrilled and had moments of hesitancy knowing I would be away from family for two weeks during summer break, but my family gave me their full support. Their push helped me own this accomplishment and bask in it.

EdTec: What are some of the most valuable experiences or lessons from the National Air and Space Museum Teacher Innovation Institute that you are excited to bring back to the classroom? How do you plan to incorporate the inspiration into your work with students this school year?

Hilary: I gained so many valuable experiences from attending NASM TII this summer. It’s almost too many to count. First, having the opportunity to network with teachers from around the country was huge. I was able to learn about different perspectives in education, collaborate on ideas and projects, and gain long-distance friends. The second most valuable experience was exploring our nation’s capital. We were able to explore the museums through authentic object-based learning. There were also downtime opportunities for us to tour on our own and fun group outings built into our schedule. Lastly, taking STEM classes and learning about and/or receiving STEM resources at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center took the cake. Teachers are always in need of new strategies and tools to educate our diverse learners.

This year, I created a STEM pacing guide that includes many of the resources and strategies I discovered at TII. We were given an Ozobot and other coding software. I’ve used my Ozozbot to help with literacy by creating a story using cloze notes/maze. My students are learning about color codes. The Ozobot starts at the beginning of the story and makes it to the finish line by following the codes students create. One of my other TII inspired projects involves Chibitronics paper circuitry. All my classes will complete a Chibitronics project with materials I received from my funded Donors Choose paper circuitry project. I also learned about Donors Choose while attending TII. I plan to incorporate more TII fundamentals in the years to come.

EdTec: What advice would you give other charter school teachers and leaders when it comes to the value of grant opportunities and making time to pursue them?

Hilary: The advice I would give to other charter school teachers and leaders is to get the news out about these awesome grant opportunities! Programs such as TII are here for the betterment, appreciation, and advancement of educators. I not only gained valuable experiences, but I also truly felt valued for what I do and who I am. So, I think it’s extremely important for teachers and leaders to spread the news about the types of grants and programs being offered. These opportunities are easily missed if you are not in the loop. In addition, I would tell any educator thinking of applying to these types of programs to be confident in their impact and let it show in your application and goals. They want to know what fuels you, who you are, and how you think. Finally, be open and ready to receive your new adventures.


We would like to thank Hilary Moore for sharing her wonderful experience and the impact she has as an educator!

If you are interested in signing up for EdTec’s Grant Newsletter to stay up to date about upcoming grant opportunities you can do so here. EdTec also provides support with grant research and writing for schools interested in pursuing funds for special projects. In addition, we work with developing schools to complete applications for the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). If you are interested in learning more about these services, please reach out to our grants team.

 

Charter Leader Spotlight Series: Gayle Nadler, Executive Director, Multicultural Learning Center

April 28, 2022

Last month, the Multicultural Learning Center received the California Charter Schools Association’s (CCSA) Hart Vision Award for Charter School of the Year (Southern California). The Hart Vision Awards, established in 1995, are named in honor of Gary K. Hart, the former California State Senator and former California Secretary of Education. The prestigious Hart Vision Awards are given annually to individuals and organizations with outstanding records of leadership and excellence in furthering California’s charter public school movement. The award recognizes​​ the work and achievements of exceptional charter public schools, leaders, and advocates.

We’re proud to work with MLC as a longtime client and admire their steadfast commitment to students and families. As a part of our Charter Leader Spotlight Series, we interviewed Gayle Nadler, the co-founder and Executive Director of MLC, to learn more about MLC, how it feels to receive such a prestigious award, and why developing global citizens is such a critical part of the school’s mission and vision!

 

EdTec: How does it feel to be the winner of the CCSA Hart Vision Award  for Charter School of the Year (Southern California)?

Gayle: It’s an honor to receive an award in Gary Hart’s name. I heard him speak at the CCSA conference many years ago and was inspired by him, the movement he started, and his brave work to get charter schools on the map in California back in 1992. He passed away in January this year, so it’s even a little more heartfelt to receive the award in his name.

I was very excited that receiving the award had to do with not only our growth academically but also our innovative dual immersion program along with our emphasis on developing global competencies in our students.

To be honest, the timing was really incredible, coming out of the two years that we’ve just experienced. To be recognized when we have felt so vulnerable shows the impact of the hard work and determination of our community. It really comes down to who you are as an organization and your values, your team, and your community especially in the toughest of times.

