Conviction Across the Generations – Our Greatest Reason for Hope

Weekend greetings, CharterFolk.

Many thanks to so many of you who reached out with emails and phone calls about my post about the Camino.

Many thanks also to Erin Studer …

… for his great post on special education this week, building on the equally great one that Lydia Hoffman offered on the same topic while I was away.

CharterFolk tag-teaming on a tough issue, like how we get better collectively at special education.

Love it.

Thank you again, guys.

Meanwhile, it certainly was an action-packed week in Charterland.

Tuesday’s elections were instructive, with both Virginia legislative races and Denver school board races playing out along themes we have been tracking here at CharterFolk for quite some time.

I’m not nearly the Virginia expert that Andy is, of course. But a few months back, we mused …

… on the dynamics surrounding Governor Youngkin’s efforts to tip both sides of the state’s legislature to Republican control. At one point in the conversation, I shared that I had seen reports that Virginia voters thought the Republicans were out of step on matters related to abortion and that Democrats were seen to be out of step on school choice, and the election would be a test case for which out-of-step-ness would matter most.

Well …

… we appear to have our answer.

As it relates to education policy, the results mean we won’t soon be seeing Virginia move out of its status of being what I have called “the largest charter school dead zone in the country.”

Meanwhile, in Denver, the school district having fully earned its moniker “Dysfunctional Public Schools” …

… the voters have initiated a course correction, defeating three teacher-union-supported candidates.

With Colorado being the state having the third highest percentage of public school students served by charter schools, where we have a newly elected Mayor in Denver who is a strong supporter …

… as well as a strongly supportive governor who just last week proposed a state budget that would fully eliminate the funding inequity that has long bedeviled state authorized charter schools …

… Colorado looks like the Anti-Virginia.

The Anti-Charter School Dead Zone.

A Charter School Bursting-With-Life-Zone, in fact.

It leaves many eagerly wondering what comes next.

My recommendation would be going forward with all the urgency we can muster while fundamentally staying the course.

Because my experience is that things are rarely as bad as we think they are when we’ve lost the last election, nor are they as good when we’ve won the most recent.

And by the time we’ve reacted in response to whatever the latest election result was, either putting more effort into places where we think things have gotten more favorable, or pulling back from where we perceive things have gotten more harsh, the world has changed again.

What we need is what we always need: Even more commitment and fuel to keep going toward a destination we are always striving toward.

Not so long ago, in the context of writing about Denver, I said we need a new coherence …

… a new North Star that will guide our efforts …

… when things are 7-0, as well as for when they are 0-7, and for every gradation in between.

As it is at the Denver school district level, and at virtually every major urban school district in country, so it is for alive and dead-zone states.

The moment requires a new coherence.

A North Star by which to navigate in Virginia, and Colorado, and every gradation in between.

Conviction Across the Generations – Our Greatest Reason for Hope

Much has happened in Charterland during my time on the Camino. I’m eager to turn my attention to the road that lies ahead. But before I do that, I have some unfinished business I have to attend to.

In my last days before taking off for Spain, I was working on a post about former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who passed away in the days before I left.

But in the last minute scramble before leaving, I couldn’t get it done.

Then, as fate would have it, who was the Contributor Columnist who offered the last post during my absence?

Hanna Skandera, former New Mexico Secretary of Education, and now President and CEO of the Daniels Fund, who wrote about the Fund working to grow by 100,000 the number of students attending highly successful charter schools and other innovative schools in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

So when I got back and re-opened the CharterFolk platform for the first time and found my still unfinished post about Richardson and New Mexico, I knew I had work to do.

Because, while there was much commentary after Richardon’s passing about other matters …

… little focused on the fact that the governor was a passionate champion for charter schools.

During his time as governor, he enacted legislation allowing the state to become an authorizer of charter schools, and he created significant new facilities resources for charter schools as well.

By the end of his governorship, he talked proudly about having doubled the number of charter schools in New Mexico, and he took his passion for charter schools to the campaign trail when he ran for president.

His was the kind of track record that led friends to call for him to be appointed U.S. Secretary of Education.

And he went on championing charter schools through the rest of his life, including his comments before Charter Schools of New Mexico just two years ago.

Such was Bill Richardson’s record on charter schools, one that merits our world’s recognition and thanks.

He certainly has mine.

I had the good fortune of meeting Governor Richardson one time. It was an encounter I well remember.

