Three years ago, I ran to serve on my local school board. I was going into my 2nd year of teaching at a charter school, living in my hometown, and felt responsible for making a difference in my community. I loved being involved in the Pico-Union area (where the school I taught at was located) and grew to view it as my home away from home. Still, I knew that while I was working numerous hours, and going the extra mile at my school and for my new community, schools in my own district could benefit from a fresh perspective and a new vision. It was in running for office, to serve the public school district of which I was a product of, that I was first introduced to one of the biggest problems in our education system: the lack of collaboration.
During the first few weeks of campaigning, I was commonly referred to as the “charter teacher.” I remember standing in front of a local union, asking for their support and immediately getting asked if I was “pro-charter” and whether I would be in support of bringing charters to Lynwood. I clearly remember feeling like I was not allowed to be on both teams, yet I couldn’t pick a side. I shared that I was pro-students. I followed that by sharing my vision for Lynwood; a vision of collaboration and an idea to bring in new strategies that have proven to work elsewhere, in an attempt to not simply reinvent the wheel. Fortunately, I gained their support, and with that, their trust. According to Mr. Javier Hernandez, a writer for the New York Times, “a primary rationale for the creation of charter schools, which are publicly financed and privately run, was to develop test kitchens for practices that could be exported into the traditional schools.” Yet, even within our own district, I could feel the resistance; it was fair too, considering charters in our local area have maintained their success within their own organization, rather than creating capacity to export these strategies into traditional settings.
As soon as I was elected, I made it clear that my goal was not to be the charter poster child. While I do believe that in larger school districts with too many failing schools, there is a higher need for more options, I do not think this is the case for smaller school districts. Parents deserve to have choices when it comes to providing the best educational experience for their children. However, when a school district has less than twenty schools, districts should be held accountable. Thus, they should be able to create systemic change from within without the need for outside agencies. Still, in the spirit of collaboration, I do acknowledge the need to see charters as partners rather than as competing sources.
The truth is that charter and public schools are serving the same populations, but they are operating in separate bubbles with no intentional collaboration. There are numerous examples of charters that have been successful and have data that supports growth; yet, a chasm between charter organizations and the traditional public schools causes a lack of collaboration.
If what has proven to work in charter schools hasn’t transitioned into the district school classrooms, why haven’t more districts explored opportunities to create innovation hubs where district teachers and charter school teachers can collaborate? Often, critics are quick to mention that not all charter schools have been successful, but does that mean when we overlook the charter schools that have been successful? Why not used them as case studies to develop strategies that can be implemented in a district setting as well?
The truth is “We could achieve our goal of great teaching in far more classrooms if we just applied what we know more widely.” I may not have the answers yet, but I refuse to give up on the opportunity to create a great partnership. If we share common partnerships, like Teach For America, perhaps in the near future, we will begin to use the common spaces to create a true collaboration that will support student success.
The conversation shouldn’t be about district schools vs. charter schools. The conversation needs to focus on students and helping more teachers succeed in the classroom to lead more students on a path towards success. If we want to teach our students that teamwork makes the dream work, perhaps we can start by modeling the behavior between charter schools and traditional schools.
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