CharterFolk Contributor Subira Gordon – 1,000 Miles From Where I Started – 3 Keys to Effective Advocacy That Aren’t Political

Greetings, CharterFolk!

Today we are pleased to share a contributor column from Subira Gordon, Chief Executive Officer of the Nashville Charter Collaborative.

Subira Gordon, Chief Executive Officer of the Nashville Charter Collaborative

I provide Subira’s brief bio below.

Subira Gordon was born and raised in Jamaica, in a small rural community with a two percent literacy rate. Her mother was one of the few who were literate, and she valued prioritizing Subira’s education. Upon graduation from high school in Jamaica, Subira attended Bates College where she earned a bachelor’s degree in history, and later a Master’s in Public Policy from New England College.

In 2018 Subira became the Executive Director of ConnCAN, where she led the organization to several legislative victories including minority teacher recruitment and retention efforts, education funding reform, securing passage of an English Learner Bill of Rights, reducing school-based arrests, and building a culturally responsive model curriculum. Her most recent accomplishment was to increase education spending by $150M in Connecticut and creating a policy to equalize funding for charter schools.

As the inaugural CEO of the Nashville Charter Collaborative (NCC), Subira uses her experience in organizing, advocacy, and public policy to build an organization that will serve as a unified voice for high-performing charter schools, representing their interests on the local level.

On my hardest professional days, the ones that every advocate knows well – mired in partisanship or the latest uphill regulatory battle, I remind myself what drew me to charter schools in 2012.

I was a staffer in the Connecticut state legislature at the time and happened to witness students testifying about their charter school. Out of the 10 most diverse schools in Connecticut, the majority of them were charter schools. As a black woman, watching young black boys navigate the legislative process with knowhow and confidence, I’d seen enough. Charter schools were outperforming the odds in Hartford, and I committed to advancing those opportunities for all students in Connecticut.

Twelve (12) years later, I’m more than 1,000 miles from Hartford and am the new CEO of the Nashville Charter Collaborative (NCC). The Nashville Charter Collaborative is the lead advocate for public charter schools in Nashville. We unite and equip leaders to ensure that our public charter schools make good on the promise of being transformative environments for all students.

For context, 1 in 5 Nashville public school students attend a public charter school. Our public charter schools serve a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students and Hispanic students than Metro Nashville Public Schools overall. This past year, more than 75% of charter schools posted the highest level of student test score growth on TVAAS. Fifteen (15) charter schools were reward schools. Public charter schools in Nashville are proving it’s possible to close the achievement gap.

My new professional home is a blue city in a very red state. It’s literally and figuratively 1,000 miles from where I started in a blue city, blue state environment, and that also includes stark differences in the regulatory process. I’m not daunted by the politics – it’s challenged me to think critically about what we’re selling, who we’re talking to, and mastering the process over the politics.

Hang around advocacy long enough, and you can become convinced that progress lives and dies by politics. “The politics” is why school board seats are going unchallenged or unfilled. “The politics” is why charter schools, a decades old part of the public school system, are still marginalized. “The politics” is why equitable funding can’t get a motion second in committee. And the list goes on. As advocates who are ultimately working on behalf of families, we cannot afford to let politics be an excuse.

At NCC, we are rejecting politics as the default strategy and focusing on excellence in what we can control. Our first focus is supporting our operators, school leaders, and their boards. They are executing day to day operations that lead to lives transformed. Operators in every state need access to top tier performance management resources for areas including student achievement, teacher recruitment and retention, community transformation, and operations/financial management expertise. Practicality may not net a splashy headline, but equipping school leaders to do their jobs well and master any pain points is a core focus for us.

Second, we are committing to visibility and helping our 35 schools gain traction as an accepted form of public education capable of getting credit for the work they are doing in challenging settings. Nashville charter schools are a high-performing, valuable part of Metro Nashville public schools and have been for more than 20 years. Both the data and a visit to any of our campuses refutes the lazy trope that our charter schools are cherry-picking only the most advantaged students. We have 15,000 students in our Nashville charter schools who convey core messages ranging from what parents need for their children to portraits of positive student turnaround. We are committed to a strong, consistent message about the day to day education at a Nashville public charter school. With 15,000 powerful messages at our disposal, we can’t waste rhetorical time just dwelling on what’s broken in the traditional public education system.

Finally, we are committed to mastering the regulatory process by seamless navigation of authorizing and accountability. Regulatory processes are complicated and often create unnecessary anxiety for leaders heading before school boards, charter commissions, and the like. We will bridge the gap for our member schools through preparation that empowers them with a full knowledge of the rules, as well as fosters better relationships with those providing oversight. We know that school leaders are action-oriented, by the book, and have a keen sense of responsibility. We entrust our children to them every day and shouldn’t let the authorizing and accountability process be the most anxiety-inducing part of the job.

You may feel 1,000 miles from where you started and unsure how to be a champion in the next big advocacy fight for charters. Families are counting on us to get it right and we can encourage each other to keep it simple. Assert thought leadership with a deep knowledge of the process. Become invaluable to your area charter schools as their leaders navigate everything from authorizing to teacher prep. Craft the best case for charters and leverage the thousands of powerful messages we have at our disposal via our families. It’s as easy as ABC.