Good morning, CharterFolk.
My preparation for recognizing CharterFolk X this week reflects my experience getting to know CharterFolk more broadly over my nearly 25 years working in charter schools.
Someone (in this case Anna Hall, the CEO of the Northeast Charter School Network) tells you about some stunning X you need to get to know at a charter school doing amazing things for students and a local community. The more you learn about the great contributions of that X, the more you come to understand that there is also a Y and Z who are playing vital roles in making the charter school organization extraordinary.
So is what I came to learn about the extraordinary people who founded and lead the Charter School of Educational Excellence in Yonkers, New York. It starts with CSEE’s X – Eduardo LaGuerre, the school’s Founder and Chair.
As the picture attests, Eduardo is a builder. He has been building this school since its inception in 2005. In his volunteer role over that entire period, on top of his formal work leading a local nonprofit building housing for the homeless, Eduardo has helped create a school that has grown from serving a few hundred students in grades K-5 to now a K-12 serving over a thousand. Along the way, CSEE has been recognized as Reward School (one of the highest distinctions for academic excellence in New York) for five years running and has a waiting list of several hundred students. In the picture above, Eduardo is standing in front of CSEE’s high school building which is now under construction.
Given that CSEE has proven so successful …
… you would think that the powers-that-be would welcome the organization expanding to serve more grades and students. Sadly, of course, the exact opposite is the case. The local establishment has done all it can to prevent CSEE from opening up its high school, with the local school district superintendent on the record saying, “I absolutely do not believe in charter schools. I believe in public education.”
What’s the antidote to such nonsense?
Cindy Lopez, Superintendent of CSEE, who got to know Eduardo and the founders of CSEE before she had even completed her undergraduate degree. Once she graduated, she became a 4th grade teacher, rose to become school principal and now serves as superintendent. Listen to Cindy explain why the kids and families of CSEE have not been adequately served by the area traditional public schools and simply must have a better high school option.
Is there any question that someone who speaks with such moral authority about the needs of her students and her local community would ultimately prevail in the end?
Along the way, they had to make some tough compromises. In order to overcome the local school district’s opposition, CSEE had to agree to become a “regional school,” one that would have 50% of its students coming from outside Yonkers. In fact, after it had enrolled its first class of 9th graders, word came that the new 50% requirement applied not just to new high school students, but to all student including the K-8 students it had served previously. This meant that unless the school literally kicked out many Yonkers families it had been serving for more than a decade, it stood to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding.
What’s the antidote to such nonsense?
Sobeida Cruz, CSEE Co-Founder, bringing a level of heart to the work that is the driving force allowing the organization to come through whatever inane opposition is thrown at it. Listen to her talk about the new high school on its first day of operation.
Through a combination of fundraising and cost savings and simply hanging together as an incredibly tight-knit school community, they have managed to pull through without having displaced a single student or family from Yonkers. It goes to show that what is often the most important contribution of our CharterFolk X is the fact that they surround themselves with amazing CharterFolk Y and Z …
… and every other CharterFolk letter in the alphabet. Together, they bring the force to forge on against amazing odds, sometimes accepting short term compromises when they have to, but never wavering in their commitment to ultimately prevailing and getting the kids and community they care so much about the better public education they deserve. It’s why, despite all the opposition the organization has faced, CSEE is forging on with plans to open a second school in Yonkers next year so that they can finally serve all the kids on their waiting list.
Simply put, the Charter School of Educational Excellence is an extraordinary team and an extraordinary inspiration – all further reason why we couldn’t be happier than to recognize Eduardo, Cindy and Sobeida here as shining examples of what our movement is all about.