CharterFolk Contributor Cameron Curry – Thanksgiving is a Time to Celebrate Charter Public Schools

Hello CharterFolk!

Today we are pleased to share a contributor column from Cameron Curry, CEO of The Classical Academies.

I provide Cameron’s bio below.

Cameron Curry is the CEO of The Classical Academies, a charter school organization serving 5400 students in northern San Diego County. Under Cameron’s leadership, Classical Academies became the first public charter schools to receive Exemplary Recognition Awards from the California Department of Education and California Consortium for Independent Study for high quality independent study programming, and multiple campuses have received California Distinguished School recognitions. Cameron is also a strong advocate for charter schools, having served on the Board of Directors of the California Charter Schools Association for nearly a decade. In 2011, Cameron received the Hart Vision Award from the California Charter Schools Association as their Charter School Leader of the Year. In 2013 Cameron published a book, Charter School Leadership: Elements for School Success with Rowman & Littlefield Publishing.

November is a great month on the school calendar. The weather is colder, the leaves have changed colors or fallen, and we are reminded by retailers, even before Halloween, that the holidays are approaching. This month also holds a special day that most families in our country celebrate, Thanksgiving. What a great day to stop and be reminded of the many opportunities we have annually in charter public schools to give thanks and feel a deep sense of gratitude for our students, parents, and the communities we are honored to serve.    

In some parts of the country, we are seeing a surge of enrollment into charter public schools serving students with special needs. In others, we are seeing students working with charter schools where families partially homeschool, and students attend a school program a few days a week. Where traditional school districts and local public schools have failed to meet student and parent expectations for learning, unique school options have risen as the first and best choice for many families. As we have seen, exercising choice in public education is a right enjoyed by many. In terms of a national perspective, every community would benefit from more choice and starting, growing, and supporting more charter schools is another reason to be thankful as we push for this to happen.  

If you have been reading press coverage for any length of time, it is easy as a school leader to become overwhelmed, cynical, or even fearful when you digest what is being said about charter public schools across the country. No matter your state, region, or local community, you personally know the gains you are making, the lives you are changing, and the positive impact your school or educational organization is having. The local and national press is not in the business of telling positive stories, and as a result, much of the great work accomplished is not being recognized. Be encouraged, Thanksgiving is a time to remember the truth; charter public schools are making a difference.  

Charter public schools are continuing to successfully serve our most vulnerable and socio-economically disadvantaged families. These teams of educators have been the first to step forward, the most compassionate and caring in their approach, all the while creating and maintaining the highest standards for conduct, behavior, and academic engagement. Where some would lower expectations for learning, gratefully these charter school teams have waved the flag of possibility and potential giving students hope and a path forward to achieve success. They have not lowered the bar; they have elevated it knowing that all students can and will learn when given a reason and a chance to succeed.  

As we remember the deep roots of why charter public schools began, it was the teacher’s union and Democratic party that championed these schools of innovation. Charter schools were the testing sites in the fertile ground of possibility that drew the interest and excitement of many to what was conceived and built for the benefit of students. Add to that, the idea was that these schools were seen as labs to test and pilot ideas, programs, and activities that would eventually be embraced by the larger public school ecosystem to benefit even more students. As interest and involvement of parents grew in school choice, so did the separation between these schools with the union and political parties.  What parents want is rarely valued by either. We can be grateful that what charter public schools have offered students is highly favored and valued by parents.  

I am so thankful that California is still leading the country with the greatest number of charter public schools; more than 1,300. Twenty-five percent, or 325, of those being non-classroom based (NCB) and offering flexibility that truly saved students during the past two years. These schools are funded based on academic outcomes, not by time in a seat. This unique funding model in the Golden State needs to be expanded nationally so that flexibility connects to the needs of students and is not limited by the archaic operations of traditional public education. As an example, these NCB schools successfully served rural areas of the state by offering daily connection to a credentialed teacher, grading continued, and new content was made available so that learning remained uninterrupted. As students and family’s gratitude for flexibility is elevated for NCB schools, these programs are uniquely under attack by the state to curtail their growth and expansion. How ironic that state leaders seek limitations on those schools that are highly favored by parents and provide a real academic safety net for thousands of children. 

In parts of the country, we are witnessing the voucher system rise and this gives hope to every charter school leader knowing the potential for improvement that will happen for the school system and individual programs as a result. As charter school leaders we should not be resting on past success, but rather, build on that success to improve our schools annually. When parents are given the right to use their tax dollars to educate their children, the choices they have for public, private, or homeschooling options is what fuels the idea behind our constitutional right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. When we see the country moving towards the idea that school improvement is tied to states funding individual students and not systems, then we have an open door to what is possible for students and all schools will be held accountable for their individual results. Finally, all failing schools will be closed because parents can send their children elsewhere.  

There is much to celebrate as we collectively review the landscape of public education, and the benefits students all enjoy in charter public schools nationally. Our schools are not perfect, nor would any of us claim that to be. We do know that where we are, is miles from where we began. Where we need to be, is still within reach and it takes a daily commitment to students and their learning to make that move possible. We are the purveyors of hopes, dreams, potential, and possibility and we harness the energy and enthusiasm of many to see that students succeed in our care. As you gather with your families on Thanksgiving Day, take a moment to stop and realize that you are serving students who have found a safe place with you to learn, a warm place to secure friends, and a relevant place that changed the trajectory of their lives.