CharterFolk Contributor Sonia Park – Building Community for School Integration: DCSC at 10

Greetings, CharterFolk!

Today we are pleased to share a contributor column from Sonia Park, Executive Director of Diverse Charter Schools Coalition (DCSC).

Sonia Park, Executive Director of Diverse Charter Schools Coalition

I provide Sonia’s brief bio below.

Sonia C. Park believes in living in service. She has 20+ years as an experienced education reformer and accountability professional specializing in school-based, district, state and federal policies and practices. She leads the Diverse Charter Schools Coalition, a coalition of over 242 individual diverse-by-design charter schools located in 24 states and Washington, DC. At DCSC, Sonia works to promote, expand, and support intentionally integrated, public schools. Prior to DCSC, she served in federal and local governments: under Secretary John King at the US Education Department as a Senior Policy Advisor; and under Schools Chancellor Denis Walcott as Executive Director of Charter Schools Accountability and Support in the NYC Department of Education. In addition to leading Manhattan Charter Schools, a two-school charter network located in lower Manhattan, her work experiences include the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship, NY Charter Schools Resource Center, NY Charter Schools Association, and Edison Schools. She currently serves on the TED-Ed Innovative Educator Advisory Board, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers Strategic Advisory Committee, and is a member of the Education Leaders of Color Policy Council and the LeveragED Collective. She is the co-vice chair of the board of trustees for Central Queens Academy Charter Schools.

Looking at the state of public education in 2024, are we where we should be? The question of who goes to which school remains pivotal to students’ and families’ lives and to their communities. It’s a fundamental question that is still difficult to answer when asked with educational equity in mind.

In the 1960s Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) spoke of a Beloved Community and the idea of a truly interracial democracy; President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) shared his vision for a Great Society wherein every child can find knowledge to enrich (their) mind and to enlarge (their) talents. These leaders envisioned a nation where Americans of diverse backgrounds would live and thrive together. Fast forward to today, our nation is still segregated and polarized. This is happening at the same time as our nation’s youngest generations are the most diverse they have ever been; our reality is a far cry from the vision of the 60’s.

What can we do to bring these visions closer to reality? At Diverse Charter Schools Coalition (DCSC), we believe we have an answer. DCSC works to realize the shared visions of MLK and LBJ by supporting and expanding intentionally diverse charter schools, schools wherein all students and their communities reap the benefits of a diverse and inclusive education. Since its founding in 2014, DCSC believed in this vision. It was an audacious idea 10 years ago – that charter schools can and should be one of the strongest tools available to increase diversity in student populations – but one that attracted like-minded leaders. Today, the bold idea behind DCSC is a growing reality. DCSC is helping public schools successfully counter segregation and advance equity by developing intentional and inclusive school communities. 

At DCSC, we believe diversity goes beyond student demographics and should be reflected by everyone in the building —from the students to the teachers to administrators. Intentional diversity goes far beyond simply enrolling students of different races, wealth levels, and other socioeconomic markers; it embraces a deepening understanding of an inclusive school community. Too often desegregation focused only on where students attended school, which led to students often experiencing separate and unequal education under the same roof. We’re working to help schools not just attain diverse enrollment, staff, and leadership, but foster inspiring communities where students can form bonds that cross boundaries, learn from one another, and together develop a vision for their shared world. 

Map of DCSC schools in the United States

DCSC began as a group of 14 dedicated charter school leaders, policy experts, and researchers of intentionally integrated schools and has grown over 10 years to an alliance of 92 members, representing over 242 schools in 24 states and DC, educating over 100,00 students across the country. Not only are DCSC members dedicated to the just vision of intentional integration, but equally believe in the academic benefits to all students in their schools. Eighty percent of DCSC member schools’ students outperformed their neighborhood district in English Language Arts, and 82% of member schools’ students outperformed their neighborhood district in math, (based on most recently available state assessments data).

As we reflect on the past 10 years of DCSC – on our membership growth, new intentional diverse  schools launched by our UnifiED fellows, and educators learning via communities of practice – we must also look to the ongoing and future efforts of our members and the Coalition.

DCSC has an ambitious goal, we hope that, by 2030 over 200,000 students will be in charter schools where they learn with and from students who don’t look, think, or believe as they do. We work to realize our vision by:

  • Training educators to lead and launch diverse schools
  • Convening leaders of intentionally diverse schools to learn with and from each other, allowing them to strengthen their craft and schools
  • Educating policymakers on the power and promise of diverse schools to enhance the education sector and local education ecosystems to grow more intentionally diverse charter school seats

Finding solutions to the persistent problem of segregation remains fundamental to justice and opportunity in this country  — and in an increasingly diverse nation, it’s more pressing than ever. At DCSC, our work has only just begun.