Gestalt Community Schools, which I co-founded six years ago with my partner Derwin Sisnett, serves close to 2,300 children in Memphis. From the beginning, we’ve focused on building authentic relationships with families and providing our scholars with high-quality educational opportunities. We knew that what happens outside of schools impacts what happens inside and vice versa, so we built community-based schools that address both needs. As we were developing Gestalt, we did not spend much time focusing on traditional advocacy.
Today’s political landscape, however, compels us to be more actively involved. It’s our duty, now more than ever, to push locally and nationally to teach people who we are, what we stand for and to correct pervasive myths about charter schools.
This week, about 20 leaders of color of high-quality charter schools from across the country are convening in Washington, D.C., to network and learn from each other and our champions at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools — and to get in-depth guidance on effective advocacy.
Many educators are doing amazing things to create much-needed opportunities for children in cities across America, and many are leading important advocacy efforts to advance the work, but I know I have a lot to learn, and I think we all — as a movement — have a lot to learn.
Here are the questions I’m most eager to start answering:
- How can we expand our local influence to fuel the growth of high-quality charter schools and to empower our families? We were born in Memphis and we are committed to growing in Memphis, so our top goal is strengthening our relationships with local community leaders and local elected officials.
- How can we join a nationwide movement to impact the support of charter schools and high-quality schools in general? Those of us leading high-quality charters in different U.S. cities need to work together to influence policies that affect our families and students, from national charter school policies to immigration policies.
- How can we foster more collaboration between high-quality charter schools, district schools and private schools? Educators — no matter their schools’ governance — want the best of the best for their kids. To be effective, we need to start working together more effectively to advocate for high-quality education for our kids. I’ve heard about some of the work happening in cities like Denver, but we need to do more to learn from each other how to foster cross-sector collaboration between traditional public schools, public charters and private schools.
- How can we continue to formalize some of the informal work that has happened in our movement over the last decade? To be effective, we need to be organized, and we need to work together. Sharing best practices can’t continue to happen by chance, and I’m so grateful to NAPCS for organizing this group around this important mandate.
In a way, it is surprising that the charter school movement — which is now in its 25th year — is not further along in organizing leaders of color to advocate on behalf of their schools and the communities they serve, but I’m excited to be part of the pioneering group working to learn and start answering some of these pressing questions.