CONNECT [spring 2017 edition]
Live the Dream of Coming Together Through the Charter Ideals
SETTING the STANDARD INNOVATION | CHOICE | EXCELLENCE Serving 62 schools and more than 30,000 students throughout Michigan.
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Worth Fighting For
ver 20 years ago, visionary parents, educators and civic leaders had a dream, a dream for what public education could be, a dream for our children. That vision led to charter schools, a partnership between educators, their community, and parents. It’s an idea where schools are given a measure of expanded freedom in return for a commitment to meet higher standards of academic accountability and student success. It’s a dream where students are the focus; not charters, not districts, not adults but educational success for all children. Although a dream not yet realized, it’s a dream worth fighting for.
LETTER FROM THE PRESIDENT
Charters: A Dream
Twenty-four years later, there are over 300 new schools, which have given hundreds of thousands of parents new choices. From Monroe to Marquette, Sault Ste. Marie to St. Joe and all across Michigan, parents, educators and communities have come together to embrace the dream and provide an excellent education that meets their needs. Though we may struggle to accomplish excellence, we are working on remarkable achievement while seeking life-changing innovation and improvement. At a time when rancor and controversy reign in our country, when everyone is arguing about everything, we have an opportunity. We have a responsibility to share with the world around us what we see up close and personal, to share our glimpses of the dream come true. The dream becomes a reality when in small towns across Michigan because of a charter school they are able to maintain a quality hometown school choice. Cultural diversity is celebrated in Michigan charter schools that welcome refugees from war-torn countries across the globe. Tribal charter schools honor America’s first citizens where language and culture are preserved and a tribal community college secures the first State-sanctioned native curriculum. Homeless Michigan kids, and children in crisis can literally find safety as caring adults are the support they require at Michigan charter schools in spite of their life’s circumstances. Michigan charter schools embrace the arts and sciences, music and engineering, environmental factors and robots, and students are thriving in their passions. In Michigan charter schools the African tradition of taking “a village to raise a child” is practiced for real. My friends, with this issue of Charter Connect, we recognize the tremendous responsibility we each have to carry on the dream for our current students, to reach higher for those that will follow. They all deserve more, we see the beginnings of excellence, we sense the possibility of the dreams that can come true. It’s all worth fighting for; it’s worth working hard for, it’s worth sharing. We need your help. As you work at your schools each day, STOP and recognize the remarkable that is happening around you, a student’s unexpected accomplishment, your colleague’s remarkable effort, note it, celebrate it, share it. We all need to identify the achievements that are happening, celebrate with each other, share and learn from the stories of other schools that are happening every day in Michigan. MAPSA wants to help. Then and only then will we know that the dream is not only possible for some students, but coming closer into view for all Michigan kids. In a world of controversy, we can unite around one thing we all care about, the success of every child. The dream for that to happen is worth recognizing, celebrating and sharing.
CHARTER CONNECT - SPRING 2017
COVER STORY PG 14
CONTENTS FEATURES 11
Understanding English Learners
Charter Schools are Bipartisan
Parents LOVE Charter Schools
Own Your Building!
By Afrin Alavi
By Ron Rice Jr.
By Anna Lovette
By Adam Holcomb
IN EVERY ISSUE 03
Letter from the President
Letters to the Editor
MAPSA Will Keep Fighting
Chilhood Trauma Hits Home Grow Based on Actual Supply and Demand Supporting Charter Ideals
CHARTER CONNECT - SPRING 2017
Our mission is to support charter schools in improving educational outcomes for Michiganâ€™s children by advancing quality education through choice and innovation.
MEET THE TEAM vp of operations and strategy accounting coordinator parent & community outreach coordinator director of marketing and program design director of data initiatives membership coordinator office assistant vp of communications president director of membership services director of instructional systems design vp of government and legal affairs administrator
angi beland angie boldrey amy bytof becky carlton julie durham candace embry karen kundrat buddy moorehouse dan quisenberry heather risner leah theriault alicia urbain sara vanderbilt
MAPSA BOARD member treasurer secretary member member member member member chair vice chair-elect member
ralph bland - new paradigm for education john cleary - the thompson educational foundation don cooper - national charter schools institute andrew gayle - national heritage academies mohamad issa - global educational excellence jennifer jarosz- charlton heston academy greg mcneilly - windquest group terri reid - michiganâ€™s freedom fund david seitz - apple computer, inc. buzz thomas - thomas consulting group tim wood - gvsu charter schools office
AD INDEX Center for Charter Schools CMU National Charter Schools Institute CS Partners Saunders Winter McNeil, PLLC Detroit Institute for Children Thrun Law Firm, P.C. CMU Online Degrees Choice Schools Associates
Inside Front Cover pg. 10 pg. 10 pg. 10 pg. 13 pg. 13 pg. 13 pg. 13
Michigan Virtual School General Agency & EMC Insurance InnovatED Blog College Board Grand Valley State University National Charter School Institute Charter Day at the Capitol
pg. 23 pg. 23 pg. 26 pg. 27 pg. 30 Inside Back Cover Back Cover
Response to Childhood
Trauma: The Impact on Students and Learning An honest, assessment of ourselves, our own biases, as well as our strengths can go a long way in more substantially connecting with students who are facing trauma in their daily lives. Our ability to accurately define terms like “resiliency”, “thriving” and even “success” can be relative and in the environment in which we serve can also be very subjective. For one student, simply making it into the building can be deemed a “success” once we consider the chain of obstacles that they had to overcome, just prior to that first hour bell ringing. Acknowledging our own experiences with trauma and how we have a tendency to project our perception of our own “success” in overcoming onto our students’ current ability to cope, can have either a negative or a positive effect on our ability to relate to our students. We also have to be willing to put forth an honest narrative. While we all have our story of having to walk 10 miles to school in 10 feet of snow, we have a tendency to forget the ways
Thank you Charter Connect for an eye-opening article, “Childhood Trauma: The Impact on Students and Learning.” Teaching 21st century skills to the group we call “millennials” has become a daunting challenge. However, I think the article summed it up best by saying that if we are going to make a difference, then we need to be equipped with essential tools. Those essential tools are the four C’s, which are “crazy, courageous, curious and compassionate.” Trauma is an experience that produces psychological injury or pain and as educators it is imperative that we understand how this affects our learning environment. Implementing the four C’s can help us to better understand and manage our students and the load they may be carrying. It requires that both teachers and school leaders make a paradigm shift from the “cookie cutter” approach from the past and begin creating a culture of introspection.
