by Joe Shahen
This month, more than 300 charter school leaders, parents, advocates, and operators gathered in New York City for the Northeast Charter School Network’s conference. The event allowed members of the public charter school movement to share their experiences and collectively think about the challenges facing charter schools today.
“The annual conference is a way to bring charter schools from across the region together to celebrate our shared mission,” said NECSN President Bill Phillips. “It is vital, particularly at this moment in our movement’s history, to share what’s working and to learn from each other. When charter schools from Buffalo to New York City to New Haven assemble, we create opportunities to face challenges together and with the best ideas possible.”
With the charter movement facing a time of great change, the urgency of the education reform movement’s work was felt throughout the weekend’s events. While talking about the recent march across the Brooklyn Bridge, Achievement First parent and Families for Excellent Schools organizer Shamona Kirkland made a statement on the need for quality public schools that rings true for all parents: “My child’s future is time-sensitive.”
The sessions, which ranged from how to better approach the Common Core to why more than 17,000 members of the New York City charter community marched, were aimed at helping improve the way charters educate their students and advocate for their schools.
One session included a discussion with Ember Reichgott Junge, author of Minnesota’s first-in-the-nation charter school law, who shared her story on how the chartering movement began. She, along with NECSN’s Jill Shahen and Andrea Rogers, discussed the roots of the movement and offered insights about innovation and charters’ freedom to be better.
Success Academy Network CEO Eva Moskowitz held a session discussing how her schools prepared for the Common Core exams and how they achieved the standout performance that has garnered so much attention. She gave insight into teacher preparation and establishing a learning environment for a child that enables them to think, engage, and get so excited for school that they won’t want to leave.
The highlight of the conference came from Harlem Children’s Zone CEO Geoffrey Canada. In a moving keynote address, Canada spoke about the importance of improving public education and the meaning of leadership.
“We are on the front line of saving this country,” said Canada.
He talked about how the current public school system has failed too many children across multiple generations. He said it was the moral obligation of the education reform movement to stand up to the status quo and save the lives of these children, many of whom could be doomed to a life of crime and poverty without a good education.
“We don't need any more lousy schools. We need schools that are constantly getting better,” Canada said.
Canada finished with a poem he’d written that put into perspective what was at stake in the movement, entitled “Don’t Blame Me,” that left the audience standing.