CharterFolk X Vol 14 – Caitlin Ritter, Ringing the Bell Across Generations

Good morning, CharterFolk.

Today it’s our pleasure to recognize Caitlin Ritter, Math Teacher at Concord Academy in Boyne Michigan as CharterFolk Extraordinaire.

I came across Caitlin’s story reviewing a series of articles about charter school teachers published by MAPSA, Michigan’s charter school association.

In the series, the Association highlights the great efforts of five charter school teachers in schools across Michigan. It’s well worth reading the whole series if you have a few minutes. All the teachers demonstrate being great at their craft to begin with and then doing even more for their students and communities in this time of pandemic.

What drew me in particular to Caitlin’s story was this picture.

When asked what one object best exemplifies her decision to become a teacher, she chose this bell, one that had been her grandmother’s, who had handed it down to Caitlin’s mother, who also was a teacher and who, in turn, handed it down to Caitlin.

Getting close now to having visited a thousand charter schools in my life, it’s a pattern I have seen repeated again and again. When you ask CharterFolk what motivated them to become a teacher or a school principal, many will answer that they are following in the footsteps of family members who spent the lives working in public education. As the article states, for Caitlin, a commitment to public education is “simply in the blood.”

That visceral level of connection to the work built up over generations breeds a groundedness and a staying power for our movement that helps us at all times but especially during times when political winds are changing. Concord Academy, the school where Caitlin teaches, was founded in 1995. It recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, releasing a deck telling the history of the school. The school posted that deck on Facebook on September 30.

What did they post the very next day?

A call to action to the entire school community asking all stakeholders to contact the governor about her outrageous attempt to cut tens of millions of dollars from charter school budgets.

Less than three months later, the school celebrated the fact that the governor’s budget ploy had been defeated.

As Dan Quisenberry, CEO of the Michigan charter school association, put it:

When moments of advocacy challenge arise for charter schools, it requires that whole communities respond. Our recent experience in Michigan shows that teachers play an incredibly important role. Put simply, when teachers act, and when they ask parents and others around them to do the same, our collective voice is heard and policy makers respond. It is just another reason why all of us at the Association are making even greater effort to recognize the remarkable commitment charter school teachers like Caitlin are showing to their students and communities.

So often our world is presented as something “outside,” or as something that has “come around lately,” when in reality many CharterFolk like Caitlin and many charter school organizations like Concord Academy have shown a commitment to public education that has lasted across generations. The groundedness growing out of that depth of commitment, combined with a willingness to get involved in collective advocacy efforts, is proving the special mix able to keep our movement on stride despite the new threats being thrown against it.

Whether it is showing how to overcome the coronavirus or a sudden new policy challenge, Caitlin and her entire school community show how bells of commitment ringing across generations provide us the strength needed to survive and thrive. It is another reason we couldn’t be happier than to recognize Caitlin here as CharterFolk Extraordinaire.