we may have “acted out” or the unseen hands (extended family members, caring adults, public assistance, charitable organizations) that guided us along the way. Some of us carried those same “backpacks” as our students do today. Some of us did not. The difference is now, we’re on the other side. With the knowledge of hindsight, it’s up to us to do all we can to guide our students through with the compassion, understanding and encouragement that we received…or at least wish we did.
Rhea J. Cooper, LMSW, SSW School Social Worker Old Redford Academy Middle School
Our role as educators and leaders is constantly changing, but I personally feel that if I am not crazy about at least one student, courageous enough to ask myself critical questions and examine my own behaviors and idiosyncrasies, curious enough to find a solution and show compassion to all stakeholders involved, then maybe I need to reevaluate the road less traveled. I am grateful that MAPSA has been innovative in addressing these issues and providing me with the necessary tools to not only face these challenges, but understand them as well. Stephanie Smith Lead Teacher 4th/5th Grade P.A.C.E.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
If You Build it... Will They Come? Should They?
ield of Dreams, a classic movie from 1989, just a few years before school choice was adopted in Michigan, illustrates the power in following one’s heart and believing in a vision. The movie’s mantra of “if you build it, they will come” inspires us to dig deep and believe in what seems like the impossible. The idea of charter schools was built on a solid vision and driven by heart. The first to embark on the concept had only to believe that if they built a different model of education, the parents would come.
And, hundreds of thousands of students later served over the years, that premise has held true. Yet, as we look around the state to see both traditional and charter public schools challenged to balance deficit budgets and manage the instability of fluctuating enrollment, one might wonder if the message wasn’t quite as clear as it seems.
was specific and limited. But what would have happened if while this field was being built, other fields were being built as well? It seems pretty obvious when you think of it in terms of something this large scale, but is it really any different than what is happening as part of school of choice? Are we building it in hopes that they will come with the “they” being more than reasonable?
See, this mantra was relative to just one dream. Just one field. Just one team. And just one team’s fans. It worked because it
A significant risk in an environment of choice is the potential for an imbalance of available seats and students to fill
seats. This is especially true as the market works to truly understand community need and expectations. This is often referenced as market saturation. The much talked-about impacts of market saturation include a diversion of funding and increased student mobility. But, the most talked-about impact is the inability for many schools to meet enrollment numbers, often times causing all schools, traditional and charter, to stifle the innovation necessary to deliver the best education to Michigan students. The business world teaches us that feasibility of success must be built upon the break-even point. This tipping point is the culmination of when revenues meet expenses and an organization begins to yield a profit. A profitable organization is able to invest in product improvements to ensure the newly gained market share is maintained and built upon. As new demand is generated, the business must begin to measure the impact of expanding operations to meet that demand. In this path, however, there is a point in which all demand is not met and a point even further in which meeting the demand would no longer be profitable. Translate this to education. A school board, in collaboration with the school leadership team, must determine a break-even point between the cost of
full implementation of an academic program and the revenue to support that implementation. And, more than that, this team must understand the implications of growth at each point. What is the impact of taking in just one more student rather than waiting until there are 20 more students demanding a seat? What is the impact of how these 20 students fit across the grade span? Where is the point in which your school is able to invest in innovation to move education further than your original design imagined? And where is the point in which you must just appreciate the demand and allow another opportunity to supply the seats? Enrollment is often seen as the first step to delivering an education. But is it? In a business, an entrepreneur may seek out business loans or investment income to get through the initial years of growth. The plan is built with critical tracking measures to ensure that the investment will yield a return on investment in a specific period of time, typically 3 years. Why do we overlook this opportunity in education? Would it be possible to find philanthropic investors willing to support the unique strategy you have built that would allow you to implement the program in a more controlled growth strategy? And, if funding was no longer an issue, what might the impact be on academic outcomes?
The impact would very likely be immeasurable improvements in student outcomes but also an environment of school choice that works best for parents. This environment would be monitored by proven supply and demand rather than anticipated supply and demand. Imagine the impact of a stable enrollment on culture and performance. As a choice in a school of choice landscape, charter schools have the responsibility to ensure that demand is driving supply. We must evaluate our break-even points and determine how students can best be served. We must prioritize the implementation of innovation at 110%. At times, this may require adjusting the supply. But, in the end, students served well will come and stay. Together, letâ€™s build amazing schools for Michigan students!
