Good morning, CharterFolk!
Today we are pleased to share a contributor column from Caprice Young, Ed.D., President, Education Growth Group.
I provide Caprice’s bio below.
Dr. Young is an experienced transformational executive and superintendent with proven leadership in board governance and C-level roles. Raised in a foster family, she has committed her life to improving education for underserved students just like her foster brothers and sisters. She is the former National Superintendent of Lifelong Learning, a non-profit organization serving schools responsible for 49,000 opportunity youth students in five US states. She also has led three Charter Management Organizations: ICEF Public Schools, Magnolia Public Schools, and iLEAD California (current). Dr. Young’s leadership experience spans multi-state and international operations, instruction, technology, finance, philanthropy, educating high-needs students, and organizations undergoing major transformations. She is an EdTech expert and the former CEO of a subsidiary of a publicly-traded fortune 500 company. She received the Coro Crystal Eagle for Excellence in Public Service, the California State University Los Angeles Educator of the Year award, and membership in the National Charter School Hall of Fame. Dr. Young serves on the boards of several organizations, including the Fordham Foundation, the Larta Institute, EverDriven, and Olivela.com. She is the former president of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education (1999-2003) and the founding CEO of the California Charter Schools Association (2003-2008). Education: Ed.D. UCLA; M.P.A. USC; and B.A. Yale University. She holds a Certificate in ESG Investing from the CFA Institute.
Who are CharterFolk anyway? And why are we vital to the future of public education? I learned this back in 1995 when I met my first charter leader, Yvonne Chan, Charter Hall of Famer and Founder of Vaughn Next Century Learning Center. I was working for the Mayor of Los Angeles and his Chief of Staff, Robin Kramer, wanted the whole Mayor’s team to understand deeply and clearly what true community organizing and engagement looked like—so she invited Yvonne to speak to us. Anyone who has met Yvonne Chan can testify to what a force of nature she is, and since that day I have met thousands who embody that deep irresistible community driven tidal swell.
My family will tell you that more than hundreds of charter founders have planned or renewed their schools around our dining room table. I lost count long ago. What are the first questions any of my children’s friends get asked when they visit: What school do you go to? Where are you going for college? What are you planning to do with your life?
If you are betting on change for good, who to pick? I bet on charter leaders because they are my kind of crazy:
DREAMERS. They believe in putting students and families first. They believe in that so deeply that they start by daydreaming about creating the most perfect education for the students they love. That solidifies into a dream.
ORGANIZERS. But they are not just dreamers. They talk to people. That dream evolves and grows to include the dreams and aspirations of a community. It screams out to be born.
PLANNERS. That community dream becomes a plan. The founder and community are intelligent and focused enough to write it down. That education plan becomes a charter petition—hundreds of pages more detailed than a Harvard MBA’s best business plan. It is a concrete promise to students, families, staff, communities, and taxpayers.
EVANGELISTS. These founders are so convincing that they engage hundreds of parents who want their kids to learn at the school and educators who want to teach at the school to sign their names to that petition.
ADVOCATES. They courageously stand in front of a highly critical public body, a school board or other authorizer, and make their case. They advocate for their right to educate young people—maybe they are not fearless, but the fulfilling the vision for students outweighs that fear and gives them the confidence they need to speak out boldly and convincingly.
FUNDRAISERS. These days it is difficult to start a school for less than $500,000, but charter founders find the money. By taking out loans, raising community donations, and/or writing for grants, they find a way. Undaunted.
ENTREPRENEURS. Charter founders implement those plans. Founders are responsible for finding facilities, hiring staff, recruiting enrollment, establishing safety procedures, learning compliance rituals, making payroll, buying curricula, distributing technology, digging into data, sweeping the floor, inspiring people even when it all seems impossible, ordering lunch, establishing partnerships, and wiping tears—everything to ensure the teacher-student relationships lead to learning.
Schools start. They grow. They multiply. Yes, nearly 20 years ago when we started CCSA, we bet on the dreamers, organizers, planners, evangelists, advocates, fundraisers, and entrepreneurs. But even then, we knew that a force of nature was not enough. We needed an ecosystem that could nurture those founders and the schools they created. We need those talented people with their feet planted firmly on the ground, the ones who provide accounting, governance, insurance, cash flow financing, philanthropy, professional development, mental health services, and facilities. Our vision reaches over the horizon to include not just the next generation of founders, but also the geniuses who can move a start-up to a going concern. When we are at our best, we embrace transitional and long-term leadership that can support the evolution of those original dreams to include intentional practices for continuous improvement and institutionalized excellence as the world, families, and young people face new realities.
Many folks have used this space to rally support for our continued vigilance when it comes to democracy. Me too! I am forever thankful to the elected officials and political organizers who defend our right to educate students. We all must show up for and grow more persistent advocates that simply won’t allow bad policies to stand and who push for better ones.
Yvonne Chan always reminds us that it is important to keep telling the stories. Those are the stories of our persistence and heroism. But this story doesn’t have a beginning, middle, and end. We are vital to the larger story of democracy and education. Our story (okay, roller coaster) really never does end, but we are on it together. We are strong as a movement not just because we are led by phenomenal founders, but also because we embrace the diversity of talents needed to create sustainable programs and good public policy. I bet not just on charter school leaders, but all of the CharterFolk who find ways to inspire and be inspired every day. You matter.
As Caprice wrote, “Anyone who has met Yvonne Chan can testify to what a force of nature she is…” If you want to hear directly from Yvonne, check out Yvonne’s CharterFolk Oxygen Bar.