Outgoing CharterFolk Board Chair Emilio Pack Offers a CharterFolk Reflection: A 50/50 Chance and Finding a Window

Good morning CharterFolk,

This morning we are honored to share a Contributor Column from Emilio Pack, the Founder and CEO of STEM Prep Schools and the outgoing inaugural Board Chair of CharterFolk.

We provide a bio for Emilio below.

Dr. Emilio Pack is the founder and CEO of STEM Prep Schools, a public school network designed to increase proficiency, graduation, and college acceptance rates for students of color. In this role, Emilio leverages strategic community, district, and cross-network charter partnerships to focus on reversing the under-representation of minorities in STEM-related fields. Prior to founding STEM Prep Schools, Emilio helped to launch, staff, and lead charters for Alliance College-Ready Public Schools. In 2019, Emilio was recognized by Education Week as a “Leaders to Learn From” for his leadership in access and opportunity for students of color. He was also awarded the prestigious Hart Vision Award as the California Charter School Leader of the Year in 2017. In 2015, the Los Angeles Business Journal awarded STEM Prep the Latino Nonprofit of the Year. That same year, Emilio was profiled by L.A. Weekly Magazine as one of its “People of the Year.” Emilio received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Psychology from Loyola Marymount University and California State University-Los Angeles, and a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership and Administration from Pepperdine University. Emilio is the proud son of a single mother who came to the United States from Cuba to seek better opportunities for her son. He is a Fellow of the 24th class of the Pahara – Aspen Education Fellowship and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network.

A CharterFolk Reflection: A 50/50 Chance and Finding a Window

As I bid farewell to my role as the outgoing founding Board Chair of CharterFolk, and soon as the CEO of STEM Prep Schools, I am filled with a myriad of emotions. The journey we’ve embarked upon together has been nothing short of remarkable – a testament to the unwavering dedication, passion, and resilience of our community. While I reflect on the experiences, challenges, and triumphs we’ve shared, I am reminded of the profound impact CharterFolk has had and will continue to have on the landscape of education.

When Jed set out to establish CharterFolk, the vision was clear: to amplify the voices of charter school advocates and champions, celebrate their achievements, and advocate for policies that prioritize educational equity and excellence. With every article published, conversation sparked, and initiative launched, we have upheld this vision with unwavering commitment. I am so excited for you to soon hear from our incoming Board Chair, Kristen McGraw, on her ideas regarding these topics and more. Along with Jed and the rest of the Board, they will ensure that CharterFolk will thrive and evolve.

Our journey has been marked by both triumphs and trials. We have celebrated legislative victories advocating for expanded educational opportunities for so many students across the nation. We have rallied together in the face of adversity, standing firm in our belief that every child deserves access to a high-quality education, regardless of their background or zip code.

But perhaps what I cherish most about my time with CharterFolk are the relationships forged and the bonds strengthened along the way. We have shared in each other’s joys and sorrows, supported one another through the challenges, and celebrated the milestones achieved. Together, we built a community grounded in shared values, mutual respect, and a collective commitment to educational equity.

I was recently reminded of powerful relationships when I heard Casey Taylor, Superintendent of Achieve Schools, in Paradise, California, speak at this year’s California Charter School Association conference. Casey shared her founder’s story of seeking authorization for Achieve Schools. She sought the guidance of our dear friend and the Godfather, Don Shalvey. As usual, he imparted sage advice. She recounted how he provided the backbone of a charter petition for her to submit and told her to give it a shot. “I give you a 50/50 chance of getting approved.” Casey was a bit taken back by these odds. Don, sensing her trepidation, put his hand on hers and said, “With charter schools, you always take a 50/50 chance.” He further mused and shared his take on a timeless adage, “When they close a door on you, you just have to go through a window.” These lessons and beliefs once again guided Casey as she led her organization through the devastation after the Camp Fire destroyed much of Paradise, California in 2018, including her home and the Achieve Charter School. She did not give up. She stayed, rebuilt, and took her experiences to help other leaders whose communities fell victim to similar circumstances. She embraced her less than 50/50 chance of restoring her school and fought for her community. She climbed through every metaphorical boarded up window when the doors were all slammed shut. Years later, she continues to pay it forward.

And there it was: a bright reminder of why I continue to be a part of the CharterFolk community. I’ve been lucky enough to witness lessons that are passed down from leader to leader in this beautiful movement and the indelible human spirit of CharterFolk, a community that has one goal – to ensure the best possible outcomes for our young people. 

To my fellow CharterFolk, I extend my deepest gratitude for your unwavering dedication, tireless advocacy, and relentless pursuit of excellence. Together, we have made a lasting impact on the lives of students and families across the country, and our legacy will endure for generations to come.

Thank you, CharterFolk, for letting me be part of this unforgettable journey with you. The best is yet to come.

The Danger in Drawing Conclusions from Amelia Bedelia

Good day, CharterFolk.

Some of you may have seen this article resurface in recent days.

The Atlantic highlighted it in their “One Article to Read” feature last week.

It highlights a sobering problem, the fact that youngsters these days read for fun much less than prior generations.

What conclusion does the article draw about what’s to blame?

NCLB and Common Core.

As several educators explained to me, the advent of accountability laws and policies, starting with No Child Left Behind in 2001, and accompanying high-stakes assessments based on standards, be they Common Core or similar state alternatives, has put enormous pressure on instructors to teach to these tests at the expense of best practices.

Apparently, the boogeyman is an overbearing pedagogy forcing kids to search for literal meaning in texts so that they can pass a test, thereby undercutting the love of reading something fun like Amelia Bedelia.

The NCLB and Common Core-mandated pedagogy, the article states, requires teachers to present isolated paragraphs to students rather than whole stories, which saps the experience of its joy.

For anyone who knows children, this is the opposite of engaging: The best way to present an abstract idea to kids is by hooking them on a story. “Nonliteral language” becomes a whole lot more interesting and comprehensible, especially to an 8-year-old, when they’ve gotten to laugh at Amelia’s antics first. The process of meeting a character and following them through a series of conflicts is the fun part of reading. Jumping into a paragraph in the middle of a book is about as appealing for most kids as cleaning their room.

It’s the latest malady in public education attributed to NCLB and Common Core.

Some claim Common Core killed off history.

Others say NCLB did the same to art.

I’m not sheepish about surfacing my criticism of reform efforts gone awry.

… including naive thinking embedded in NCLB.

Nor am I naive, however, about the motivations behind efforts to discredit all forms of state-mandated testing.

So when I see people making boogeymen of NCLB and Common Core yet again, rather than taking into account many other broader societal trends that are clearly affecting whether kids today read for fun …

… trends that Jonathan Haidt shows quite convincingly …

… are resulting in our kids neither reading nor having fun, much less reading and having fun …

… I know enough to refrain from drawing facile conclusions.

Amelia Bedelia is a cultural icon.

Social commentators have been drawing conclusions about the woman who draws the drapes since the series first came out more than 60 years ago.

An alternative reading of her character, one advanced in this New Yorker article a few years ago …

… argues that Amelia Bedelia is not some clueless person naively unaware of the wrong interpretations she makes of words, but is rather someone who consciously knows what she’s doing in order to spread chaos.

When it comes to presenting NCLB and Common Core as responsible for nearly every negative thing we see in public education today …

… and encouraging people to draw ridiculously facile conclusions …

… such as the idea that NCLB and Common Core are responsible for kids not reading for fun as much these days …

You tell me, CharterFolk.

The work of clueless people naively unaware of what they’re doing?

Or conscious efforts to spread chaos everywhere?

Amelia Bedelia indeed.