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Leverage Strengths in English Learners to Close the Gap Íslenska
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Dr. Afrin Alavi Principal The Dearborn Academy
nglish Learners (ELs) encompass a subgroup that requires additional attention. With the changing demographics and the impact of an erratic economy, focus is on efforts to meet the changing needs of the students. Cummins (1979) in his seminal piece coined the terms basic interpersonal communicative skills (BICS) and cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) to illustrate the two distinct levels of English needed for effective communication in and out of school (Cummins, 1979). He additionally drew the attention of educators to the timelines and challenges that second language learners encounter as they attempt to catch up to their peers in the academic aspects of the school language (Cummins, 2008). He found that for the most part students learned ample English to participate in social communication in approximately two years, they usually needed five to seven years to attain the type of language skills necessary for successful achievement in content area classrooms. First language is acquired through exposure to language and opportunities to use it. In second language acquisition, exposure alone is not enough. Assistance in learning the functions and structures of the language is essential. CALP is not usually supported by non-verbal and contextual clues like BICS. Consequently, the ultimate objective of EL instruction is to develop CALP, not only BICS. In an era where immigration is on the rise, it is important to further educate teachers so they too can understand and acquire the strategies that will help them to work better with their ELs. Time and again research has found that teachers without second language teaching preparation strongly believed that heritage language maintenance was the responsibility of the parents only and assumed that their priority was to teach English. Heritage language maintenance is oftentimes not encouraged and frequently students are dissuaded from using it by the classroom or content area teachers. For many who have not walked the shoes of an EL, it is a challenging task, to say the least, to take on another perspective when one has had none or limited experience doing so. For these teachers, language learning is an either/or choice; bilingualism is not contemplated. Moreover, if teachers are fluent in another language, they are more apt to apply practices that supported and sustained students’ home language and cultures in the classrooms. Finally, teachers with more instruction in teaching ELs have more positive attitudes toward ELs. The differences in education (i.e., language, culture, and socioeconomic status) are essential to narrowing the achievement gap. These aspects of cultural diversity are actually strengths. Speaking a language or dialect other than the kind of English stipulated by
CHARTER CONNECT - SPRING 2017
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Seeing as language is closely related to culture, it is also the fundamental means by which individuals communicate their cultural values and the ways in which they perceive the world. Historically, in the United States, linguistic diversity has generally been deemed as a provisional but disturbing, obstacle to learning. However, diversity has to be viewed as an opportunity to learn. In this manner, a school culture designed with the awareness and value for diversity must be very visible and frequently celebrated.
The classroom teacher views the student through the lens of content knowledge that reflects the declarative (what) and procedural (how) knowledge associated with the content. The ESL teacher views the student through the lens of language mastery. Academic language proficiency involves language associated with the content. Therefore, instead of a monocle, teachers must look through a pair of glasses. They should look at the EL through the unified lens of content and language mastery. Collaboration is about both teachers looking through both lenses. It is about student learning language and content together.
ELs, whether from a consistent or inconsistent educational background, have a world of experiences different from students growing up in American culture and American schools. It is therefore important to bridge those gaps. One way is through Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) (Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, 2008), which is a framework for making content comprehensible for ELs while furthering their second language
It is inclusive of best practices for ALL students and it accommodates the distinct second language development needs of ELs. SIOP is additionally compatible with other research and initiatives such as those of Marzano, Pickering and, Pollak (2001) that identify similarities and differences, cooperative learning, nonlinguistic representations, advance organizers, setting objectives and, providing feedback. SIOP also facilitates the Response to Intervention (RtI) process by presenting a venue for differentiated instruction, research-based interventions and, implementation by the classroom teacher. In addition, though presenting is not one of the domains stressed by SIOP, it is vital to teach it. ELs learn to read, write, speak and, listen but few ever get the opportunity to present. Therefore, students have to develop their abilities to communicate with others of different languages.
They think that the two dimensions do not interact and should be kept separate. Parents who have had little or no educational experience will most likely be intimidated and overwhelmed. Curriculum and teaching methodology is often different from parents’ country of origin. There is racial/linguistic/sexist discrimination from either side while at the same time there exist teacher/school biases and the presence of a hidden curriculum. For many parents, there is a deep fear of children losing their culture and religion so that they may be more deliberate and intense in preserving cultural and religious traditions more than they would were they in their home country. If parents do not speak English, they are often too embarrassed or frustrated to come to the school and try to communicate with the teachers or communication is hampered by educational jargon and assumptions. In these circumstances, because some parents feel that the language barrier leaves them powerless, the importance of parents being made aware of their right to an interpreter must be stressed.
acquisition. SIOP is founded upon the ability of teachers to modify and adapt their teaching to meet the English proficiency of their students at the same time as teaching grade-level content standards.
traditional norms has often been perceived as a liability, something to be discarded as soon as possible. In addition, since schools connect students’ English language proficiency with their future financial and social progress, they may regard ELs as “handicapped” and accordingly push students, through both indirect and blatant ways, to give up their native language. For ELs, not knowing English is a huge detriment, not because their native language is inadequate for learning, but because it is not normally perceived by their teachers and schools as a resource for learning. Some cultures believe that their children are the school’s responsibility during school hours and the parents’ responsibility out of school hours.
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A Diverse Movement Fueled by Shared Ideals
National School Choice Week event in Detroit earlier this year, Dr. Perry noted that he was speaking to a room filled with people from all sides of the political spectrum. And yet, they all came together on this.
So during these times when there’s so much emphasis on what divides us, we’d like to focus on what brings us together. Specifically, this: We all believe in charter schools.
“This is the only social cause I’ve seen that brings people together who otherwise wouldn’t be in the same room,” Dr. Perry said. “We’re like fans in the stands watching our sons and daughters. We’re just at the right game together.”
t’s no secret that we’re living in very tense times. Our country – and our society – has perhaps never seemed so divided and fractured. Families and friendships are at risk. People who voted for this person don’t want anything to do with people who voted for that person.
We all believe that innovation and accountability will lead to greater student achievement. We all believe that if given a choice between excellent school options, an empowered parent will always make the right choice. We all believe in charter schools. Dr. Steve Perry, the founding principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School – a high-performing charter in Hartford, Conn. – said it best. Speaking to a gathering at the
True. We’re all at the right game together – all of us cheering for the same team. In this issue of Charter Connect, the staff at MAPSA is sharing our stories about why we believe in charter schools. We’re a very diverse group, but just like you, we all believe in charter schools. So as we focus today on what brings us together, these are our stories.