It’s MLC’s time to share what we’re doing, and the outcomes we’re achieving. We’re willing to share all the work that we do so that other schools and students can benefit from what we’ve learned. It’s been 20 years of innovation, creation, development, and making mistakes and fixing them. There’s a lot that we can share with developing charter schools and other organizations.

 

EdTec: Have you ever been approached by other charters for advice?

Gayle: We’re frequently working with other schools on different levels. We’re approached by a lot of developing dual language schools. These schools usually want to hear about how we teach in two languages, what curriculum we use, and where we find bilingual teachers. We’ve also been approached about different things that we do in terms of organizational culture, special programs, instruction, planning, development, and strategy.

MLC is not in this movement for solely our own benefit. We want our school to do well and be successful for the community we serve, but we’re in this movement to improve education for all students, families, and educators in California.

 

EdTec: What has been the most rewarding part of this 21-year journey for you?

Gayle: The thing that always makes me smile most, is our alumni. It’s most rewarding to hear from the alumni in terms of what they’re doing with their lives, how they furthered their education, and the impact MLC has had on who they have become as global, bilingual citizens.

 

EdTec: What has been your most valuable lesson learned over the past 21 years?

Gayle: I say this to new charter leaders all the time, the most valuable lesson you can learn as a charter leader is this: there will always be obstacles – that is the job! Don’t hope or wait for the day there will be smooth sailing because it won’t come! The job is riding the waves and sticking to your vision and mission and the reason you opened in the first place. There’s always going to be challenges in front of you and because your vision and mission is so powerful, you have what it takes to overcome them.

 

EdTec: What is it like working with your mom?

Gayle: For the first eleven years, my mother was the Executive Director and I worked under her as the Program Director. She retired in 2012, so for the last 10 years, I’ve been running the show, although she is on the board and she volunteers in the classrooms. Without her knowledge and powerful ways of making things happen, I don’t know that we would have opened. She got us going, so that I could take the reins one day and take it to the next level.

Honestly, the work is so hard and so demanding, especially in those first 10 years of running a charter school  that you don’t even have time to think about anything else! We definitely had to create boundaries and have very clear delineations – “Okay, am I talking to you as your employee or as your daughter?” So, there was a lot of that in the beginning. We were excited to build something together. It really came from our experiences as mother and daughter when I was in public school. The fact that we took this really deep experience from my childhood, and her experience as my mother, and turned it into something that would fulfill us and the community, is a very powerful thing.

 

EdTec: As a charter school leader, you need a strong support system in place. What kind of support has been key to your success?

Gayle: On the ground, it is having an operational and instructional team that is completely committed to the school, to the vision, to the purpose. You need instructional leadership that is extremely talented and focused on outcomes for students, social, emotional, and academic.  And the operations team must have wide knowledge and experience with facilities, finance, and human resources.

Beyond your staff team, you need partners like EdTec!  Having a strong, trusting relationship with our back-office provider has been essential because it’s such a fluid relationship. Our relationship with EdTec has been essential in overcoming some of those hurdles that we face on the back end of things, so that the school can operate and have all these outstanding outcomes for kids.

Other community partners and the LA philanthropic community play a critical role. And of course, our parents – they know their students best, they are true partners in their education.

It’s also important to allow an opportunity for all folks, whether they’re administrators, teachers, teaching assistants, after school tutors, custodial staff, to have a voice in the organizational operations, policies, procedures. Your supporting community should have a strong voice and a seat at the table where they can express themselves, where they can share ideas, give feedback, make suggestions, and make decisions. The key to having a strong school organization is a collaborative approach in the truest sense. This requires a lot of listening and a lot of empathy on the part of leaders. It takes a lot to create that in an organization, but that’s a key element in our success.

 

EdTec: Why is developing global citizens is so important to you?

Gayle: It’s very important for young people to know how to navigate and live in a world with diverse thinking, diverse backgrounds, diverse cultures and language. For young people to be successful in a diverse world, they must be raised in an environment where they not only are taught to be respectful to people who are different, but to live and breathe and share space each day with people who come from diverse backgrounds. The experience at MLC enables young people to think more critically when they’re adults and to look at all sides of a story, to see different perspectives and points of view. Our students can also speak in more than one language which creates greater compassion and understanding. It’s also about having the confidence and the commitment to create change when it’s necessary. Those are the skills that we’re building when we talk about global citizens.

 

EdTec: What is your vision for the future? What is something you hope to accomplish in the next few years?

