As a state, as a community, and as Delawareans, we need to work together to find ways to provide an excellent education for all of our children. With just five weeks under my belt as the new Executive Director for Delaware Charter Schools Network, I am a new voice in Delaware education and I am eager to join the conversation.
There are great things going on in our charter schools. First and foremost, they are providing high-quality education: charters represented the three highest performing public schools statewide in reading proficiency in 2011 and three out of the top four in math. 67.8 percent of charter students are proficient in reading and 69.1 percent are proficient in math, compared with 61.5 and 62.2 percent respectively for all public schools statewide. And this is happening in schools across a diverse population of students.
Secondly, charter schools are showing what is possible and informing the rest of the system. They are trying new ways of teaching, new ways of learning, and when these new things work, they share them with other schools. For example, the Singapore Math program utilized by Kuumba Academy in Wilmington, in which the focus is on teaching concept to mastery rather than concept only. In other words, critical thinking—teaching kids what to do with a concept and how to apply it. The school experienced a significant jump in math scores soon after adopting the program, which remain high. When the Brandywine School District adopted the program, our Kuumba teachers helped them implement, providing training for staff and parents. A wonderful example of how charter and traditional schools can and are working together.
It is impossible to visit one of our charter schools and not feel something. At every school I visit, I see firsthand the enthusiasm, respect, and thoughtfulness with which the children embrace their education. Our charters are employing innovative models that are inspiring and furthering the education of Delaware students. At one school, the model includes real-world experience that is changing lives. A student at this school told me that, “Two years ago, I was not going to college, didn’t want to and didn’t think it was possible,” she said, “but now I’m planning on going to DeVry University, and I’m going to get a degree in business management.” Awesome.
Charters are an important part of their communities as well. Positive Outcomes in Camden, for example, received awards for their participation in a Bayhealth emergency management drill at Kent General and Milford Memorial hospitals. Pencader Charter High School collected over 1500 coats for those in need this winter. Providence Creek Academy has two school wide community days a year. All of the kids go out and help with different community projects like Habitat for Humanity and the Food Bank of Delaware. These are just examples of how every one of our 22 charter schools is impacting and giving back to the community in incredible and worthwhile ways.
Charter schools have proven they can work. The original idea of charters was to find an idea that works and model it within the traditional system to help all children learn. We are starting to do that. Let us take the example that Kuumba and Brandywine have given and continue the trend. Let us work together as partners to further the needs of all students. Charter schools are a critical component of Delaware’s public education system and need to be treated as such. But for charter schools to truly thrive they need to be accepted as the integral part of the system that they are.
What really concerns me, what keeps me up at night, is the compartmentalizing of our state’s education system, the negativity being directed at the charter community, and the potential it has to keep all of us down. Because here’s the thing—if none of us allow each other to rise up, then we all fall back down. The tone of the conversation needs to change for all of us—traditional public, private, and charter alike. If we want to rise up to the next level, we’re going to have to stand on each other’s shoulders to get there. So I invite you to stand on my shoulders, and hope that you will let me stand on yours.
Kendall Massett is the Executive Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network.