Sara Vanderbilt Administrator I believe in charter schools because I believe in kids. More specifically, I believe that all children are unique and learn in different ways. Trying to teach all children in the same way does a disservice to our kids and doesn’t inspire or support them. Charter schools are innovative and use different teaching styles to address the learning challenges of the students they serve. Recently, I observed a kindergarten class where the teaching team was working with each child differently, based on their learning style and the needs of the child. This is the innovation that is found in charter schools. For the past 20 years, I have volunteered with middle and high school students and over that time, I have seen teaching styles move from a more lecture style to a more hands-on, individual style teaching. For the students I volunteered with, this innovation made a world of difference. For example, one of the students with whom I worked, let’s call him John, had Asperger’s Syndrome and did not do well in the school he was originally placed. John’s mother chose to send her son to a charter school that addressed his needs in a unique way. Unlike his previous school, the charter school brought John’s parents into his learning. They didn’t keep the instruction in the classroom only. Teachers also learned John’s interest (i.e. science and super heroes) and customized lessons that used those interests as teaching tools. John graduated from that charter school last spring and is having a successful freshman year in college. I believe that the innovative teaching style in his charter school set him up for success. This customized teaching and innovation is why I believe in charter schools.
Alicia Urbain VP Government & Legal Affairs Every kid should have the opportunity to go to a school that best fits their needs. It is as simple as that for me. Every day I wake up and think about how lucky I am to be able to go to “work” and fight for kids to have opportunities to shape their futures through their education. Not every parent will make the best decision for their child every time. I have made my fair share of parenting mistakes. But if I have to choose between the parent and a government bureaucracy, I will choose the parent every time. Parents can and do know what is best for their child. If a school isn’t working in general or for your individual child, you should be able to find something that will work better. Having the option to find a school that fits your child’s individual needs is something that I value as a parent and will fight every day for as an advocate for school choice.
Dan Quisenberry President It was 1980, I was finishing college, when I came to understand the opportunities of education choice as a way to empower parents and teachers, a professor suggested I read “Free to Choose” by Milton & Rose Friedman. As a political science major at Michigan State, I was exploring policy issues affecting our country, including K-12 education. The concerns of today were already present 40 years ago. We were beginning to understand that not all schools worked for all kids. That too many teachers and educators were not empowered to innovate, or create the learning environments that their professional training had prepared them for. We already knew schooling could be more. As a young professional working for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, a newly elected President Reagan called organizations around the country to engage in business and education partnerships as a way to deliver solutions for America’s children. I was the Chambers’ lead, working with business leaders from around Michigan, engaging varying education leaders, school associations, and extraordinary leaders like Phil Runkel, Michigan’s State Superintendent. Unfortunately, I got my first exposure to the stalemate that neutralizes so many student solutions when adult politics and education mix. Years passed when as a father I looked to provide excellence in education for my own two daughters, certainly privileged by most standards. The home we live in today was chosen because its location came with an incredibly well-respected elementary school, in a public school district we knew was a good fit our family. While they received a great education and they were provided all the opportunities that their hard work and our access gave to them, there were still gaps. I knew more could be done. When the opportunity to lead MAPSA, to build a nationally recognized charter sector organization for Michigan, came my way, it was one of the greatest risks I have ever taken. I did it because I believe that every child deserves an excellent education in a quality school. I believe that when matched with a school that’s the right fit, any child will be able to reach his or her fullest potential. I knew enough to know that this new thing called charter schools, a partnership between educators, parents and communities, could help forge the path for all public education to make student dreams a reality in Michigan. As a result, over 19 years, I have been privileged to meet people like you, some of the most inspiring, remarkable educators who have also taken huge risks to put students interests before their own and to devote their professional and personal lives to helping all kids in Michigan succeed. What could be more rewarding than that? And yes, I still believe that what is so elusive is possible!
A robust system of multiple authorizers, anchored by strong accountability, will enable more dynamic reform through innovation and keeping students first.
Systems of accountability must set standards of performance while allowing space for managing risk that is inherent to innovation.
Julie Durham Director of Data Initiatives I believe in charter schools. I believe in the promise that they afford to families that feel stuck in poor-performing schools. I believe that parents should have a choice in where they send their children to school and I believe that students learn differently and benefit from different types of learning processes. I believe that education is one of our country’s biggest civil rights issues. I am a progressive liberal, who grew up in a poor neighborhood, went to public schools, works in the charter school movement, and sends my daughter to a private school. Each of these options are OK, beneficial even, to the whole of education. The diversity of charter schools reflects the diversity of our society, of our learning needs, of our goals and values. I support charter schools because we are nation of multiplicity, in how we look, what we believe, where we come from and where we are going. Charter schools provide opportunities to do things differently, to try new things, to incubate new ideas, and to meet the needs of diverse groups. The quality of a child’s education shouldn’t be determined by their zip code, but guaranteed by their choice to attend the school that is right for them.
At the heart of a successful charter school are freedom, resources and quality: freedom for the school to operate independently and for teachers and families to select it; human and financial resources that enable it to succeed; and the expectation that all its students will gain the skills and knowledge they need and that society expects.
Leah Theriault Director of Instructional Systems Design I want my child to succeed. I want my friends’ children to succeed. I want for all children to have the best chance at doing what fills their hearts and minds, for their curiosity to always be piqued and to fill the hearts of those around them. There are many things in the world that will try to break down our children and I believe school should not be that place. It’s a cold and lonely life to feel unloved, unsupported and unchallenged. Children want to overcome challenges and excel. Children – as anyone who has had more than one knows all too well – are not one-size-fits-all. Educational programs should not be, either. Should my child desire to explore arts, sciences, technology, aviation or humanities, I want the options to be limitless. We fight. We fight against the naysayers telling us what the right thing to do is. We fight those telling us what program is best or that any one program can be the best for every child. We fight not only to have choices, but also to have quality choices. We don’t fight to put down other programs, but rather to fulfill the unique needs of our unique children. We fight to make all schools of high enough quality, with the best funding options that there isn’t bitterness and resentment between school buildings. We fight for community and togetherness. We fight to be able to share ideas and find the best solutions for all students. We fight as hard as we can to secure quality education for every child, so every family can find the right fit for their needs. We support students, parents, teachers, leaders, buildings, vendors and programs so that, in return, they can support each other.
