What It's Like to Be a Black Woman Running a Charter School That's Closing the Achievement Gap

Mar 7, 2018 12:00:00 AM

by Nicole Sahbaee

Ramona Wilder comes from a long line of educators dating back to the 1800s when her great, great grandfather had old school church houses where they taught African Americans to read and write during slavery. In continuing her family’s legacy, as a fifth-generation Wilder, she became the leader of Wilder’s Preparatory Academy Charter School, which was founded in 2003 by her parents, the late Mr. Raymond D. Wilder and Dr. Carolyn R. Wilder. In 2017, Wilder’s Prep was awarded the Southern California Charter School of the Year Award, named the number one school in California for closing the achievement gap for African-American students and was also highlighted as one of Roland Martin’s School Choice All-Stars. I recently sat down with Wilder to discuss Black history, her successes and challenges as a Black woman charter school leader, and what inspires her to keep going. What is the best part and the most challenging part of being a Black woman charter school leader? I have a great sense of pride in continuing my family legacy of educating African-American students. I have pride in not only continuing a legacy, but being grateful and thankful for our school being selected as the number one charter school in the state of California for closing the achievement gap for African-American students. The most challenging part is doing our best with less compared to schools that receive more funding. The money that we receive comes from the federal and state level whereas larger school districts and private schools have donors and corporations that provide funding. It is challenging to not have enough resources to do everything with our students, especially in areas like mental health. Also, finding qualified teachers that have a passion and want to teach is a challenge. We have very high standards and we teach our kids and staff that failure is not an option. What was Black History Month like at Wilder’s Preparatory Academy? At Wilder’s Prep we integrate Black history throughout our curriculum during the entire year. This year our culmination Black History Month program honored musical legends and was entitled “A Blast from the Past.” The entire school participated in a narrated musical about famous African-American musicians to an audience of student body families, local community individuals, and the school board of trustees. We also had each individual classroom do activities such as poetry from famous African Americans throughout the month. Would you say these programs, in addition to the year-round focus on Black history, have an impact on your students? The impact is great and it’s part of our purpose. Being at a school that celebrates Black history builds self-esteem within our students to appreciate that they can be and do anything they want to do. There are people like them in history and within our community that have already laid the path to achieve whatever success they dream. That is what we try to do at Wilder’s Prep. We get them prepared for going out into the world. If you had to pick one Black leader, past or present, who you’ve modeled your life or career after, who would it be? I tend to like our local leaders, so first I would say my late father who I consider a local giant of a hero. He decided to invest in the community because he felt that our children needed an educational environment that cared about them and that’s what I fight for every day. There are also people like Frederick Douglass in the older times, or Oprah Winfrey in modern day. There is Michelle and Barack Obama who were not only elected as the first African-American family in the White House but held two terms without any public or personal scandal. I truly can’t pick just one favorite; I use something that is in everybody. What advice do you have for Black leaders in education that want to run or are currently running their own charter schools? My advice would be don’t give up on your dreams, hold steadfast to having high standards, hold everyone accountable, be the example, and know that failure is not an option. My motto is taken from Shirley Chisholm, “Service is the rent that we pay for our room here on earth.”
Photo of Co-founder, Ramona Wilder.

Nicole Sahbaee

Nicole Sahbaee is a senior at Howard University and an intern at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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