Here's Why One Charter School Believes Diversity Is the Future

Jan 31, 2017 12:00:00 AM

by Nora Kern

There is a small but growing number of leaders engaging in intentionally diverse charter schools. To understand these schools and everything they are trying to achieve, it helps to listen to people creating, working in and sending their children to them. Intentionally diverse educational settings can be incredibly beneficial. These schools aim to bring students, staff and parents from all walks of life together. When done right, an intentionally diverse school weaves diversity into all aspects of its culture and instruction. This ensures that diversity translates into a meaningful, daily experience for every member of the school community. But creating intentionally diverse schools can be a challenge. One successfully intentionally diverse charter management organization is Valor Collegiate Academies in Nashville, Tennessee. Its flagship school achieved the highest standardized test scores in Nashville during its first year of operation. Valor schools’ academic results are supported by their focus on social-emotional learning, including an emphasis on diversity. Below, members of the Valor community share how diversity is valued and incorporated into their school culture. Diversity Is Part of the U.S. From Kasar Abdulla, Director of Community Outreach:
This school was intentionally built on diversity, and diversity was looked at in a very comprehensive approach—from socioeconomic status and the diversities within that, to racially and ethnically diverse populations. We have a community at Valor that is reflective not just of Nashville, Tennessee, but of the rest of the United States.
Diversity Gives a Broader Perspective From Leslie Mitchell, Parent:
[pullquote position="right"]It is a huge value of our family for our kids to be around peers who are diverse.[/pullquote] I believe very strongly in the power of relationships and stories to transform our perspective.
Diversity Promotes Effectiveness From Mariah Green, Lead Teacher, 5th and 6th Grade Writing:
Everybody is for the most part different. It’s not just White people. We have people that are LGBTQ, Kurdish, Puerto Rican and Black on our staff. So just on the surface, you can see that we’re a diverse staff. But even in our experiences—some of our people have gone to Stanford and Yale, some have done Teach for America—so I think bringing in all these different skill sets is making us effective.
Diversity Is Stronger When It Is Informed by the Community From Lauren Smith, Chief of Staff and External Affairs:
We do three to four surveys a year with our families. We send them home in English, Spanish, and Kurdish [the largest home languages spoken by Valor families]. We do online and paper versions…just to ensure that we are constantly hearing from our families. We do surveys with both scholars and families, and faculty.
Diversity Provides Opportunities From Kasar Abdulla, Director of Community Outreach:
I look at Valor scholars coming together and having conversations and doing projects together. And I know that if they had attended different schools, they would not have had that opportunity. I know that the young Kurdish man would not have had the opportunity to sit across from someone who does not look like him, sound like him, talk like him. When I see both of them having this strong bond together, this friendship, it gives me hope for our future.
Diversity is the Future From Daren Dickson, Chief Culture Officer:
[pullquote position ="right"]To me, this is what America aspires to be.[/pullquote] We’re trying to do it at a micro level; we clearly haven’t nailed it at a macro level yet. I think schools are an amazing place to start solving some of those problems at a smaller level and earlier on, and to really embed in kids, and students, and their families, a deep respect for diversity.
To learn more about diversity practices at Valor Collegiate Academies, please watch the video case study produced by the National Charter School Resource Center (NCSRC). The NCSRC also recently released a toolkit aimed to guide charter school leaders and stakeholders through the decisions that go into founding and maintaining an intentionally diverse charter school.

Nora Kern

Nora Kern is the Senior Associate at Safal Partners Inc. and has nearly a decade of experience in education policy and charter schools through her experience in non-profit and government organizations. Nora is committed to researching and promoting educational best practices that help all students access a high-quality education. Prior to joining Safal Partners, Nora authored a variety of research, policy, advocacy, and social media products during the five years she worked at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. She has also held a government relations position with the Data Quality Campaign and worked on Capitol Hill for a Georgia congressman. Nora began her career as a fourth grade teacher in a rural Florida charter school and was then selected for an education policy fellowship sponsored by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Nora graduated as valedictorian with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and minors in education and Italian studies from the University of Florida.

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