Angie Boldrey Accounting Coordinator I first got active in the charter movement a couple of years ago when I read about a food-allergy family that had to remove their child from public school and enroll them in a private alternative because their daughter was being bullied, not only by her classmates, but also her classmates’ parents, and the school district did little to help them. Having a food-allergy child myself, this terrified and angered me. I thought “What if that family didn’t have the financial means and no other options?” From then on, I knew I had to fight for educational alternatives, for those kids and families who need other pathways to safety, understanding and success. Since then, I have been on the school board for the Insight School of Michigan, a public cyber charter that’s in its 3rd school year. I will never forget our salutatorian at our first graduation. She spoke to her guidance counselor about dropping out because she was falling further and further behind with numerous health setbacks. Luckily, her counselor mentioned us as an option. Not only did she graduate at the top of her class at Insight, but she’s now attending a state university pursuing a fouryear degree. Given options, more kids will succeed and that truly is what families need. Then, about 16 months ago, I was happy to start at MAPSA. I’m hearing stories every week about charter kids doing amazing things and achieving beyond what perhaps would have been possible in a traditional brick-and-mortar public school. I will always fight for school choice because I believe it’s what’s right for our families.
Charter schools are a necessary and permanent model for continuous improvement for all public schools; to fulfill this purpose charter schools must have the flexibility to be innovative.
Amy Bytof Parent & Community Outreach Coordinator I am a Democrat and a product of the traditional K-12 public school system. I am also a supporter of school choice. To outsiders, and even to some of my closest friends and family members, this sounds contradicting. With the heat focused on school choice right now and the fact that I need to defend my beliefs, why can’t I be both? Growing up, there was only one option for me to go to school, the traditional public K-4 brick and mortar a block away from my suburban home. I had the privilege as a child to walk safely to and from school each day down the nicely paved sidewalk where I would see those, “Neighborhood Watch” signs in all the windows. For me, my traditional public school upbringing and education worked out fine. For many others, that may not be the case. To me, school choice doesn’t mean traditional public schools are bad and charters are the only way to get a quality education. Instead, I believe that all schools - regardless if it is a traditional or public charter - should be a quality option for children and families. If you want to attend an innovative school with a specific niche that helps fulfill your passions of STEAM or the environment, you should be able to attend that school. There is no cookie-cutter recipe to educate children. Instead, every individual child learns differently, and so the education sector needs to respect and provide choices for additional learning opportunities for students. I can’t truly understand the fight between traditional and charter public schools because in the end, both systems want the same outcome: to provide children with a quality education to prepare them for their next step in life. In the end, both public school options can do that for kids, but kids deserve those options.
Candace Embry Membership Coordinator My childhood was great! I grew up on the Southside of the capital city with plenty of families in my neighborhood. One of my greatest adventures was taking the journey from my front door to school every morning with my friends in tow. We couldnâ€™t wait to get to school, where our wonderful administrators and teachers like Fred Whiting, Anne Paquet-Howard, Cheryl Poplar and Maxine Cain were waiting to greet us with warmth on a winter day. Between the time of my high school graduation and becoming a parent preparing to send my daughter to school, I had some major decisions to make about where she would attend. Naturally, I believed that she would graduate from my alma mater as my siblings and I followed in our fatherâ€™s footsteps. But, I realized that over the years a lot had changed in education and my community. How would I make sure that she would be prepared for the future by having a quality education and not allow her to be forced into a still separate and unequal education system. I needed my daughter to have the option to be great and not be subjected to whatever was available to her. So it begins, we made our first choice to put her in a Montessori program; from there we realized Danielle was a very talented artist, so we placed her in a performing arts program. My job then transferred us to the greater New York area. My shining star student was back in a wonderful traditional public school that offered what seemed like a private education. Some years later we transitioned back to Michigan and after discussing some of her options, she requested to go to one of the neighboring districts to have a challenging education and a little more diversity. This is why I love the charter concept! You can go to a school with an Afrocentric focus and learn the culture of your ancestors, or become a scientific genius in one of the STEM schools. Some students decide at a young age that they are gifted and have a desire to focus on the arts or even become a pilot in flight before gradating high school. All families deserve options in education, with no additional cost. Charter schools allow our students the opportunity to be great! To learn, grow and expose themselves to ideals outside of their communities and scope. I support the charter schools network, because the charter schools network supports my community, our students and allows us an opportunity to have equality in life through learning.
Student success must be measured in a meaningful way, reflective of the uniqueness of students and the varying paths to achievement. 20
All parents, regardless of residence, race, wealth or heritage, should be able to choose among diverse, high quality, equitably funded educational options and are in the best position to make that decision.
Buddy Moorehouse VP Communications In order for every child to reach his or her full potential, they need to have the ability to choose the school that best fits their needs. And I’m not only a true believer when it comes to school choice – I’ve lived it as a parent.
Angi Beland VP Operations & Strategy If I could choose just one super power to leave my mark on the world, I’d choose the ability to match every child perfectly with the school that inspires them to find the greatest version of themselves. As each child is matched, the parent who had almost given up hope would find peace, the student who came to believe he was bad would find confidence, the student who dreaded each day waiting for the next person to give up on him would find a sense of belonging and the path for a future beyond anybody’s imagination would be in motion. While I don’t have any super powers, I believe in the power of school choice and in the difference charter schools can make as part of choice. I’ve been the parent who was losing hope. I’ve been the parent whose child believed he was bad. I’ve been the parent whose child dreaded each day wondering if it would be the day somebody else would give up him. And, I am the parent who now cannot imagine what the future holds. I am the parent that found the right match. And, because of that, I will forever advocate for others to have the same opportunity. The innovation of charter schools is a gift to every family that is seeking something just a little different. I am inspired every day by the new ideas and passion that is part of this movement. We haven’t yet even imagined the perfect match for every child, but I have faith in the charter movement to get us there.