Gayle: Right now, we’re working on recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. I see us bouncing back and getting back into the groove of what we do. Then it’s about what can we do to take us to the next level because we never stop growing. I’d like to see us become more involved in creating change and spreading the word about some of our successful initiatives to influence others and perhaps policy.

I also want to bring in more partners, to engage more folks in the community and perhaps document our work. One of the benefits of being a charter is you’re this little incubator of innovation. But you’re so busy doing it, that you don’t really have time to sit down and document all the wonderful things you’ve done or put it into a guidebook.  It would be great to document some of the things that we’ve done so that it can be more easily shared, studied, or developed to influence equitable access to high quality education for all students.

Thank you to Gayle, and congratulations to the MLC community!

CCSA produced a special video series featuring the exemplary charter school leaders who received the 2022 Hart Vision Award. You can view the MLC video here.

The Multicultural Learning Center (MLC) is a K-8 public charter school in Los Angeles founded in 2001 by mother and daughter team Toby Bornstein and Gayle Nadler with the vision to “bring together a diverse community of learners where cultural and individual differences are the building blocks of academic, social, and intrapersonal success.” MLC achieves this vision through the school-wide implementation of a dual immersion program (Spanish/English) and a focus on global and social-emotional competencies.

Tune into Education Strategy with EdTec’s Partner, Friday

EdTec’s Jeremy Divinity, a doctoral candidate in Educational Leadership for Social Justice at Loyola Marymount University, was joined by Friday’s Annie Crangle and Dr. Jeffrey Hunt to discuss the power of strategic planning during a crisis in a recent podcast episode titled, “From Crisis Management to Strategic Planning“.

During the podcast episode, Annie and Dr. Hunt talk insights from FORWARD, a recent strategic planning cohort designed to support charter school leaders in developing solid reopening plans grounded in a long-term strategic vision. As partners, EdTec’s experts participated in the cohort by providing school leaders with additional expertise in operations, finance, and student data analytics. In addition, in the podcast episode, Annie and Dr. Hunt emphasize how incorporating student voice from an equity lens through their equity tool, Highlight, positively impacts school planning.

Tune into the episode now by listening below!   

Disclaimer: This podcast is not sponsored by any outside organizations and was recorded as part of a project for a program of study.

Do you need guidance generating a new strategic plan in today’s rapidly changing environment? Don’t worry, as Friday is launching more cohorts this fall!  Sign up here to stay informed. 

Leading in a Crisis: Spotlight Our School Partners During School Reopening

April 28, 2021

As school reopening continues to be a main topic of conversation and debate across communities nationwide, school leaders face the challenges of determining when students will return and what a typical school day will look like. Re-opening hasn’t been uniform across the country, and the guidelines and strategies vary by state (EducationWeek). Some states have implemented thresholds that must be met for in-person learning to resume, while others have left the re-opening decisions to local school districts.

EdTec supports charter schools across seven states. Although re-opening looks different everywhere, there is a common theme amongst our school partners of continuing learning in a safe, fun, and engaging way for all students. Read on for a few highlights of all the great work happening in classrooms across the country.

California

Before re-opening, schools in California must first meet critical thresholds in health metrics. The California Department of Education launched the California Safe Schools for All Hub to consolidate key resources and provide support and guidance for reopening. continues to update reopening guidance. For parents and students who are not comfortable returning to the classroom for in-person instruction, distance learning is still an option. Check out how our school partners are adapting:

Heartwood Charter School – Schools tours are back! Heartwood Charter School is now offering limited in-person on-campus school tours for prospective families.

The Academies – The Academies Charter Management Organization has welcomed students back on campus and is prioritizing safety and learning in the classroom.

Sunrise Middle School – Sunrise Middle School is now offering their after-school program for 5th and 6th graders with fun activities such as gardening, cooking, art, and sports!

Para Los Niños – Virtual events are still bound to draw a much larger crowd and are more accessible for families, so Para Los Niños plans to host a big virtual party to celebrate the accomplishments and perseverance shown over this incredibly difficult year!

High Tech LA – A picture is worth a thousand words! The seniors at High Tech LA were welcomed back to campus for their senior portraits. They also received their senior sweatshirts and swag.

Grimmway Academy – The Grimmway Academy students celebrated their return with fun activities as a part of their EGG-stravaganza!

