Black students

Highlighting Diversity in the Charter School Movement

There are a lot of myths about public charter schools, but one of the inescapable truths is that there is a growing cadre of educators of color who are finding new and better ways to help children learn by founding, leading or advocating for public charter schools. Education Post has been sharing their stories in traditional and social media. The series will continue indefinitely, but to mark National Charter Schools Week, we’ve collected several below:


Chris Goins of Chicago is founding principal of Butler College Prep, a four-year-old charter high school on the far South Side of Chicago with a student population that is 95 percent low-income and Black. As he put it in an interview with Marilyn Rhames, “We can’t expect to turn around the population of Black males—that population that is struggling nationwide—when there’s no teachers in front of them that look like them .” Former state legislator Alisha Thomas Morgan of Atlanta spoke to Ikhlas Saleem about the Ivy Prep Academies charter network she runs. Though she’s a lifelong member of the NAACP, she does not support their call for a moratorium on public charter schools.
It would be hard to have a conversation in Atlanta about charter schools and their position against them, given the many high-performing charter schools that we have and the number of schools that are run by Black folks.
Seattle’s Matt Halvorson profiles Walter Chen, who runs one of the first charter schools in Seattle. For him, kids of color need to see diversity in the front of the classroom and in their school’s leadership.
Being someone who works in the community, who lives in the community, and as a person of color—specifically an Asian-American—I’m very aware that children of color don’t see many representations of themselves in their teachers and their school leaders. I believe it’s important to provide that voice.
Erika Sanzi profiles Blackstone Valley Prep Principal Osvaldo Jose Marti who recalls a young African-American boy reacting to the news that Marti is a principal, by asking, “Wait, how can you be a principal? You’re Black.” New Orleans educator Jamar McKneely, who taught for seven years in a traditional public high school, sees no change in his mission as the founder of a charter network, InspireNOLA.
I am a Black educator who supports charter schools, choice and accountability because they are uniquely positioned to provide educational opportunities that will help our young people thrive.
By running a charter school in Philadelphia, Sharif El-Mekki is continuing the fight for social justice that his Black Panther parents began decades ago. “What my parents stood for then, I stand for now…schools are launching pads for equity or injustice.” Sharif is also on a mission to recruit more Black male teachers. Janeene Freeman began her career in community service and now runs the Northeast Charter Schools Network, where she, “Keeps the focus on doing what is good for children. If kids aren’t the priority this movement falls apart. I really take it to heart that in New York and Connecticut, charter schools are held to high levels of accountability and can boast high levels of performance.” Chicago charter school principal Sonia Wang was also drawn to education through her work in community service and her frustration with educational inequity.
I saw how stark the disparity was between my public schooling in the middle class western suburbs compared to the conditions and learning experiences of my students at Carnegie (a public school in Chicago). This experience set me on a path. I started thinking hard about education and how I wanted to participate in it.
Indiana charter principal David McGuire was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King to fight for educational freedom. “Remember how fortunate we are to have had a man willing to give up everything in the hopes that he could give others everything,” McGuire writes. Brooklyn school director  Marsha Gadsden is inspired by something even more powerful—love—and uses that power to improve her charter school’s culture. “Love has been pivotal in transforming my entire school from top to bottom.” Culture also matters a lot to Tanika Island Childress from the University of Chicago charter school network, adding, “I spent a lot of time building culture: a culture of belief, a culture of accountability and a culture of teaching and learning, always balanced by a culture of love and respect.” Alma Renteria profiles Los Angeles charter leader Jonathan Tiongco, “A master of wordplay as he found a way to make an acronym out of anything just to help increase our positive school culture.” His slogan was “Be MORE,” which stands for “motivated, organized, respectful and engaged.” Finally, former United States Secretary of Education John King, who is half Black and half Puerto Rican, is also a charter school founder who believes education is central to the American Dream. In his new role as head of Education Trust, King is determined to make the dream real for all children.
Photo courtesy of Ascend Public Charter Schools.
Peter Cunningham
Peter Cunningham is the founder of Education Post and serves on its board. He served as Assistant Secretary for communications and outreach in the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration’s first term. Prior to that he worked with Arne Duncan when he was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. Peter is affiliated with Whiteboard ...

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