By Cara Volpe
I’m always amazed at the number of education-related things I read, see, and hear that don’t mention students in a meaningful way. The number of articles and conversations that are full of contention and defensiveness over the same issues, resulting in a distorted lens through which to consider schools and the work they are doing – and the promise that they hold more generally. For sure, there’s some fighting to be done, but I wish we were fighting, in unison, for every kid to have the opportunity to attend an exemplary school, regardless of their particular life circumstances.
Last December, New York was one of nine cities to sign a District-Charter Collaboration Compact, as part of a national Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation initiative. The big idea is exactly what it sounds like – getting district and charter schools to collaborate more, with the ultimate goal of raising student outcomes across the city. The work itself is about addressing system-level issues of parity (including enrollment, funding, facilities, and data) and shifting the public dialogue, while also working directly with schools to create meaningful areas for collaboration and best-practice sharing.
There are certainly challenges in getting to this goal. New York City is a behemoth of a school system. More than just the sheer number of students, it’s a physically massive district, and one that in recent years has been purposefully designed to include a diversity of school models. There are inherent structural differences between district and charter schools given their legal mandates, union frameworks, etc. In addition to differences in available resources, schools are also contending with differences in student enrollment, achievement levels, and of course, philosophies.
And here’s the other thing – truly productive, result-yielding collaboration is hard. It requires so much more than just physically bringing people together in a room. But truth be told, that’s hard enough. As a former teacher who was fully focused on her students, I can attest to the fact that I barely had enough time to talk to the 6th grade science teacher next door, to say nothing about travelling to another school for professional development or a conversation.
But no matter the challenges, educators on both sides are full of ideas about how to actually begin doing this. They’re filled with incredible energy, hope, and urgency about not accepting the fact that our system continues to fail thousands of students. And, perhaps most importantly, they are committed to thinking beyond the walls of their own school, the needs of their own child, and the circumstances of their specific community to focus on lifting up the entire system.
We, at the Charter Center, are serious about supporting schools’ efforts to do just this. We’re working with the district to put the finishing touches on our action plan – a plan focused on alleviating the negative rhetoric, spurring dialogues and encouraging best practice sharing.
In the meantime, we’d love to hear about your collaborations. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cara Volpe is the District-Charter Collaborations Manager at the New York City Charter School Center