Everest Value – The staff at Everest Value School are excited to see students in the classroom again as they transition from distance learning to a hybrid model in the upcoming weeks.

East Bay Innovation – The students at East Bay Innovation came back to campus a little taller and with new haircuts! The administration at East Bay Innovation welcomed students with fun, collaborative, in-person activities.

Aspire – Aspire is providing critical support by offering in-person instruction for their most vulnerable students.

Georgia

The Georgia Department of Education, in partnership with the Georgia Department of Public Health, has developed guidance to support districts and communities in determining their plans and strategies for reopening schools. Georgia’s Path to Recovery for K-12 Schools provides considerations, recommendations, and best practices for reopening, and is designed to help districts prioritize the health and safety of students and teachers. This guidance is not mandated, or state required. Local school districts have the authority and flexibility to meet their individual needs and be responsive to their communities. See how our school partner in Georgia is tackling re-opening:

Ethos Classical – Our school partner, Ethos Classical Charter School, is currently operating with their scholars onsite or on a virtual basis based on family choice.

Louisiana

Individual school districts can decide when to re-open for in-person learning, although the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted minimum health and safety standards for reopening. The Louisiana Department of Education put together a resource guide that includes health guidelines, best practices for reopening, templates, and a reopening checklist.

Élan Academy – Teachers are essential workers! The teachers are more appreciated than ever for their hard work throughout the pandemic. They have shown up for their scholars and are being vaccinated for a safe return to the classroom.

Nevada

In February, Governor Sisolak signed an emergency directive to ensure all students had safe and equitable access to in-person learning, whether full- or part time. The Nevada Department of Education also requires schools to develop distance learning plans.

Nevada Rise – Effective April 5, Nevada Rise began operating with a hybrid model, offering both in-person and online instruction. School leadership prepared a helpful FAQ sheet for parents to help families prepare for the transition. Staff was excited to welcome students back to campus with signs and balloon!

New Mexico

The New Mexico Public Education Department’s Reentry Guidance provides requirements, recommendations, and best practices for reopening. Local district and charter school leaders have the authority to decide to keep schools closed. Discover how our school partners are re-opening:

Solare Collegiate – With scholars back on-campus, Solare Collegiate is prioritizing safety and learning in the classroom while making learning fun and engaging for all students. For example, they hosted a cooking activity where students could participate either in-person or online.

Altura Prep – Altura Prep is taking advantage of being back in person as an opportunity to live up to their core values and give back to the community!

New York

In New York, all K-12 schools can remain open for in-person learning as long as the in-school positivity rate is lower than 9%. The decisions to open or close schools are made by local school district officials. The New York State Department of Education has published extensive school reopening resources to help guide schools as they plan for a return, including requirements and best practices. See how our school partners in New York are embracing re-opening:

Creo College Prep – The teachers at Creo College Prep are introducing mindfulness into the classroom through yoga practices!

Valence College Prep – The show must go on! Although in-person learning has resumed, Valence College Prep continues to offer a balance of in-person and virtual events. The students kept the performing arts alive from a distance by hosting a virtual musical performance.

Brooklyn RISE – Brooklyn RISE is bringing the school spirit back to campus! What better way to celebrate the return to in-person learning than a spring spirit week.

Tennessee

In Tennessee, school districts can decide whether to open school buildings based on guidance from the Tennessee Department of Education to assess the risk if it is safe to re-open. Our school partners in Tennessee have embraced a mix of in-person and hybrid instruction:

Grizzlies Prep – The students at Grizzlies Prep are back in the classroom, with school administrators emphasizing safety and learning.

Memphis Merit – Who doesn’t love a friendly competition? To celebrate being back on-campus, Memphis Merit hosted a Teachers vs. Scholars basketball game!

Rocketship – Rocketship has also resumed in-person learning, with their schools in Tennessee fully transitioned back into the classroom.

STRIVE Collegiate – STRIVE Collegiate is now embracing a hybrid model in which a percentage of students will remain virtual, and another percentage will return in person. They are also offering an in-person physical education program to give their students a physical outlet to excel in life.

Susie King Taylor Community School – The first-grade class at Susie King Taylor Charter School kicked off the spring with a fun science and engineering project that asked, Can your Peep float on your boat?


As some form of normalcy returns to our school communities, re-opening strategies must follow applicable guidelines to ensure a safe and successful learning experience for all students. How is your school handling reopening? What has been the biggest challenge? Is there something that worked well for your school community that you would like to share with other schools? Let us know in the comments!

