One of my education heroes who inspired my work in chartering is Seymour (Sy) Fliegel, who was leading dramatic changes in the East Harlem schools in the 1970s and 80s. He came to Minnesota to share his experience at the 1988 Itasca Conference on education reform, where I first learned about chartered schools. You can imagine how special it was to have Sy accompany me to the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards presentation at the Harvard Club in New York, where Zero Chance of Passage was named Third Grand Prize Winner for Nonfiction Books. The reception was just across the street from the organization Sy founded and now leads in New York: The Center for Educational Innovation—Public Education Association (CEI-PEA), which supports innovative charter and district public schools in New York City.
I quoted Sy’s counsel to educators back then in Chapter 4 in my book:
“Don’t ask too much permission. That makes others take responsibility. If you want to do something different, they will be reluctant to take that risk….Just do it. If it works, you can give them the credit.” He continues to live by that today.
Hellenic Classical Charter School
Sy and I toured New York City as he drove me to Brooklyn, home of Hellenic Classical Charter School (HCCS), a school in partnership with CEI-PEA. Founded in 2005 in the Greek cultural traditions, the K-8 school documents 99% parental satisfaction, 96% attendance rate, a longer school day, and great academic progress reports, including 86% in math—exceeding the district, city and state scoring! Their graduates move on to many specialized high schools in NYC. Principal Christina Tettonis with Sy Fliegel, left, is an exceptional leader for her diverse school community, as well as her native Greek community in NYC. The children filled my heart and reminded me how chartering can change young lives—and lives of teachers as well.
What most touched me was how the integration of the Greek culture throughout the school, from affectionate greetings to the language, artwork, and lovely Greek dancing, created a special common bond among students and faculty. I was inspired by the talent and poise of these second-grade violinists—what tiny violins!
An eighth grade African-American young woman told me with great self-confidence that she spoke Greek and Latin, and would become a pediatrician. I know she will! She is a great example of the school’s pledge in action:
“When my day is done, I will take knowledge, wisdom, and truth with me, to make the world a better place.”
It is a whole new world. The Indie Awards Celebration was scheduled in New York City the eve of the largest gathering of booksellers and publishers in America: BookExpo America. Imagine over 500 authors autographing books: best-selling, first-time, up-and-coming authors in all genres. Imagine every publishing house in America promoting their fall reads and distributing free “proofs.” Imagine the latest in digital publishing and social media. I spent a day learning, listening and networking, particularly with the Independent Book Publishers Association. Great fun. Where to start?