Two Under-Appreciated Essentials That Can Help Overcome Any Challenge

Weekend greetings, CharterFolk.

I’m aware that, stretching back a few weeks, I’m still behind a post. So I’ll try to catch up with a quick one today.

It’s another one of my “it’s no rocket science” posts about how we build advocacy strength.

It’s more in the camp of things we know but don’t remember enough, or don’t want to have to think about because the truths can sometimes be uncomfortable and inconvenient.

Let’s get to it.

Moxie and Togetherness in Connecticut

Over the weekend I saw this great op-ed by Ruben Felipe, the Executive Director at the Connecticut Charter Schools Association.

Long time CharterFolk readers will remember that Ruben penned an awesome Contributor Column last year.

In that piece, Ruben explained how it’s hard to find a place bluer than Connecticut, a state with massive built-up status quo interests doing all they can to oppose charter schools. And yet, in spite of that, the underlying conditions of public education in Connecticut – the inherent unfairness of an overall system that is no bigger than Los Angeles and yet has broken itself up into 200 red-lined school districts where funding and quality educational opportunity is allocated to those with means and is denied to those without …

… where a charter school sector has emerged that is widely recognized to be providing higher quality educational opportunity to its students than the traditional system –

“To us, [the 2020 data] confirms the findings from [the 2015 study], that students in Choice programs are higher achieving and, in general, we’re seeing that growth in charters [charter schools] is stronger than some of the other Choice programs as well,” said Ajit Gopalakrishnan, chief performance officer for state Department of Education.

– it is abundantly clear that the status quo simply cannot hold in Connecticut.

Ruben recounts these circumstances in his new op-ed and closes with the following:

As someone who has spent years working in education in Connecticut and as a parent who had three children educated in a failing school district, I have seen firsthand the impact that charter schools can have on students and their families.

The communities of Danbury, Norwalk, Middletown and New Haven have waited long enough. Now is the time to set politics aside and agree to do what is best for the students and families who are counting on us. We cannot fail them.

These four communities have followed the rules and have done everything that was asked. Now, it’s Hartford’s turn to step up to the plate and do what needs to be done to ensure that these four schools receive the necessary funding to move forward and open their doors. We need our leaders to put the will of thousands of families ahead of the whims of a few privileged, politically connected individuals.

In the past two years, Ruben and other Connecticut CharterFolk have been doing a lot of things right.

In addition to winning new funding equity for charter schools in the state legislature, the association was recently awarded a large new CSP grant from the feds. The remaining obstacle to growth is Connecticut’s cockamamie charter approval system where not only do schools have to be approved by the state’s authorizer, but schools also have to get new line items approved in the state budget. It’s been a process convoluted enough to stymie new openings for several years.

What makes things different this time around is that previously there was just one approved charter school that was actively seeking funding from the legislature.

This year …

… there …

…are …

… four.

And all are bringing the same spirit of unapologetic-ness to their advocacy on behalf of their own schools that Ruben is bringing on behalf of the whole sector, including his organization’s effort to advance a bill that would do away with the state’s cockamamie two-step approval process altogether.

We still don’t know how this is going to play out. Things hang in the balance.

But if 2023 turns out to be the year that growth breakthroughs are finally achieved in Connecticut, we know it will be due to Ruben and the entire Connecticut charter school community summoning new capacity to bring two under-appreciated essentials:

Moxie and Togetherness.

Moxie and Togetherness in DC

Similar dynamics are playing out in the nation’s capital.

Many CharterFolk readers are familiar with the great work of Patricia Brantley, the CEO of Friendship Public Charter School in DC. Pat was recognized as a CharterFolk Extraordinaire along with Friendship Founder Donald Hense back in 2021.

In addition to serving as the CEO of Friendship, Pat has been the founding Board Chair of the DC Alliance, the membership association driving advocacy efforts for the charter schools of DC.

The Alliance’s CEO is now Ariel Johnson who many CharterFolk will remember from the Contributor Column she offered a year and a half ago.

In that column, Ariel reminded us all how important it is to “Say the Thing.”

Speak truth.

Call out the unfairness that comes against our kids and families and school communities whenever it occurs.

A few weeks back we saw her do that very thing …

… calling out the Mayor of DC for proposing a funding increase for district schools while offering nothing comparable to charter schools.

“To ask public charter school leaders and teachers to continue serving students well with significantly fewer resources than DCPS exacerbates the inequity between the sectors and our most under-resourced students and their peers,” Ariel Johnson, executive director of the DC Charter School Alliance, writes in a Dec. 19 letter to Mayor Muriel Bowser and the Council.

It’s a policy proposal that, if allowed to stand, would result in charter schools being denied $200 million in new funding.

And now a new article has come out where the entire Friendship Public Charter School Community demonstrates the courage needed to “say the thing.”

The article starts with an extraordinary Friendship teacher making the case:

Jendayi Wright, a first grade teacher at Friendship Public Charter School (PCS) Blow Pierce Campus in Northeast said she found the proposal disturbing.  

Wright, a Friendship Collegiate Academy alumna, has been teaching at Friendship PCS Blow Pierce Campus for 11 years. During her tenure, The Washington Post recognized her as a teacher-of-the-year finalist.  She said she owed her success to the systems put in place at Friendship PCS Blow Pierce Campus that help teachers develop their pedagogy. 

Though she expressed great joy working in the charter network that educated her, Wright said that the uncertainty around pay might compel her to explore other options. “District public schools can be given one amount but it’s like we’re stepchildren [in the charter system],” Wright said. “We’re really [a] high-performing [school]. We work hard, plan rigorous lessons, and have two professional development [sessions] a week. And we provide our data. It’s really unfair.”

Then Pat comes in to make the closing argument.

“You can’t make blood out of stone,” Brantley said. “The D.C. Council and the mayor need to dig deep and make sure the funding is in place to make our educators whole. It’s critical and a priority. I believe it can be done. What we hear at the budget hearings is that this is important and the council is willing to do the work so that it happens.” 

It’s a great article, one that is galvanizing the entire charter school community to come together.

I am now told that nearly every charter school organization in DC has committed to come out in force to insist that their kids and schools be provided the funding equity they deserve.

It’s collectively “saying the thing.”

And while it may not always be comfortable for us all to speak assertively, or convenient to stand shoulder to shoulder with the entire charter school community, the truth is that it’s often the most powerful thing we can do.

Again, exactly how this will play out is too early to tell.

But if this breaks in a direction positive for charter schools, it will have come down to DC CharterFolk summoning two essential things that can help overcome any challenge:

Moxie and Togetherness.