Promoting Equity in Education: Five Takeaways from RAPSA For Charter School Leaders & Educators

By Jeremy Divinity, Marketing Specialist
December 2020

Last month, I attended a virtual conference, RAPSA Forum, hosted by the Reaching At-Promise Students Association. The event focused on leading educational accountability and providing equitable education solutions for ‘at-promise’ students. These students are typically minority, black and brown, and come from a background of poverty. These same students are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and risk further learning loss. The recent racial injustices are also at the center of the discrepancies faced by ‘at-promise’ students across the nation. The objective of the conference was to provide a forum for educators and educational advocates, along with students, to learn from each other and collaborate on how to combat these inequities.

While the conference included representation from charters, districts, and private schools, charter schools are uniquely positioned to implement changes and initiatives to better serve ‘at-promise’ students. Here are five takeaways from the conference on ways charter school leaders and educators can work to improve outcomes and promote the success of ‘at-promise’ students:

#1 Equity is the Destination but Healing is the Driver

The goal of equity is to provide more for the most vulnerable students. While equity was a central theme of the conference, there was also a heavy focus on mental health and wellness topics. We are all experiencing a prolonged state of uncertainty and anxiety, which has brought to light the importance of professional wellness, self-care, and critically reflective practice.

To sustain the positive work they do in the long run, educators need to do the internal work and take care of themselves first as no one can pour from an empty cup. Self-care for educators can take many forms, including exercise, yoga, meditation, sleep, and therapy. During this time of crisis, there is also a strong need for healing connection in our schools, which educators can facilitate through restorative practices, a framework for building community in the classroom while deepening human relationships between teachers and students. Restorative practices in your school can take the form of mindfulness, restorative circles, and collaborative class agreements.

#2 Address the Mental Health of Students of Color

As your school shifts more towards a social justice mindset, it is critical to support the mental health of students of color. Although it may seem like a taboo topic, educators must prepare for the pandemic’s mental health effects on their most vulnerable students. In addition to the trauma triggered by the pandemic, many students of color also face the consequences of generational trauma from poverty, racism, and adverse childhood experiences.

As a school leader, it is critical to understand the impact that these realities have on students of color and how they may influence their experience in schools. For example, trauma has a long-lasting effect on cognitive development and learning which may present itself in many different ways in the learning environment, including flight, fight, or freeze. Instead of disciplinary actions, educators can take an asset-based approach to education. An asset-based approach is key to achieving equity in the classroom and sees all students’ potential by focusing on their talents. By implementing an asset-based approach, educators will build relationships with an understanding of students rather than punishment.

#3 Equity is Access, Opportunity, and Belonging  

Many students of color feel isolated, misunderstood, and seen as ‘defective products.’ This feeling of not belonging has led to students of color dropping out mentally and physically, resulting in lower graduation rates that we see in the widening achievement gaps. Although the term ‘at-promise’ was coined to do away with some of the stigmas attached to these students, as one student pointed out in a conference session, it is still a label that categorizes them as ‘other’ or ‘unwanted’ or ‘unachieved’, which is furthest from the truth. The fact that these students are showing up in the face of poverty, trauma and racism speaks to their resilience and potential.

It is the job of educators and education leaders to nurture an environment of community, belonging, respect, identity, and worth, so that all students feel empowered to reach their potential. An equitable learning environment facilitates a feeling of belonging – of being connected to the community. Schools can foster this belonging by hiring more teachers that look like students as representation matters. Educators can also create a support system and a ‘safe space’ or ‘brave space’ to encourage dialogue and foster a sense of belonging. Most importantly, it’s essential that educators talk, listen, and connect with students. Be in their corner.   

#4 Education Equity Requires A Strong Foundation for All Learners

Quality education must be accessible to all members of society. Across the country, there is a history of segregation in our school system that continues to impact BIPOC students today. Students from marginalized communities are prone to second guess their belonging and worth, leading to many students having ‘impostor syndrome’ – where they ask, am I good enough, and do I belong? 

Impostor syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments. Education leaders can empower these students to step into their greatness by providing access to quality education and educating them on the history, contributions, and impact of communities of color. One way to do so is by including ethnic studies in the curriculum. Representing students of color in the school’s curriculum through ethnic studies can positively impact how students of color view themselves. 

