CharterFolk X Vol 25 – Erin Studer, Demonstrating the Inclusion Found at the Heart of the Charter School Movement

Good morning, CharterFolk.

Today it is our pleasure to recognize Erin Studer, Executive Director of CHIME Charter School in Los Angeles, as CharterFolk Extraordinaire.

What Erin does as well as anyone in the national charter school movement is demonstrate the inclusion that is at the very heart of everything we do.

CHIME Institute is an organization that operates a TK-8 charter school serving 800 students.

CHIME’s mission is to demonstrate and evangelize the idea that kids who are very different from one another – specifically kids who typically thrive in regular education programs, and those with disabilities who are typically segregated into separate programs – can and should be served in integrated, inclusive environments. And CHIME does this, not just because it is best for the kids with disabilities, but because it is best for absolutely all kids.

In Erin, CHIME Institute and indeed the entire charter school movement have found a uniquely compelling ambassador …

Hosting a visit with former California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson

… able to carry the message that absolutely all children are valuable and should be afforded every iota of respect, caring and instructional expertise we can summon as a society.

After completing his undergraduate degree in Iowa, Erin moved to Los Angeles where his early career focused on developing expertise in both school management and special education. After teaching and rising to leadership within a private organization in Los Angeles serving kids with learning differences, Erin wanted to see whether students could be even better supported in a public school committed to keeping all kids together in inclusive settings. Such public schools literally did not exist before the charter school movement. But in the early 90’s, the remarkable (not to mention famous) founders of CHIME …

… decided to use the flexibility and freedom afforded charter schools to create a full-inclusion school. It was the perfect place for Erin, who went on to become the Executive Director, helping the organization complete a multi-million dollar facility renovation …

… while becoming one of the most respected public schools in the country.

Through it all, Erin has been relentless in his commitment to making the moral and the instructional argument for full inclusion.

Listen to Erin make the moral argument talking about the experience of a student with autism …

I think for our students with autism, the inclusive environment provides some really wonderful benefits that are almost impossible to be captured in a special day class environment. And while certainly a student with autism is going to face challenges in peer-to-peer relationships, socialization, sometimes even language and conversation, I think that unless they are provided that opportunity to interact with authentically motivating peers, they’re not going to be given that opportunity to rise …. When we really put all hands on deck in terms of the adult team, we can support any learner in the general education classroom.

He then backs up that argument up with a deep nuts and bolts understanding of the instructional practices that allow full inclusion to be successfully implemented.

As CHIME’s success became more widely known, it was only natural that it would begin to rub off on others. That included inspiring WISH to open, another extraordinary charter school in Los Angeles …

… citing explicitly in their mission statement that they have been inspired by the example that CHIME has set for us all.

More broadly, the experience of CHIME sparked a new conversation across the State of California, one ultimately resulting in hundreds of California charter schools receiving the authority and the autonomy needed to implement their own special education programs, the vast majority of which featured a commitment to full-inclusion beyond anything seen in California’s district schools. Indeed, research from a few years back …

… showed that 90% of special education instruction in California charter schools happens in inclusive settings, compared to only 53% in traditional public schools.

So much of this progress can be traced back to the inspiration of one trailblazing organization with an incredibly caring and compelling leader.

What we do here at CHIME is incredibly important and it’s special and it’s wonderful and it’s possible when a community of teachers and parents and administrator come together with a commitment to educate all kids.

For serving as a national beacon demonstrating the commitment to inclusion that is found at the heart of the charter school movement, we couldn’t be happier than to recognize Erin Studer as CharterFolk Extraordinaire.