Elvis’s Alma Mater Closes | Aspiring Toward Graceland | Where School Communities Take Control of Their Destinies

Good day, CharterFolk.

I start with a programming note. I’m going to take a spring break to see some Premier League games with my son in the UK next week. Before I go, Andy and I will get out a WonkyFolk recording, and we will have a great Contributor Column coming to you end of week. I’ll be back with my next post on the 7th.

Meanwhile, there was lots of talk last week about Elvis’s alma mater closing.

This general topic can be a sensitive one for us.

I’ll try my best love me tender here.

The sad truth is that Tennessee’s Achievement School District has not achieved what was hoped for …

… and that gives charter school critics another pretext for claiming we ain’t nothing but a hound dog.

For quite a while, I have been wanting to put more focus on the public education story in Memphis.

Part of it grows out of my awareness that some of our most extraordinary Folk are doing great work there …

… and are now spreading into other areas in the south.

Part of it is informed by an understanding that Memphis has experienced as much education unfairness as any community in this country.

Part of it grows out of an awareness that we have an Amelia Bedelia problem …

… and are drawing wrong conclusions about what happened with the ASD.

This report, for example …

… identifies a host of little-appreciated restrictions that were imposed upon the operators in the ASD, limiting their ability to succeed as other charter schools do.

Other conclusions about large-scale turnaround efforts that have happened elsewhere in the country …

… are being drawn by parties …

… with patently obvious conflicts of interest …

… leaving more impartial observers …

… with rightfully suspicious minds.

Council President Kenyatta Johnson gave no reason for delaying the vote on Wilkerson, and did not speak with reporters after the hearing concluded. But based on council members’ questions and comments, several members seemed to want to send a message regarding the board’s charter school policies.

They apparently focused on Wilkerson since she led the board from 2018 until 2022; during that period, no new charter schools were approved. She was also chair of the School Reform Commission for two years before that when the district was still under state control.

Having a deep understanding of what is actually happening in turnarounds and other kinds of charter school conversions is, in my opinion, very important. To this day, we see policy makers look to charter schools to be a solution for “failing schools.”

And that’s okay.

But the details about how these schools operate really matters.

And if they’re going to be hemmed in to doing things in almost exactly the same way they did when they were district schools, we shouldn’t be surprised when we don’t see much change in results.

Perhaps one of the most important details is whether school communities voluntarily embrace charterness.

The person who inspired me to make CharterFolk in the first place

… himself led a high profile conversion effort in San Diego.

That school is still open to this day, generating greatly improved outcomes with students …

… and other positive changes that continue to confound.

Under NCLB, the school district had the legal right to force a turnaround on Gompers. But Brian and his posse all insisted that the conversion would only go forward if stakeholders at the school voted in support of it.

Because they knew that an ideal conversion is not one where chartering “gets done” to a community, but is one where the community itself does the chartering.

Discusses, debates, plans, and then ultimately decides whether they wish to take control of their own destiny.

It’s why, of any conclusions I see being wrongly drawn in Charterland these days, perhaps the one that bothers me most is the suggestion that the voting results in Newberry Florida last week were in some way a “failure.”

Yes, protectors of the status quo including the local teacher union may be presenting themselves as satisfied with the results and may be claiming that they had “not needed the stress” of considering how to fundamentally improve public education in their community.

Brandy Oldman, a board member of Save Our Schools Newberry, said she was pleased with the voting results.

“I’m happy,” Oldman said. “We didn’t need any of the stress, so I’m happy for it maybe to be over.”

But, CharterFolk, that’s exactly an outcome we want!

A public confirmation of the Establishment’s indifference and complacency in the face of parent and teacher urgency to improve.

And this thing is anything but over.

Look at the results more closely:

One of the three schools had a clear majority of parents vote in support, and the teacher vote hovers on the cusp of majority support depending on how a disputed last ballot gets counted.

Another school had a clear majority of parents and teachers vote in opposition.

But the third one had two-thirds of the teachers support the conversion, but it was held back because only 40% of parents voted in support. Do you think that a circumstance likely to endure? Two thirds of teachers wanting to take try something bold and new ultimately not winning over the few additional parents they need?