We have four kids, ranging in age from 12 to 32, and they’ve been in every educational situation imaginable. My wife and I have been traditional public school parents, charter school parents, homeschool parents, schools-of-choice parents and private school parents. Top that! Aside from one year when we homeschooled her, our oldest daughter Chelsie went to traditional public schools her entire career. She’s now a Ph.D. neuroscientist. Our son Cameron spent his entire K-12 time in traditional public schools. He now owns a construction company. Our daughter Amelia went to a private school for kindergarten and was in traditional public schools (in a schools-of-choice district) from grades 1-7. We homeschooled her in eighth grade and then she went to a charter high school. She’s now a sophomore in college. And our youngest daughter Lottie was in a private school for grades K-5, and has been in a charter school for grades 6-7. I’m proud that all of our kids turned out pretty well, and I know that’s in no small measure to the fact that we were able to choose the school that worked the best for each of them. I don’t have one-size-fits-all children, and they wouldn’t have thrived in a one-size-fits-all school. It’s that personal perspective as a parent that keeps me fired up every day coming to work at MAPSA. As a charter school parent, charter school advocate and charter school spouse (my wife is the director at a charter school), charter schools aren’t just a concept to me. They’re a proven pathway to success. They bring innovation and accountability together, and the result is greater academic achievement. That’s not just a concept to me. It’s something I’ve seen; something I’ve experienced. We need every school in this state to be great, and charter schools are leading the way to making that dream a reality. That doesn’t mean that every child needs to be enrolled in a charter school, because every child’s needs are different. What works for my daughter might not work for yours. The problem is that there are some selfish, self-serving adults who DO think that every child belongs in a one-size-fits-all school. If they had their way, all four of my kids would have gone to the exact same school, even though they aren’t the exact same type of student. I’m not going to let these selfish adults control the discussion. I’m not going to let them get their way. I’m not going to let them force my kids – or yours – into a one-size-fits-all school. That’s why I believe in charter schools, and that’s why I fight for charter schools.
Parents Love Charter Teachers, Staff and the Treatment of Students Anna Lovett Parent Creative Technologies Academy
n the fall of 2011 we embarked on a new journey with our son’s education. We pulled him from the public school and enrolled him at Creative Technologies Academy (CTA), which is a public charter school. As with any school, or any group of people, there are ups and downs, but our experience at CTA has been a very positive one. We love the teachers and staff at CTA and it is very clear to see how much they care for the kids. As a parent, one of the things that I appreciate the most is that I can contact any teacher and discuss issues that my son might be having, or a homework assignment that is not making sense, and get a quick response and solutions. I have done this with more than one teacher on more than one occasion. We have always been able to figure out what is best for my son in that particular classroom and quickly move forward. Due to the small class sizes at CTA, the teachers are able to get to know all their students very well, and form good relationships with them. I feel that the relationships they build with the students in turn helps the students learn in a friendly environment. My son does not always like to talk to adults or ask for help, but with the relationships he has with his teachers it is much easier for him to do this. I have
even had a teacher contact me when they were seeing some changes in my son that concerned them.
On the last day of school one year, the teachers made encouraging signs and stood on the sidewalk holding them and waving goodbye to the students as they left for the summer. One fall, the high school students returned on their first day with signs on the doors stating they had to use a specific entrance. As they entered, the teachers had laid red “carpet” down and stood high fiving the “stars” as they entered the building. A few other fun things the teachers participate in are, the Student vs Staff football game, Girls/ Boys basketball team vs staff basketball game, after school Settlers of Catan tournaments, Spelling Club, Girl Talk, Girls Charging Ahead and more.
We all know that having a substitute teacher can be a very negative experience (for the teacher and the students). My son loves the substitutes at CTA. In one of his classes this trimester, he has had a long term sub. He was happy that the regular teacher was returning, but also sad that the substitute was leaving! I see kids of all ages meeting up with the substitute teachers on the side walk, talking to them, walking with them to class and a level of respect that I am sure a lot of substitute teachers do not receive. My name is Anna Lovett, and I am so thankful that we took the advice of our friends and moved our son to Creative Technologies Academy. This is his 6th year at CTA, he is now a sophomore.
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Break the Barrier: Charter Schools are a Bipartisan Issue
othing matters more to us as Americans than the education of our children. Yet no policy issue seems to strike a more contentious tone. Charter schools are regularly debated in the political arena, but charter schools aren’t a partisan issue. Vast majorities of Americans, Democrats and Republicans, support charter schools. There have been four presidents since charter schools first came into existence – two Democrats and two Republicans – and all four of them have been strong advocates of charter schools. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump have all been outspoken in their support of charter schools.
Political leaders and community organizations, for a host of political reasons in and outside of Michigan, continue to try to dictate the choices you have and exercise on behalf of your children and their education. Despite all of the arguments to support their positions, at the end of the day, the fact is elected officials that you support with your tax dollars and many community organizations that purport to represent you, are actively working to deny options to populations of Americans that can least afford to live without them. And, what is even more hypocritical and intellectually dishonest, these same political and community leaders actually take advantage of many educational options in their own lives and with their own children. It is the ultimate “do as I say and not as I do,” practice.
Many believers in parent empowerment and quality public schools no matter the delivery system were perplexed by the stance taken by the board of directors of the NAACP and a portion of the Black Lives Matter movement to institute a nationwide moratorium on new charter schools. With 1 million names on charter school waiting lists in America and polls showing between 65 and 80% of Black parents in particular supporting more school choice, these organizations stood against the will and aspirations of the very people they are charged to represent.
