Are Charter School Leaders Reaching All Students?

I was intrigued by a point that Nina Rees, CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, made in her address to the recent National Charter Schools Conference. With one million student names on charter school waiting lists, “we aren’t growing or diversifying fast enough,” she said. “There are too many students we are still not able to reach or serve.”

Two reasons are evident: state policies and lack of funding can be significant barriers. But the third reason was a surprise to me: making sure we are open to every student who is interested in attending a charter school.

For example, when a student leaves a seat in a charter school, are we committed to filling that seat? And are we reaching out to students who are “different” or who don’t appear to be a fit for our school?

Isaac is an example. He is a student at Richard Wright Public Charter School (RWPCS) and an intern for the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board. Isaac used to attend a school that didn’t interest him much. He was bullied. He skipped classes and ignored his teachers. His suspensions piled up. Then he met Dr. Marco Clark, CEO and Founder of RWPCS, who encouraged Isaac to enroll in his school.

A whole new Isaac emerged. Today he arrives at school at 7 a.m. and doesn’t leave until 7 p.m. He is a role model for his peers. Recently Michelle Obama invited him to the White House to show his documentary about his school.

Isaac started RWPCS in the ninth grade of an 8-12 high school. Would you have accepted him in your charter school? Or sought him out? His mother wasn’t looking for a new school. Would he have been considered too challenging, too far behind academically, or not a fit for the school culture?

Do we sometimes use these circumstances as an excuse?

CEO Rees asks an important question. If we are to take chartering to new heights, we must be ready to serve all students who come to us—no matter how different or challenging they may be.

Are the leaders of your public charter school reaching out to all students?