Welcome to CharterFolk

Welcome to CharterFolk.

You will find here that I often pose a question and then try to answer it.  I’ll start today with this one:

So what is CharterFolk?

It’s a place for the people who are the heart of the charter school movement.

Full stop.

It’s a place for us to convene, to improve our collective intuition about the path forward, and to deepen our commitment to one another and to our shared mission, which is to improve public education for absolutely all students and families in the United States.

Another way to say it, is that CharterFolk is a place where those from our world come together to express anew and hear anew our collective voice …

I start out the work on CharterFolk remembering well the promise I made when I set out on my last big undertaking.

It was December 6, 2008 at about 9:00 in the morning.  I was in my office at High Tech High.  I got a call from Chris Nelson at the Fisher Fund letting me know on behalf of the CCSA Board of Directors that I had been selected to serve as the next CEO of the California Charter Schools Association.

It was one of the most exciting moments of my life.

After I got off the phone, I called my wife.  I walked next door to my old boss Larry Rosenstock’s office to let him know.  Then I shut off my cell phone.

And I drove to Brian Bennett’s house.

Brian was my very close friend and mentor, a leader in the charter school movement who was in the final stages of ALS.  Among the final professional gestures that Brian made was to serve as a reference to the CCSA Board regarding my application.

Brian was as strong a warrior for kids and families and underserved communities as anyone I have ever known.  He was also among the most passionately articulate people I had ever met, always able to use his amazing gift with words to advance the interests of kids and charter schools.

And so it was incredibly ironic and cruel that Brian contracted the form of ALS that goes after the voice first, and so for much of his final months he was unable to speak. 

Our conversations near the end included him typing out the first letters of charter school names until I could recognize them and give him an update.

G-O-M …

Gompers?  Brian, let me tell you the latest I know about Gompers.

F-I-V …

Five Keys?  Let me tell you about their school.

And so on and so on.  School after school. 

Aside from the love of his family and friends, it was what mattered most to him all the way until the very end – the potential of charter schools to make things better for everyone.

It was something he could no longer express himself personally because the terrible disease had taken one of our most precious gifts, the voice of Brian Bennett.

And so, when I got to Brian’s house that morning, after letting him know the news, I promised him that, “for however long I might serve in this role, I will make sure that the voice of Brian Bennet will be forever heard.”

During my nearly 10 years at CCSA, there were a number of difficult hours where I found great inspiration in the example that Brian had set for me, and the promise I made to him served as a scaffold upon which I summoned a level of resiliency I did not know existed within me.

And as I hope those around me would attest, I kept my promise to Brian up to my last hours on the job at CCSA, living out an allegiance to the things that Brian held most important as a way of making sure that his voice was forever heard.

But since leaving CCSA, the experience of driving to Brian’s house and making that promise has surfaced in my thoughts again and again.

I remember it so distinctly.

Not … “for as long as I am the CEO of CCSA.”

But … “for as long as I would serve in this role.”

Why did I word my promise to him like that?

A simple quirk of language?

Or an ambiguity that compels me onto something more?

Because my sense now, having cogitated on this for many months, is that, while my time at CCSA is behind me, “the role” I referred to that morning at Brian’s is not.

The promise is not complete. 

In the same way that a dreadful disease had taken something from Brian, my sense now is that something has been dreadfully taken from us all.

The blowback, the questioning of our motives, the outright attacks against us, even amid this terrible pandemic that we are all living through now.

What has happened to us?

Many of us have gone quiet, or at least quieter.

So much so that it’s fair to ask whether we have lost our voice altogether.

And because of some quirk of fate, because of the incredible opportunities that have been afforded me over the years, I have been able to be there in intimate settings with those who believe in the potential of the charter school movement.

I’ve seen many of us at the end of our stamina tapping out their letters one by one …

I have seen the amazing commitment that people bring.  I have heard the incredible stories they tell and I have recognized how those stories are actually deeply connected, aggregate to something coherent, something that could, if properly summoned and curated into a kind of chorus, amount to a pointing of the way forward for us all.

Not just the voice of Brian Bennett.  But the voice of people like Brian.  Thousands of people.  CharterFolk.

A role.

One that has not ended.

One that has, if anything, only grown.

And taking on this role anew, my promise to you is the same that I made to Brian all those years ago.

To make sure that the Voice of CharterFolk shall be forever heard.

And in thinking about doing this, I aim not for something that will come and go, but something built to last around a community. 

That’s why I’m adopting a subscription model, one that is becoming common these days – people within various communities coalescing around certain writers. During the COVID era, I’ll make all subscriptions free and ask only those in a position to contribute to do so. 

The most important thing is to assemble a community of readers who have actively chosen to take part, a community large and diverse enough to spark the special kind of conversation our movement so needs of at this critical moment.

For those of you who subscribe, you will receive regular CharterFolk updates from me.  For everyone else, you will be able to access occasional articles that will be made available to all on the CharterFolk website.

My hope is that working hard to build a subscribing readership, I can create a platform that will allow CharterFolk to long endure. And I’m excited and humbled about the position from which we start – subscribers from every walk of charter life coming from as many states as we have charter school laws. 

But to make sure that the voice of CharterFolk is heard at the level that the times require, we need so many more. That’s why I ask all of you to please forward this message to all you consider CharterFolk and encourage them to subscribe using this link so that the community might grow.

To those many of you who are already helping spread the word, I say thank you!

I look forward to seeing you next time when I will address the following question:

So, Just What is it that We CharterFolk are Trying to Do?