Celebrating Chartering at my Alma Mater: Duke University Law School, Durham, North Carolina

After spending hundreds of hours studying in the library “stacks” as a law student at Duke University Law School in Durham, North Carolina, I never dreamed I would return as an alumni author 36 years after graduation in 1977.   What an honor to return to campus to speak, just in time for Alumni Weekend.  My message for law students of today?  Contribute your talents in public law and take a stand for change! My April 11, 2013 presentation, sponsored by the Goodson Law Library, Duke Education Law and Policy Society, and Duke Students for Education Reform can be seen in its entirety on video here.  Or read more about my message in the Winter, 2013 issue of Duke Law Magazine. I’m grateful to David Wolfe (pictured right), co-chair of the Duke Education Law and Policy Society, who helped organize the event.

My visit to North Carolina included a press conference at the state capitol in Raleigh and introduction to the North Carolina Senate.  My host was former State Senator Eddie Goodall, who is now Executive Director of the North Carolina Public Charter Schools Association.  I look forward to returning to Greensboro, NC in July to keynote the Association’s state conference.

North Carolina has over 107 charter schools, and I loved visiting two of them—both highly regarded.  Central Park School for Children (CPSC) is a child-centered, project-based K-5 school located in the heart of downtown Durham that encourages creativityand autonomy in its teachers.   The school leader, John Heffernan, is all about possibility –and it shows! The children thrive in this year-round school community where a child’s curiosity and challenges are valued and supported by active, hands-on learning.  Artistic expression is integrated everywhere. Teachers focus on projects for whichstudents are passionate—if a group loves birds, they’ll learn basic skills around their passion, and make paper mache models of favorite birds to boot.  The walls are covered with bright art of all kinds—including a creative demonstration of school projects underway.   I especially loved the fifth grade—where the three teachers designed their wide-open learning space and work as a team throughout the year.  Below teacher Alex Madrigaldemonstrates healthy eating by experimenting with ingredients in making pancakes.  And to the left, fifth-grade teacher Erica Nagi, a recent graduate of the Duke School of Education, brings her knowledge of Arabic to the classroom.

Finally, I drove to nearby Wake Forest to visit one of the largest, high-performing chartered schools in North Carolina–Franklin Academy. Founded in 1998 as one of North Carolina’s first 100 schools, Franklin Academy today is home for over 1600 students enrolled on multiple campuses for elementary, middle, and high school grades.  With more than 1800 applicants on a waiting list each year, this chartered school is “the most sought after school in North Carolina” according to its leaders.  I was especially intrigued with the direct instruction curriculum for the elementary students—a highly scripted curriculum with proven results.   Head K-8 administrator Denise Kent explained that Franklin Academy is not for everyone—but those teachers and families who choose to be there share an undeniable passion for the work of this school.

So there you have it—two curricula in two charter schools that couldn’t be more different—from scripted direct instruction to the autonomy of child-centered, project based learning.  Both schools are highly successful and courted by their families.  What better examples of the choices that chartering provides!  I am inspired by both of these high-quality schools that change young lives each day.