By Public Impact
How has being a person of color affected the ways in which successful charter school leaders built schools where students, families, and staff learn, grow, and thrive? We profiled eight such leaders to find out, in a three-part series written by Public Impact’s Daniela Doyle, Juli Kim, Shonaka Ellison, and Ismael Hernandez-Cruz in partnership with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Identity and Charter School Leadership—Profiles of Leaders of Color:
“The stories profiled in this series highlight that our identities—including our racial and ethnic identities—shape how we understand and respond to the world. While many aspects of great leadership are universal, the leaders profiled in this series draw on their experiences as people of color to create innovative models, contextualize learning for students in new ways, and ultimately consider what students, families, and staff need from a different perspective,” said Daniela Doyle, vice president for policy and management research at Public Impact. “All leaders, regardless of their race or ethnicity, would be wise to learn from and adopt such examples.”
The charter school leaders we interviewed for this series lead schools across the country that include a mix of academic models, including college preparatory programs, schools that are “diverse by design,” and dual-language programs. The schools predominantly serve students of color and students from low-income families, though not always.
The reports highlight three common themes from the eight leaders we profiled, all related to their experiences as people of color:
- Addressing holes and creating opportunities based on personal experience. Based on holes in their own academic experiences as a person of color or as a child from a low-income family, many of the school leaders in this series have taken nontraditional steps to address those same challenges in their own schools.
- Emphasizing value over deficits. Many of the leaders in this series emphasized the value that students and their families offer rather than seeing their primary roles as compensating for or working around perceived deficits.
- Providing an equitable educational experience to produce equitable student outcomes. The leaders of color included in this series all work hard to give students an educational experience like that of their more advantaged peers—an experience full of art, sports, travel, and extracurriculars—as well as opportunities to learn from their mistakes. In some cases, they have even built their schools around themes and curricula seldom available in low-income schools and districts.
“As a black student from a low-income background, my experiences outside of school were limited. Other students could afford the trips and activities that exposed them to the world beyond our small town, while I had to rely on books for exposure,” said Shonaka Ellison, a senior consultant at Public Impact. “It has been truly inspiring to speak with leaders of color who had a similar experience in school and now work tirelessly to ensure that their students have different, broader experiences, which will lead to their success in the future.”
Read the three-part series:
In Building an Effective Staff:
- Eric Sanchez, co-founder of Henderson Collegiate—a network of three schools in Henderson, North Carolina—and his team train all the teachers in empathy as a way to fight biases.
- Frances Teso, founder and CEO of Voices College-Bound Language Academies—a network of four dual-language charter schools in the San Francisco Bay area—has developed a leader training program that both encourages and provides a clear pathway for her teachers to pursue school leadership.
- Jamar McKneely, co-founder of InspireNOLA Charter Schools—which operates a network of seven charter schools in New Orleans—took his responsibility to mentor beyond InspireNOLA and founded the Alliance for Diversity and Excellence to develop future charter school leaders of color across the city.
- Maquita Alexander, executive director and head of school for Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., looked to parents to play a leading role when she wanted to create a more inviting campus for students of all backgrounds and income levels.
- Freddy Delgado, superintendent/principal at Amigos Por Vida Charter School in Houston, Texas, has built on the school’s family-centered culture and reset expectations for parental involvement to focus on what students need to succeed.
- Kriste Dragon, CEO and co-founder of Citizens of the World Charter Schools—a national network of charter schools in Los Angeles and Kansas City, Missouri—and her teams continually consider the systems and structures that make it more difficult for some families to engage at the same levels as others, and adjust how they involve parents and what they ask of them.
In Building a Strong School Culture:
- Kathleen “Kathy” Wang, principal at Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley, Massachusetts, and her team use language to bring together students from diverse backgrounds and communities, creating a common ground that cultivates respect and inclusion.
- Maurice Thomas, founder and executive director of Milwaukee Excellence Charter School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, provides students with opportunities to follow their dreams and achieve beyond society’s expectations for them by learning to code, traveling, and being exposed to a wide array of extracurricular activities.
Our conversations affirmed the universality of certain practices that cultivate excellent learning environments and experiences,” said Juli Kim, a senior consultant at Public Impact. “But as a person of color, I appreciated the additional lens through which the leaders we interviewed view students, their families, and their staff, and I hope these reports help inspire the charter sector and beyond to nurture great school leaders of color.