I was in Albuquerque in the fall of 2005 to announce grant funding for a charter school we were calling High Tech High Albuquerque at the time …

… but which went on to become known as the Albuquerque Institute for Math and Science

… a school located on the University of New Mexico campus that is now recognized to be one of the highest performing public high schools in the United States and the single best public high school in all of New Mexico.

At the time of my visit, the partnership with UNM was still just a pipe dream, but Richardson supported it and was doing what he could behind the scenes to make it happen. At some point in the day as people were being shuffled in and out of his office, the two of us were left alone for a moment. He came around from behind his desk and approached me.

“You have to understand,” he said. “Supporting charter schools makes no sense for me politically. But it’s matter of conviction for me.

It was the kind of conviction that led him to take many risks in order to improve public education in New Mexico.

… including his decision to support a state constitutional amendment that, among other changes, would give the governor the authority to appoint the state’s Secretary of Education.

A battle he ultimately won.

It was an idea reflective of the spirit he brought to all of his work related to public education, one infused with awareness that those who have authority over our public schools should be people of conviction.

Years later, the state’s next governor, Susana Martinez, used the authority that her predecessor had granted her to nominate Hanna Skandera to be the state’s Secretary of Public Education.

But Hanna’s ideas were such that the education establishment rebelled, leading its defenders in the New Mexico Senate to refuse to even vote on her confirmation.

It went on for years.

… making her nomination A1 fodder time and time again …

… with one article, in the lead paragraph, actually quoting Hanna’s parents about her astounding resiliency.

Hanna Skandera comes from a family of long-distance runners.

“There’s something in us — a certain perseverance,” said her father, Harry Skandera, by phone from Santa Rosa, Calif. “There’s a very strong value in our family — if you believe that something is right, you stick with it.”

When asked herself, Hanna attributed her staying power to the same word Richardson cited:

Hanna Skandera’s perseverance has been tested over and over during her first three years as state secretary-designate of public education for Gov. Susana Martinez. The tumultuous period has been nothing if not a trial of endurance. Skandera has been criticized, insulted and questioned during three days of Senate Rules Committee confirmation hearings, and she has been berated by educators who do not think she understands or respects them.

Most of the time, Skandera maintains her composure while flashing a confident smile ….

Told that she sticks to her message well, Skandera, 40, said, “It’s not a message. It’s a conviction.”


And so, Hanna forged on serving in an unconfirmed status, driving an ambitious package of reforms unapologetically …

… including, of course, strong support for the growth of high quality charter schools.

And four long years later, when she was finally confirmed …

… what was one of the first words she turned to after having secured her appointment?

“I would say I’m humbled and excited, knowing that my conviction to the state continues and would have continued regardless of the outcome,” Skandera said. “But this outcome is a significant moment where we can come together as adults and really begin to focus.”

Conviction, of course.

During her years of service, Hanna drew an amazing group of leaders to her team, including Amanda Aragon, Executive Director at NewMexicoKidsCAN and Matt Pahl, who has gone on to serve as the CEO of the New Mexico Charter Schools Association, which just last month was awarded a big new CSP grant …

… to help expand highly successful charter schools in New Mexico.

It’s a growth initiative that is only possible because a coalition of advocacy groups has come together to defend the policy wins that Governor Richardson generated nearly 20 years ago.

A coalition whose leadership is infused with what special quality?

Why, conviction, of course.

It’s a conviction of multi-generational continuity going all the way back to the governorship of Bill Richardson.

Here at CharterFolk, we try to remind our world what it is that makes the charter school movement unique.

What it is that makes our reform effort different from all the others that have come before us and gives us the potential to achieve what none before us have.

One answer is that we are a reform effort that has been around for over thirty years now.

More than a generation.

And across the generations we see people of conviction pushing through seemingly insurmountable obstacles only to find themselves in new perches where they can have even greater impact.

Like a highly successful governor who goes on to run for president.

Like a transformational Secretary of Education with purview over one state’s education efforts now running a foundation supporting bold reform in four.

Like young staffers who go on to take new positions of leadership where increased resources elevate their impact to levels hardly imaginable just a few years ago.

All CharterFolk of conviction doing their parts and then looking to pass along the torch to the next generation of CharterFolk a-coming.

From where I sit, I see no end in sight.

To either the generations, or to the conviction.

It may very well be our greatest reason for hope.