CharterFolk X Vol 12 – Chris Ferris, Building Our Community Everywhere She Goes

Good morning, CharterFolk.

Today it is our distinct pleasure to recognize Chris Ferris, Executive Director of Highline Academy Charter Schools, as CharterFolk Extraordinaire.

It doesn’t take much effort to find evidence of the remarkable contribution Chris is making to our movement. Just look at her Executive Director introduction on the Highline website where she states:

Highline Academy’s culture is characterized by its ability to take ownership of the mission through its greatest resource; the collective wisdom and determination of educators with its community members to push the boundaries, aim higher, and never settle in pursuit of a world-class education and values based environment for our students

How beautifully articulated is that? I want to lift it for the CharterFolk mission statement. I’d want our whole darn movement to lift it.

Our greatest resource is the collective wisdom and determination of educators in community with others pushing boundaries and aiming higher

Every word deliciously selected.

And it doesn’t surprise me in the least that Chris would be the person to have written it. She is someone who understands as deeply as anyone I know that our strength grows out of our community, and to build that strength we must invest in our community itself.

When that happens, we see extraordinary things follow thereafter. Look what has happened at Highline under Chris’s leadership. An already very strong organization has been taken to even greater heights. Highline has grown to operate two schools, which have received many awards and earned many distinctions including having academic growth placing the schools among the highest performing of all public schools in Denver. Just this past month, Highline’s Southeast location became one of just four schools in Colorado to be recognized with a National Blue Ribbon Award.

I have long known Chris to be an extraordinary educational leader. The school where she previously worked, the aptly named Our Community Charter School in Chatsworth, California, was recognized as CCSA’s Charter School of the Year in 2009.

That’s right, CharterFolk. 2009.

Chris has been generating these kinds of results for decades.

I remember well my first visit to Our Community. What struck me most was the recognition that Chris brought to everything she does that community doesn’t just happen. Community has to be built. (It’s why I love in the first 15 seconds of the video above the student saying, “It’s a community! That’s why it’s called Our Community Charter School!”)

Chris’s commitment to building community everywhere she goes is as strong today as it’s ever been. Look how Chris helped Highline tackle the need for greater commitment to anti-racism in the months following the death of George Floyd.

Not only did Chris lead her school to secure a grant allowing her faculty and the entire school community to take on professional development and other DEI activity (as the two minute video above attests), but she partnered with two other charter schools in the Denver region to apply for and secure the grant together, so that even more community could be developed and even more impact could be achieved.

A deep commitment to building community has also informed the many leadership roles that Chris has taken on in charter school advocacy. It starts with Chris’s deep understanding that the unique needs of smaller charter school organizations must be taken into account. That led her to become one of the leaders on the Coordinating Committee of the Coalition of Public Independent Charter Schools. At the same time, Chris makes sure her school remains strongly aligned with broader advocacy efforts taken on by the National Alliance for Charter Schools.

Chris’s dual commitment to building community with smaller independent charter schools and with all charter schools more broadly is having great positive impact on Denver’s charter school movement. Recently, Chris became the Co-Chair of the Collaborative Council, which manages interaction with Denver Public Schools on a wide range of advocacy and operational matters including how the community can best respond to COVID-era challenges. And she is earning the appreciation of the entire charter school community for how she is taking on the role. As Dan Schaller, President of the Colorado League of Charter Schools, describes it:

In terms of a charter school leader who balances creating community within her own organization, across organizations similar to her own, and across the entire charter school community in helping advance the shared advocacy needs of all, it’s hard to find anyone whose commitment level surpasses that of Chris Ferris.

It is what she has done for multiple charter school organizations …

… in multiple states …

… for decades.

A shining example of the kind of impact made by CharterFolk Extraordinaire.

And so, we celebrate Chris’s remarkable contribution to our movement, and with all the collective wisdom and determination we can muster, we pledge to keep pushing boundaries and to keep aiming higher with her so that even more kids can receive the world class education they deserve.