CharterFolk X, Vol 17 – Sue Park, Making Brighter Futures Really Happen

Good morning, CharterFolk.

This morning it is a lot of fun to recognize Sue Park, Head of School at Yu Ming Charter School in Oakland California, as CharterFolk Extraordinaire.

For all the years I have known Sue, I’ve known her to be not someone who just talks about kids and families needing brighter futures, but someone who makes sure brighter futures really happen.

It’s what led her to join Teach For America right out of college where she became a bilingual teacher working in LAUSD. What she saw in her classroom concerned her gravely – students entering her third grade class having failed to achieve even base literacy in either English or Spanish during their first three years in school. A recent EdWeek interview …

… described Sue as convinced that the dysfunction she saw in LA Unified schools “had to be against our civil rights laws.”

Which led her to law school at Berkeley.

Soon she was back making brighter futures happen as an assistant principal at Camino Nuevo Charter Academy in Los Angeles where she went on to take ever-growing levels of responsibility with Ana Ponce and Camino’s central leadership team.

A few years later, family opportunities led her to Hong Kong where she became Managing Director for Teach For All …

… making bright futures happen for students internationally.

Was there really any question where she would end up when her family returned home to the United States?

Right back in the charter school movement where she ultimately took the Head of School role at Yu Ming Charter School in Oakland. 

Yu Ming means “bright future” in Mandarin.

Yu Ming opened in 2012 as California’s first Mandarin-English dual immersion charter school. It was already off to a strong start, but Sue’s hiring in 2015 took the school to whole new levels.

In all my visits to charter schools over the years, none have I seen surpass the commitment that Yu Ming brings to the importance of biliteracy and biculturalism.

Through it all, the school has demonstrated extraordinary academic excellence, recently receiving a National Blue Ribbon Award …

… and a California Distinguished School Award …

… while generating academic results making the school the highest performing public school in Oakland, and among the highest of any public school in California.

Is there any wonder that Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf recently declared the Yu Ming Charter School Day?

All the accolades don’t do justice to the quality of Yu Ming’s program, which has to be seen to be fully appreciated. I hope you can find a couple minutes to view this video where Sue and School Founder Gloria Lee describe what makes Yu Ming so unique.

As Sue says in the video, many more parents want their kids to attend Yu Ming than there are spaces available. In the highly politicized environment in Oakland right now, any charter school growth is controversial, but even amid the COVID pandemic, Yu Ming secured an amendment to its charter allowing it to significantly expand next year, ensuring that bright futures will come to even more kids and families in Oakland soon.

Now is a time when the charter school movement in California and elsewhere is encountering profound new challenge and threat. But with compelling leaders like Sue Park continuing to push forward in cooperation with the communities that we serve, I see no destiny for our movement other than continuing to secure brighter futures for many more students and families in the decades to come.

It’s why I couldn’t be happier than to recognize Sue Park here as an inspiring example of CharterFolk Extraordinaire.