#5 Zoom Fatigue and Anxiety is Real 

Students, just like educators, also have Zoom fatigue and anxiety. This Zoom fatigue hinders learning. Engaging virtually looks different for every student and comes with many challenges. Some students may not be comfortable showing their home environment and some students may not feel comfortable being on camera. For teachers, it is important to remember that cameras on doesn’t guarantee that learning is or isn’t taking place.

Equity within teaching and learning during the pandemic means meeting the needs of students where they are at, attending to their socio-emotional needs, and providing multiple pathways of engagement. This may mean that your school will have to broaden its definition of engagement and rely on multiple sources of information to document and verify student engagement.


The pandemic has revealed that we are at a reckoning point on how we are going to transform society, and education, to be equitable for all children. As advocates for high-quality, flexible education options, charter school leaders are uniquely positioned to play a prominent role in creating an equitable learning environment for future generations!   

From Crisis Management to Strategic Planning: A Four-Step Framework (Part II): Insights & Exercises

(Part Two of a Two-Part Series)

By Guest Blogger Annie Crangle, Partner, Friday

October 2020

Four months ago, as the Friday team prepared to spend the summer taking school leaders through a strategic-planning bootcamp, the following questions were top of mind:

  • Will a short-term crisis turn into an everyday reality? 
  • Can long term-strategic planning be valuable in a crisis? 
  • Could a pandemic actually present a unique opportunity to innovate? 
  • Will the level of overwhelmedness and uncertainty decrease for school leaders, students, and families?

After helping 15 school leaders develop strong reopening plans grounded in a long-term strategic vision, we have more clarity on these questions, as well as some guidance and resources for schools in need of support.

Unfortunately, the crisis has turned into our everyday reality as many school leaders returned to school by extending their distance-learning model. And school staff, parents, and kids are exhausted from the continuous scramble. On the flipside, strategic planning has proven its worth in times of crisis, revealing “lightbulb moments” and helping leaders get a clearer understanding of their ultimate goals.

The connection between short-term planning and long-term planning is now clear in my mind—and becoming more clear in our strategic plan. Now, when I think about reopening our school, I have a much better sense of both the forest and the trees.” —Stacy Emory, Executive Director, San Carlos Charter Learning Center

Before we share more about our process and provide you with tools to start your own planning, here are some takeaways from our summer cohort:

  • Long-term planning provides short-term motivation: Leaders were able to get out of survival mode by establishing a vision for what’s possible on the other side of the crisis. Leaders’ confidence was restored by connecting short-term decisions to long-term solutions, and leaders felt empowered to seize the opportunity presented by the crisis to not only respond, but adapt and re-invent. 
  • A design thinking approach to strategic planning provides structure and flexibility: With frameworks for continuous evaluation, leaders were encouraged to reflect on past circumstances and plan for the future. For example: What did we need before that we don’t need now? What do we need now that we never needed before? What do we have that we can re-purpose in new ways? 
  • School leaders need a space where they can be vulnerable about failures, open with questions, and generous with resources: During and after the cohort, school leaders reported lower levels of anxiety, a high degree of learning, and access to a wealth of new resources and knowledge.  
  • Engaging staff in strategic planning exercises enriches the process and outcomes: After modeling strategic-planning exercises with the leadership group, we discussed how they might adapt these exercises to engage their staff. Many reported repeating the exercises with staff, and those diverse viewpoints strengthened their planning even more. 
  • Strategic planning is a meaningful way to train new leaders: Schools participated in teams of 3-4, some of whom were newly appointed vice principals early in their leadership career. At the end of the cohort experience, these new leaders reported greater awareness of the skills and responsibilities of school leadership and they felt more equipped to step into the role.
  • It’s possible to build relationships and community virtually: Our entire process was facilitated in a virtual environment—through the use of breakout rooms, virtual whiteboards, and play, we were able to collaborate and communicate effectively and build enduring relationships. Our summer cohort requested 3-, 6-, and 12-month check-ins to stay updated on each other’s progress.

As noted in our last post, our process was structured around a four-question framework. For inspiration, here are some sample insights that our cohort participants reported at each phase of the process. And for guidance, we’ve also included some of the tools we developed to help you guide your own strategic planning exercises:

1. What opportunities and challenges do we face? Develop a clear picture of our new reality and identify the most pressing challenges and risks to our model and the communities we serve. 

We asked school participants to complete a PEST Analysis: a summary of opportunities and threats due to Political, Economic, Social, and Technological forces.