I was fortunate enough to attend a very prestigious private school in my native state of New Jersey. My alma mater prepared me to be able to matriculate and succeed in any university in the nation. I have to support school choice because it provided me with opportunities denied to too many of my peers and friends. But while serving as a Newark, NJ city councilman for 8 years and supporting the expansion of high-quality charter schools (and traditional public schools that needed my help, I might add), I was constantly mystified by the lack of support for school choice for Newark students despite every
Ron Rice, Jr. Senior Director, Government Relations National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
one of my colleagues having either attended or sent their own children to private, parochial, magnet or charter schools. The only thing that will prevent you from being forced to take a side against your own interests by organizations that seek to represent you or being used in a politician’s political display while they make better choices for their own families is your voice. You need to call out hypocricy as a charter school parent, school leader, student, community advocate and voter of goodwill. I encourage each of you to employ a carrot and stick approach to both politicians and community organizations that stand in the way of choice. With a carrot approach, I would: • Invite elected officials and community advocacy organization leaders to charter schools making a difference. Have them meet parents, teachers, students, graduates, school board members and sit in on classes. • Invite these leaders to speak at commencement, the school’s science fairs, homecoming, etc.
• Support their events within the community. But, if these honest outreaches elicit no response or a negative response, then a stick approach must be employed: • Write op-eds to the newspaper highlighting the lack of support for great charter schools. • Ask each leader where they send their children to school. If the leader sends their children to a private, parochial, magnet, charter school (secretly), or a traditional public school in a well to do district, they are morally deficient on the issue and that fact must be conveyed to the public each and every time they negatively comment on your choices. • Conduct letter writing campaigns and petition gathering efforts to let the leaders know the level of support for good charter schools. There is an old saying in politics: “pressure bursts pipes.” Your voice in support of families whose very progress in America is directly tied to the type of education their children receive needs to start bursting a few pipes in Michigan.
• Send them your school newsletter and encourage them to use your school for community meetups and events that they sponsor.
CHARTER CONNECT - SPRING 2017
InnovatED Blog Trauma-Informed Schools This is the third blog post in a series that will uncover the social-emotional support systems needed in schools to support students who are exposed to trauma and stress. While schools across Michigan serve a diverse array of students from urban to rural cities, no school is exempt from at-risk students. Most charter schools would even say the majority of students fit this mold. These children may be facing hunger, homelessness or even povertyrelated trauma. Additionally, students today face more stress than any other generation. Whether it is stress caused by pressure to succeed in school or stress caused by living in poverty and exposed to traumatic events, it impacts their life and their education. “Child poverty also influences genomic function and brain development by exposure to toxic stress, a condition characterized by ‘excessive or prolonged activation of the physiologic stress response systems in the absence of the buffering protection afforded by stable, responsive relationships.’ Children living in poverty are at increased risk of difficulties with self-regulation and executive function, such as inattention, impulsivity, defiance, and poor peer relationships. Poverty can make parenting difficult, especially in the context of concerns about inadequate food, energy, transportation, and housing.” American Academy of Pediatrics Knowing this, how can educators support families and students in working through these challenges while aiming high to achieve success? Families who live in poverty are also, often, fully exposed to chronic stress such as limited English skills, working multiple jobs, or sometimes an extreme traumatic event such as death or violence. Parents and caregivers also may have had minimal positive educational experiences themselves or even their student’s teachers or schools in the past. These unfortunate circumstances work against a school’s ability to form trusting relationships and foster effective twoway communication. So how can schools work with families living in poverty and exposed to chronic stress? Parent/guardian expectations should be reflective of the community served. Parents who make a choice for a better education are engaged and want their students to succeed, but that doesn’t
always mean they have all the resources and time to dedicate at home. Whether parents work two jobs, or pick up a night shift to make ends meet, sometimes the last thing on their mind is homework. Research has repeatedly proven that parent involvement increases overall academic success, however, for parents experiencing chronic stress or living through a traumatic event, they are looking for schools to lead the way for their child. School communications must be supportive of family needs. There are a multitude of things a school is doing each day that need to be communicated to parents. We send text messages and post reminders on Facebook and cross our fingers that parents soak in the information. However, when do we question what and how often we are communicating to a population of hardworking, committed parents who are struggling to make it each day? Schools serving blue-collar families may know to minimize communication from 8-5, as the working day schedule cannot be interrupted. Other schools serving high poverty populations may rely on hard-copy communication methods if there is minimal access to Internet and phones. Parents and guardians need empathy from their child’s school. Knowing the population your school serves can help form your communication modes such as phone calls, Friday folders, or even Facebook posts. However, understanding parents’ daily struggles should also impact what is being communicated. Simple, clear messaging with realistic and empathetic expectations of behaviors and involvement from both students and parents can bridge the communication gap. Schools can build trust with families and students by getting to know them on a personal level. That missed assignment or lost popcorn money doesn’t seem so big when you know that trauma a family is faced. Schools can be the safe-haven so many parents expect and need them to be, not just for academic instruction, but also for emotional guidance and stress-relief. Educators can make a difference by increasing their understanding of the surrounding community and cultural beliefs of family and students to help foster two-way communication.
Save Money: Own Your Building Adam Holcomb Chief Financial Officer Choice Schools Associates and MIChoice
aking the decision as a school board member to purchase your existing building or embark on new construction is indeed a gutsy decision. The process may feel intimidating, and you’re likely apprehensive (and maybe a little skeptical) to take such a leap and make the investment. But I can promise you, when done correctly, it’s more than worth it. There’s no greater way to show your commitment to your community than to invest in a building to call your own. I’ve just come off the heels of working hand-in-hand with board members and closing on two very successful facility financing projects. I can personally attest to the positive ripple effect that comes with seeing this process through to completion. Three Oaks Public School Academy (TOPSA) is located in the heart of Muskegon, and provides a family-like environment and quality education to over 400 students in grades K-5. In 2016, TOPSA officially claimed their forever home by purchasing their school building. The board has been fiscally responsible, allowing the school to grow their fund balance and become financially stable. This, in turn, has given them the financial freedom to purchase the building they were leasing - which saves them over $100,000 annually.
