The Angle of Repose in Utah – A Lay of the Land Inclined Toward Public Education Greatness

Good day, CharterFolk

Last week was a great week.

How do I define a great week?

Having a chance to visit four great charter schools, of course.

What I didn’t know was that one of the four would be named for one of my favorite authors …

… whose masterpiece …

… takes its title from the geologic term …

… describing the talus slopes you will find at the base of rock formations, like this one in Moab.

I found it fitting that a school named after such an esteemed writer, would itself be a kind of masterpiece.

Wallace Stegner Academy is the creation of two extraordinary …

… educators …

… who, after demonstrating unprecedented levels of success in their 6th grade classrooms within district public schools, went on to found a charter school organization that is now generating some of the highest academic outcomes in all of Salt Lake City …

… and is preparing to open its third campus in the fall.

And with no impediments in sight to charter school growth in the Utah landscape, Wallace Stegner seems on a trajectory for opening up even more great schools soon.

Earlier in the day we had been at another charter school that takes inspiration from a legend.

Riffing off Mr. Rogers famous 1-4-3 adage “I love you,” Roots Charter School

… has created its 2-4-3 approach, “We love you,” designed to support the school’s unique population of kids who have not experienced success in other educational settings.

Program Director Larissa Little and graduating senior Estrella Armendariz Alba …

… walked us around the fully functioning farm that is another of the school’s hallmarks …

… and discussed one of the great conundrums confronting the school community.

How do they keep the small intimate feel they know is making a profound difference in many students’ lives, while also knowing that many communities across Utah have expressed the desire to have a Roots school in their area as well?

Managing the challenges of high demand for growth is something that Beehive Science and Technology Academy

… is grappling with as well.

Long-time Executive Director, Hanifi Oguz explained to me …

… how the school’s focus on STEM education …

… is resonating with parents and policy makers alike.

Having been identified by U.S News and World Report to be the top public high school in Utah for three years in a row …

… Beehive recently completed the development of a new facility that allowed it to add an elementary school.

Not surprisingly, the organization is now considering its next campus and features prominently …

… in discussions about how Utah’s charter schools have grown to serve 12% of students statewide and see no end in sight to further growth in the years to come.

In between school visits, Royce Van Tassel, Executive Director of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools

… and I had the opportunity to meet with state legislators who have advanced charter-supportive policies, including a one-of-a-kind statute that deems charter school facilities an approved use in every zoning district in the state.

It’s the kind bold and imaginative policy making that now poises Utah’s charter school movement to make as much progress in the years ahead as any state in the nation.

We wrapped up our whirlwind tour stopping by Early Light Academy

… where Executive Director Stephanie Schmidt …

… walked us around one of the most spectacular campuses I have ever visited …

… as she described leading a school that all five of her own kids have attended.

Making schools for other people’s kids every bit as exceptional as we would expect for our own.

Indeed.

CharterFolk, we live in a time, when many other parts of the country seem bent on doing pointless damage …

… to the lay of the charter school land.

In Utah, meanwhile, they are finding the proper angle of repose.

One inclined toward public education greatness.