When Charters Grow From Communities, They Can and Do Increase Equity

Dec 1, 2021 12:00:00 AM


BES (Build, Excel, Sustain) started its Fellowship program 20 years ago to support school leaders with the preparation and professional development they needed to design, found, and lead an excellent public charter school. Charter leaders began this work because they were committed to creating equal access and opportunity for all students. 

When I stepped into the CEO role in 2018, I heard a common refrain from many leaders who had participated in our training: While BES was founded to help create equity and access for the students most in need of a quality education, there was a gap between our stated mission and our lived values. BES was part of a movement where "cookie cutter" school models based on “best practices” were placed into communities—instead of engaging authentically with communities to envision a school that reflects its values and meets its unique needs.

After seeking feedback from our leaders, we made a necessary pivot over the past three years. [pullquote]We’ve revamped our training and practices to truly embed our commitment to equity in the way we operate internally, train leaders, and work with communities to serve students and families.[/pullquote] Though this work is in no way complete, our approach today is much more community-centered, anti-racist, and supportive of leaders to leverage their lived experience and voices in the process of founding a school. 

  • We have overhauled our Fellow selection and interview processes to be more uplifting, equitable, and inclusive. Each year’s cohort of Fellows is composed of a diverse group of people with unique talents and creative ideas to offer their community an educational opportunity that doesn’t exist but should.
  • We have rethought our approach to choosing regions in which to build schools, partnering with organizations on the ground to more authentically assess community need.
  • We’ve also expanded the school models we support to include models focused on character formation and identity affirmation, and community co-design models in which the school leader founds the school alongside a design team made up of local stakeholders.

Despite a changing educational landscape and the very real trauma that a global pandemic has had on educators and the families they serve, BES Fellows persisted in their journeys to found the schools that communities demanded. Several members of our 2020 Fellowship are on track to open schools for the 2022-23 school year. BES’ 2021 cohort has begun their work of designing public schools for families in Colorado, Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. These Fellows have proposed 12 different school models, crafted and honed through ongoing community listening and engagement, resulting in a Montessori school and a high school focused on STEM and healthcare careers, among others. [pullquote]BES is excited to start Year 21 of preparing excellent leaders to fulfill their vision for a high-quality, locally responsive school that provides the equitable education students deserve, after losing so much to COVID.[/pullquote] 

Schools that are truly responsive to their communities are creative in their approaches to everything from curriculum and instruction to pandemic problem-solving because the relationships they have with their families are authentic and built on two-way communication. BES is always looking for local partners and supporters to ensure our work is responsive to the unique needs of communities. If you're interested in having a BES Fellow in your region and/or launching a particular school model through the BES Fellowship, learn more and reach out to us at partners@bes.org

About the BES Fellowship

At its core, the Fellowship is a multi-year program in which individuals deeply committed to transforming education design, found, and lead an excellent public charter school in a geographic area where families want and need different options for their children. After a highly competitive selection process, BES provides Fellows with a stipend and a minimum of four years of intensive support on their journey. Since 2001, the Fellowship has led to the creation of more than 195 independent public schools across 20 states and Washington DC. As of 2021, BES Fellow-founded schools educate more than 63,000 students.

Aasimah Navlakhi

Aasimah Navlakhi (she/her/hers) began her career as a speech and performance teacher in her hometown of Bangalore, India, and now serves as the Chief Executive Officer of BES (formerly Building Excellent Schools), a national nonprofit that identifies and prepares excellent leaders to transform education in their communities. Having experienced firsthand the life-changing power of great schools, Aasimah is committed to ensuring that all students have equal opportunities to learn, grow, and thrive.

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