At this year’s National Charter Schools Conference in Austin, Texas, thousands of charter school leaders, educators, board members, advocates, and policymakers had the opportunity to reflect on the strength of the charter school movement, learn from the successes of colleagues in other states, and plan for the work ahead.
During the conference’s first general session, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools president & CEO Nina Rees praised the state of Texas for its strong charter environment and role as an incubator of several prominent charter networks. Rees also shared four challenges for the nationwide charter movement moving forward:
- Innovate to prepare our students for the future
- Keep growing—and serve all students
- Focus on our mission—and work with allies
- Defend our schools and freedoms
Below, just some of the many PIE Network members in attendance weigh in with their highlights from the conference.
“Looking ahead, it’s critical for my colleagues in Tennessee and other states to not only pursue policies that strengthen the sector, but also keep a pulse on what works.”
Brett Turner, Tennessee SCORE’s director of policy and research, said one of his biggest takeaways from #NCSC18 involved opportunities to spread best practices:
“Without the economies of scale that larger charter networks possess, many schools spend significant time and energy in search of best practices that they can utilize in their communities,” Turner said. “Looking ahead, it’s critical for my colleagues in Tennessee and other states to not only pursue policies that strengthen the sector, but also keep a pulse on what works and develop strong professional learning networks to share and implement these best practices. Whether it’s the Department’s Charter School Dissemination Grant or Valor’s Compass Camp, there are good examples of opportunities to share what works that ultimately benefit all public school students.”
“As we think about pushing forward…we need to remember that every charter is different and that they are all focused on a type of schooling that parents could not otherwise access through traditional means.”
For Lizzette Reynolds, vice president of policy at the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a key conference highlight was the induction of IDEA Public Schools, Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School, and Camino Nuevo Charter Academy into the National Charter Schools Hall of Fame.
“Each of these charters is so distinct yet all their missions align as squarely focused on their students’ learning needs and environment,” Reynolds said. “As we think about pushing forward on charter policies in states, we need to remember that every charter is different and that they are all focused on a type of schooling that parents could not otherwise access through traditional means. Most importantly, let’s never forget the best honor is the honor of being selected by a parent as the best school for their kid.”
“As we head into the midterm elections, it was an inspiring reminder that we all need to show up for school board and other local elections.”
A standing room only discussion on how the 2018 elections could affect school choice included Network members Scott Jensen of American Federation for Children, Jonathan Nikkila of 50CAN, and Todd Ziebarth of NAPCS. According to Crystal Harmon, executive vice president, client team at TNTP:
“This group of phenomenal individuals reminded us that when it comes to public schools, local politics often matter most. As we head into the midterm elections, it was an inspiring reminder that we all need to show up for school board and other local elections. Those officials wield enormous influence over the daily experiences of students across the country, and they need to hear our voices.”
“remaining unified in the face of opponents who are very willing to – as the boxing metaphor goes – punch below the belt.”
Ben Lindquist, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools, focused on a session hosted by the National Charter Schools Institute that featured key national leaders in the charter school movement. “They reflected on the importance of: acting courageously to advocate for equity and justice for all children; remaining unified in the face of opponents who are very willing to – as the boxing metaphor goes – punch below the belt; and exercising the resolve, belief and stamina necessary to sustain our transformational work throughout our lifetimes.”
“Is it time for charters to start taking responsibility for districts’ success?”
Terry Ryan, executive director of Bluum, said a standout conference session this year posed the question: “Is it time for charters to start taking responsibility for districts’ success?” During the session, leaders from Denver Public Schools, Indianapolis Public Schools, and San Antonio Independent School District described their commitment to working with public charters for the benefit of their cities’ families and children.
“Important questions raised by San Antonio’s superintendent included—‘how do we create responsible options for kids and how do we expand options for families who have never had them?’ While Denver’s Tom Boasberg said his charter/district collaboration is really about ‘education equity and access.’ Students benefit when districts and charters partner.”
If you couldn’t attend #NCSC18 in person, make sure to check out the following Network member resources that were featured, and reach out for a connection:
- Charter School Deserts report, Thomas B. Fordham Institute
- Time to Change Course: Reclaiming the Potential of Texas Charter Schools, Foundation for Excellence in Education & Texas Public Policy Foundation
- Making School Choice Work for Families: DC School Reform Now’s High Quality Schools Campaign, CRPE