We then asked schools to assess how their organization is equipped to respond to these changes by completing a SWOT Analysis: What are the strengths and weaknesses of our program (S&W)? How are we positioned to capitalize on opportunities (O)? How can we mitigate threats (T)? Lastly, we asked schools to put it all together: Based on our external analysis (PEST) and our internal assessment of our organization’s readiness to respond (SWOT), identify our top five strategic priorities.

Through the exercises, one school identified the challenge of redirecting parent volunteers while campus was closed. The school team established a strategic priority to revamp family and community engagement, ultimately developing a system for parents to teach enrichment classes via Zoom.

Another school reflected on their community’s differing views on social justice issues in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter protests. Leaders identified the need to create and implement (in whatever medium) an engaging and effective curriculum aligned with a learner-centered approach, through the lens of social justice and critical consciousness.

2. How will we adapt? Sharpen your focus on critical academic model and operational shifts, and opportunities for innovation. 

We guided school leaders through the essential shifts in developing a new academic plan, illustrating how to: be responsive to students’ changing academic and social-emotional needs; support clear communication and progress monitoring; maintain a commitment to the school’s instructional philosophy and approach; and adhere to new compliance requirements.

“Circumstances may be changing, your process may be changing, but your vision remains the same.” —Jennifer Reyes, EdTec, Guest Facilitator 

Through these exercises, one leader recognized the importance of keeping grade-level learning top of mind, adopting a “high expectations and high support” approach. Another school team reiterated that students craved feedback, so they decided to use formative assessments, hoping students would be motivated by seeing their own progress.

Second, based on their new academic plans, we walked school leaders through three steps to understand the operational and financial implications, asking them:

  • What new people, materials, resources are needed?
  • What existing people, materials, resources can be leveraged in new ways or redirected? 
  • What existing people, materials, resources, can be eliminated or reduced?

“The program drives the budget.” —Dena Koren, EdTec, Guest Facilitator  

School leaders saw opportunities to redirect robust professional developments budget to technology needs. Existing resources such as noise-canceling headphones used in Special Education classes were made available for students to check-out for home use. Another team decided to leverage classroom instructional aides to assist with implementing new health and safety protocols.

3. What’s our plan for making it happen? Map a realistic and financially viable short-term action plan; brainstorm near-term opportunities and long-term vision.

We asked school teams to reflect on five design-thinking questions to ensure each organization not only responds, but adapts, and reinvents through this period of change. (Many leaders repeated this exercise with staff using a virtual whiteboard—something we recommend for every school.)

One school team recognized that moving to a distance model has given them the opportunity to re-envision some foundational instructional approaches.

During week 6 of the 8-week process, we helped leaders collect their planning efforts into a 2020-2023 Strategic Plan Framework, with a focus on what makes their school unique, three-year core goals, key strategies, and vision for success.

4. How will we communicate effectively? Develop your message and communicate key shifts to your students, families, staff, and partners.

Communication is foundational to effective change management. We helped school leaders to engage in a stakeholder-mapping exercise to generate communications strategies and tactics that emerged from the following questions:

  • What is our compelling vision for each stakeholder group? How is that message communicated and reinforced? 
  • Where are people now, and where do we want them to be? 
  • What are the range of perspectives in each stakeholder group? 
  • What initial and ongoing communication is needed to support desired changes?

“Put yourself in the mindset of the stakeholder, what’s the first question a teacher is going to ask when you announce a new change?” —Elise Randall Hill, Rocketship Public Schools, Guest Facilitator 

One school team decided to establish weekly one-on-one check-ins with teachers who were struggling with distance learning, as well as more frequent all-staff meetings for greater communication, camaraderie, and support.

It was a whirlwind eight weeks, but we agree with the school leader who commented at the end of our final session, “Can we start again from the top next week?”


We hope these resources and insights are helpful. And if you need more help to generate a new strategic plan in the midst of this constantly changing landscape, call us. Friday is launching more cohorts this fall, and we invite you to join us.

Four Ways School Leaders Can Promote Equity-Driven Distance Learning

September 4, 2020

Equity is a driving force for charter schools in their quest to provide high-quality education options for all students, regardless of zip code. The COVID-19 pandemic and related school closures have created new challenges in this quest. As we learned this past spring, low-income students are at a greater disadvantage due to disparities in access to infrastructure needed for distance learning. Many schools across the country are starting the new year with either distance or hybrid learning, putting pressure on school leaders to determine how their school will continue to provide equitable learning opportunities for all students and families.