It’s why supporters are vowing to continue on with their push, meaning the headlines …

… we’ve been seeing for months …

… look likely to continue for the foreseeable future …

… underscoring a reality we want elevated over and over across this entire country:

Which is that large numbers of parents and teachers in this country want to become Folk.

And their overarching message to an indifferent, complacent status quo, is don’t be cruel.

One of the best ways we give parents and teachers the opportunity to broadcast that tune over and over is to have as many conversion efforts going as we can.

School communities making their way toward a new circumstance in public education where parents and educators voluntarily come together to take control of their own destinies such that students are fundamentally better served.

Call it Graceland.

Incoming CharterFolk Board Chair Kristen McCaw Offers a Contributor Column: CharterFolk – United in Ingenuity

Good morning, CharterFolk.

Today we are pleased to share a Contributor Column from Kristen McCaw, incoming Board Chair of CharterFolk and Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Seminar.

We provide a bio for Kristen below.

Kristen is the Co-Founder/Co-CEO of Seminar, an always-on professional learning community. Kristen experienced the opportunities and challenges of leadership firsthand when leading charter networks. With Seminar, Kristen and her co-founder, Jen Davis Wickens, are providing current and future charter leaders with the tools, training, and community they wished they had as senior-level leaders and founders.

Kristen co-founded and served as the CFO/COO of Impact Public Schools, a network of public charter schools serving over 1,300 students. Notably, Impact’s academic performance put it in the top 5% of charter schools nationally on multiple measures. Impact also won a national award for its COVID-19 response. Kristen led and built the systems for the finance, operations, talent, human resources, data, and technology functions of the organization. 

Kristen has also served as the COO/Chief Diversity Officer for Summit Public Schools, where she supported out-of-state expansion and the launch of 5 schools. Kristen coached teams to successfully launch 24 schools at the California Charter Schools Association. She started her career in special education and assessments at Success Academies. Kristen is a Pahara Fellow and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network.

CharterFolk – United in Ingenuity

Receiving the Baton

As the incoming board chair, I am thrilled to build on the success of Emilio Pack, who has worked closely with Jed Wallace and stewarded CharterFolk from inception to a powerful movement with thousands of readers. Serving in this role is personally significant to me as a longtime charter school leader. My journey in education began from a desire to create schools that would have better served my Black, immigrant family and others like us. I have worked in large networks, small schools, and co-founded a network of schools. Throughout this work, the most significant obstacle I have seen is protectionist politics that distract (and in some cases, prevent) leaders from doing good work for children and families. This underscores the critical need for robust advocacy across our nation—a mission that CharterFolk continues to spearhead, inspire, and shape. I am honored to take the baton from Emilio and work alongside Jed, as we continue this vital relay race towards advancing greatly more public schools. 

A Shared Passion Project

CharterFolk is a collective passion project, mirroring the spirit of the charter school movement itself. This is illustrated by our numerous contributors, the nominations for CharterFolk X, and the unwavering commitment of our board members. Each of these contributions has co-created a community where charter leaders can reflect, hear a different perspective, be inspired, be challenged, and grow. 

Innovating Through Our Challenges

As a sector, the obstacles before us are great. But, frankly, they have always been great. As I reflected with a group of charter school leaders on one of our more recent collective challenges – running schools during the pandemic – the heartache in the room was palpable. But as we look back at the moment, there is also inspiration to be uncovered. The charter sector responded the way it always does to great adversity: with innovation. And as we approach a new obstacle – enrollment challenges coupled with the end of ESSER funding while demands on schools increase – the leaders I know aren’t putting their heads in their hands. Instead, they are asking, if I have few resources and greater demands, how can advances in AI and automation help us do our work more efficiently? What can I learn from my peers? They are seeing a challenge and responding not only with resilience, but with ingenuity and unity. 

Your Invitation to Contribute

The desire to learn from and connect with other leaders is one I hear all the time – and doing so strengthens our sector. So consider this your personal invitation to share your insights, solutions, and experiences with the CharterFolk community. CharterFolk exists because of you—the heart and soul of the charter school movement.

Thank you for entrusting me with the role of board chair. I am incredibly excited about what we can achieve together. In the labyrinth of adversity, charter school leaders don’t just search for the exit; we create new paths.