West Michigan Academy of Environmental Science (WMAES) is a PreK-12th grade academy located on the outskirts of bustling Grand Rapids. WMAES was one of the first charter schools in Michigan and has grown and developed throughout their 20+ years of existence. In 2016 their dream of a brand new elementary building was accomplished! The school broke ground in 2015 and in the fall of 2016, WMAES’ new elementary school became home to over 450 students. Reflecting on both of these recent wins gives me fresh insight into what school board members most need to know about making
this game-changing decision. It’s important to note that this is a process, but with preparation and a highly competent leadership team, you’ll be confident in taking this exciting step for your school community.
the project will never get off the ground. And when you aren’t working with a team that provides accurate, easy-to-understand information about the lender’s process, your board will become paralyzed moving forward.
Here a few things you need to know to begin the process of building or buying your school building. It takes Time The process of building or buying a school building doesn’t happen overnight. So how long does it take? If you want to buy an existing building, it can take 3-12 months, and if you’re constructing a new school, depending on the scope of the project, anywhere from 1-3 years.
It is critical to the success of your building project that you are receiving good information by competent people. So who should be part of your Dream Team? You’ll want to select someone who not only has a financial background, but also vast experience in charter school finance. For construction projects, you’ll also need to secure an architect, contractor(s), and in some cases a construction manager. By surrounding yourself with experts who specialize in these areas, your dream school building will come to life effectively and efficiently.
Yes, that may seem like a long time, but there are many aspects that go into securing financing for your project, and the more prepared you are, the faster and easier the process will go. Before you get started, I recommend working with an expert financial team to create a strategic plan, which will ensure that 1) Your Board can obtain what you’re looking for in a building, 2) Financing can be secured, and 3) The timeline of your project will be met. Surround Yourself with Experts - Create a Dream Team You may be tempted to take on the management of this project yourself, however, the world of charter school financing can be challenging to navigate. There are many moving parts to the process, and without the know-how, you could end up with unfavorable financing terms, or even denied financing, and
Make Lenders Want You - Do Your Due Diligence It’s important to have supporting facts readily available for potential lenders to view. Lenders appreciate when a school board is prepared and responsible, so gathering your information ahead of time will give you the upper hand when dealing with lenders in this process. And once you have these materials collected, you’ll be prepared to look at multiple lenders, which I highly recommend. Here’s a list of things you’ll want to make sure you have ready: • Accurate financial projections with underlying assumptions that prove financial stability. This includes projected statement of revenues and expenditures, cash flow, and balance sheet all using REAL numbers, and backed by information that supports those projections. For example, if you believe that your enrollment will increase by 10%, you need to include evidence to support that projection. An industry best practice is to show actual audited results for two years and then forecast out five years. • Student enrollment trends • Marketing plans • Brand awareness initiatives • Waiting lists for the school (based on true numbers, not inflations) • Historical trends both with academics and student enrollment • Legacy student information • Retention rates for both students and staff Additionally, don’t be surprised when lenders begin interviewing all the key stakeholders to attest their accountability and learn more about the school.
CHARTER CONNECT - SPRING 2017
Stress Test Now - Stress Less Later What happens if funding is cut by 10%? Or if enrollment decreases by 10%? These are REAL questions that should not be avoided. Unfortunately, your annual loan payments won’t adjust with funding, or enrollment fluctuations. Stress testing your financial projections allows both you and your lenders to see if the school can still afford to pay the loan if such negative factors occur, while at the same time maintaining the instructional programs and general operations. As the saying goes, “Plan for the worst, hope for the best.” Potential Barriers Be prepared for barriers to get in the way. It’s important to build in extra time AND extra funding for things that come up. As with any building or construction project, there may be utility or drainage issues, unforeseen mechanical problems, or other construction setbacks that will need to be addressed. Be conservative with your planning and budgeting, by setting aside 5-10% of your budget for contingencies.
Tell Your Story A new building is a big deal, and is something to celebrate! It’s proof of stability; it’s proof that your school’s finances are in control, and most importantly, it’s proof of growth. Give your school family, community and future families the opportunity to celebrate with you. Invite members of the community to a groundbreaking ceremony, encourage local media to take a tour of the building, or share the building progress through social media or a blog. Get the students involved by having a school-wide party. Sharing your story and accomplishments puts your school in the spotlight, and supports your families, your community, and those who worked with you through the longevity of the project. If you dream of having full control of your building and grounds, consider beginning this discussion with your fellow board members now. I can’t stress enough how with the right leadership team, you’ll have confidence and trust to go through this process, maintaining your visionary role, with little to no risk.
COMMITMENT TO INFLUENCING EDUCATION The Grand Valley State University Charter Schools Office offers Michigan teachers a wide variety of professional development opportunities, including 200 workshops on more than 40 different professional development topics.
• Relevant topics to help you meet continuing education requirements and reach your full potential as a teacher. • Workshops offered in Grand Rapids and Detroit. • State Continuing Education Clock Hours (SCECH) available at almost every workshop See schedule and register at gvsu.edu/cso or call (616) 331-2240.
Adam Holcomb is the Chief Financial Officer for Choice Schools Associates and MIChoice. He has over a decade of experience in charter school finance and and has a passion for supporting boards with facility financing. Adam also serves as a consultant to schools across the nation guiding them through the process of purchasing existing buildings, new construction, renovations and debt restructuring.
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Day at the Capitol
May 03, 2017 | Lansing, MI CELEBRATE COMMUNITY. CELEBRATE STUDENTS. #CELEBRATECHARTERS Register your school community today! bit.ly/CharterDay2017