We’ve been following what charter schools are doing in this area and put together a list of suggestions for how school leaders can practice equity-based distance learning in the upcoming school year.

1. Check-in on Students and Families to Ensure Needs are Being Met

The students who are most in need are less likely to have access to a conducive learning environment, technological devices, internet connectivity, and parental supervision. Schools can play a role in helping to connect families to organizations that provide access to technological devices and internet service for reduced or no cost. You might want to check your state department of education’s website for a list of local companies providing discounts. For example, the California Department of Education shares information about special offers by various internet providers across the state. Common Sense Education also shares information about organizations helping to facilitate access to low-cost and free internet service, devices, and educational content.

Schools can also provide families with information about community organizations that can help to meet basic needs such as food, shelter, and childcare. For example, schools can create a list of community resources with instructions on how to initiate contact and make the list easily accessible to all families by sharing it in newsletters and posting it on their website. Alpha Public Schools created a microsite Alpha Family Resources Hub to provide families with information about resources related to distance learning, housing, food, and more.

2. Prioritize Staying Connected with Students to Support Academic Success and Mental Wellness

During distance learning, regular live interaction between teachers and students is important to maintain connection and encourage stronger learning outcomes School leaders are tasked with overseeing the quality of communication between students and teachers while ensuring check-ins are done regularly with different modes of communication such as text, phone, video, small groups, and social media. Maintaining a consistent, open, two-way communication between your school and students and families will allow insight into how students are adjusting to the new learning environment and coping with other issues.

School leaders can create a space for informal and formal conversations with students by implementing virtual advisory groups or individual online meetings. For example, Memphis Merit Academy created a hotline for parents and students to call for help with schoolwork, LifeWork Hotline | Virtual Teacher, to support students’ academic success. A similar model could work to connect students to counselors to support students’ mental health and wellbeing and help students cope with the stresses brought about by the pandemic. School leaders may also call upon social and mental health services by directing families to their teletherapy services while emphasizing mindfulness, playtime, and exercise to help parents and guardians structure time at home.

3. Provide Flexibility That is Responsive to Students’ Unique Needs and Abilities

It’s important to consider students’ unique needs and experiences when planning your school’s distance learning strategy for the 2020-2021 school year. School leaders might consider distributing surveys that solicit student and family feedback on digital learning experiences as well as their home environments. This feedback will make you aware of any barriers to learning such as access to technology, home language, caretaking responsibilities and/or the presence of caregivers, and can help to inform your distance learning strategy and tailor your approach to serve different groups of students. For example, the survey results can help to identify which students have familial obligations during the day and need access to asynchronous instruction, as well as those who require synchronous instruction to keep them engaged and on track.

A survey can also help improve family and student engagement. For example, at the start of distance learning and after noticing that only a few students were engaged in daily learning, Rocketship Public Schools surveyed their families each morning to inquire what students needed to learn at home and worked to address those needs throughout the day. By the end of the school year, nearly every student was engaging in daily learning.

4. Focus on Mitigating Learning Loss

A recent study by NWEA predicts that students will experience a learning loss of 30 percent in reading and 50 percent in math due to school closures related to the COVID-19 crisis. To help mitigate potential learning loss, school leaders can focus on strategies that accelerate student learning. Accelerated learning strategies require that students consistently receive grade-level materials, tasks, and assignments while making the work accessible. This Learning Acceleration Guide might be a helpful starting point for planning your strategy. To make up for the learning loss, the accelerated student learning plan should start as soon as possible, and ideally should be put together by a diverse team of teachers, administrators, and school leaders in a series of planning sessions. It is helpful to plan several instructional delivery scenarios and have a high-level plan for each scenario. You’ll also want to identify what unfinished learning needs to be addressed, and when and how. This document from Achieve the Core helps educators identify instructional content priorities in math and ELA in order to stay on grade level while addressing related prerequisite skills.


School leaders across the country are tasked with the challenge of developing strategies that maximize equity outcomes and address the diverse needs of their students during this unprecedented time of school closures. Equity-based distance learning helps to ensure that the most vulnerable students are supported during and beyond the pandemic. The resources cited here can help school leaders to implement school policies and processes that support equitable learning outcomes, as well as to train teachers to diagnose unfinished learning while providing acceleration support to the students most in need. What is your school doing to achieve equity in distance learning? Let us know in the comment section below!