Announcing the Winner of the CharterFolk of the Year Award

Good morning CharterFolk.

Today it is our distinct pleasure to report that the readers of CharterFolk have selected Danielle West-Augustin, Chief Academic Officer and Director of Queen City Academy Charter School in Plainfield New Jersey, as the CharterFolk of the Year!

Without a doubt, Danielle is a shining example of what our movement is all about, creating improved educational opportunity for kids and families in a community that she cares so much about, while also providing critically needed advocacy leadership in support of all charter schools. Congratulations to Danielle and to everyone connected to Queen City Academy Charter School!

Congratulations also to our three extraordinary runners up.

You are all amazing educators making a vital contribution to students and families and to the well-being of the national charter school movement.

In the coming days we will be reaching out to all winners to determine how best to forward award funding – $2,000 for the winner and $1999 for each runner-up. All we ask here at CharterFolk is that awardees remember that the purpose of the CharterFolk of the Year Award was to cast attention on the extraordinary contribution that CharterFolk are making, and for communities to have a chance to step back and celebrate that success. So when you’re able to get your school communities together to party like it’s 1999, please send us a picture or two. We’ll be sure to pass them along to the rest of the CharterFolk readership in hopes of catalyzing a broader commitment to celebration across the entire movement.

We would like to extend a special thanks to the hundreds of readers who participated in the CharterFolk of the Year voting this year. You helped us generate a sense of excitement about the award which we will look to build upon in future years. We would also like to extend a thank you to all of the leaders who were recognized as CharterFolk X this year. There is no greater testament to the impact that the national charter school movement is making than the stunning people who are being attracted to it. Your inspiring efforts help us all find within ourselves that additional level of commitment needed to push on in support of even better outcomes for students and communities in the future.

CharterFolk Extraordinaire 2020-21

Finally, we would like to thank everyone connected to CharterFolk for your support during our first year. We make this announcement on the anniversary of our first post, which was sent out on June 8th, 2020. It’s been a phenomenal first year, and we look forward to celebrating an equally stunning group of leaders in Year 2.

Kind regards to you all.

CharterFolk Chat #10 – Kim Smith, Returning to First Principles

Good morning, CharterFolk.

Today I am delighted to share with you a CharterFolk Chat with Kim Smith.

As always, you can access the chat at Youtube, but I’m excited to share that readers can now also listen to the chat through Spotify and Apple Podcasts, where you will find links to all previously recorded CharterFolk Chats as well.

During the interview, I introduced Kim as follows:

As CharterFolk know, Kim Smith needs no introduction in our world. She is as responsible for as many good things in our movement as anyone I know. Nearly 20 years ago [editor’s note: it was actually 23 years ago] she helped found the New School Venture Fund which was among the most influential early organizations in the charter school movement, which became responsible for the support of many other organizations that have had huge impact. After founding New Schools, Kim went on to create Pahara, another huge impact organization within the charter school movement and education reform movement, which helped us develop great new talent, helped us diversify our talent, and helped us as a movement become more sensitive to the needs of the communities that we serve. About 18 months ago, Kim made a transition to her next phase in life which I am really curious to hear about. But before we get to that, I am just going to underscore my own personal gratitude for all that Kim has done. There are very few people who I have learned as much from, and who I have found tone right and perceptive in setting after setting after setting. There are also very few people who I am as intimidated by to interview as Kim Smith. So I’m really thrilled to have you here with us this morning. Thanks, Kim, for being here.

I’ll add that in my recorded introduction, I left out her “oh by the way” accomplishments of having helped found both Teach For America and Bellwether Education Partners, two additional organizations that have had enormous influence on efforts to improve public education in the United States.

During our conversation, Kim was as insightful as she always is. I hope CharterFolk will have a chance to hear the interview in its entirety. For those of you interested in a thumbnail summary, I provide a few highlights below.

  • Kim starts off reprising a comment she heard Don Shalvey share during an earlier CharterFolk Chat about how a decade at an organization is about the right “shelf life.” Having spent that amount of time at Pahara, now seemed the right moment to make a transition which she has used to get new perspective on the work.
  • At the 11 minute mark, Kim recounts the “first principles” that drew her to charter schools earlier in her career. She also talks about how charter schools’ first principles allowed them to avoid the “epic fails” that many school districts experienced during the Covid crisis.
  • At 23:30, Kim talks about the systems-level drivers we can be using to accelerate improvement of public education, including carefully designed voucher programs and policy proposals to dismantle redlining attendance boundaries and other inequities in the system. She also shares how we might find new allies within public education to help us drive for more foundational reform.
  • At 28:50, after acknowledging the fact that our movement has made great progress in our early decades, Kim identifies one of our shortcomings to have been failing to articulate a vision for a compelling new end state for public education.
  • At 31:20, Kim describes some of the conditions that were in place over a decade ago that led her to conclude that an organization like Pahara needed to be made.
  • At 34:40, Kim brings up the critical need to develop deeper levels of partnership with the communities that we serve, which will give us the standing we need to push through the bolder reforms of public education that many parents are now demanding.
  • At 38:30, I ask Kim within which context, charter or otherwise, would she be most inclined to start a new entrepreneurial endeavor if the central objective was to create bold new innovation.
  • At 43:30, Kim points out the critical need to reunify education reformers whose first focus is racial equity with reformers whose first focus is creating innovation.
  • At 48:30 Kim addresses CharterFolk directly, acknowledging how draining it is for charter school leaders to play defense against massive opposition, while also innovating and getting done the critical things that parents and students need. She then challenges philanthropic partners and advocacy organizations to create the policy ecosystem that would allow CharterFolk to refocus on the incredibly difficult work of improving education.
  • At the 54 minute mark, Kim offers a parting thought about a study she came across earlier in life that she uses to frame “the how” of our work in ways that consistently resonates deeply with others.

It was a great conversation. Many thanks again to Kim for taking part in this CharterFolk Chat!