Guest Blogger: Lauren Mignogno, Literature teacher at People’s Prep Charter High School in Newark, NJ.
A few days ago, during a polite small talk conversation, a woman asked me where I was a teacher, and when I named a charter school, her demeanor immediately changed. “Oh. I don’t like charter schools,” she said. “I think all children should have equal access to a good education.”
How funny she should say that. I believe the same thing.
I started my teaching career in a district school in a different state. I knew nothing, or almost nothing about charter schools. I did know that I did not feel supported at my current school. I was the only one in my department who took data meetings seriously. No one gave homework. A student hit me in the face with a book, and the dean of discipline decided that I should apologize to the student for asking her to do work in my class. The principal asked me to give a passing grade to a basketball player who, more often than not, skipped out on doing any of his work.
The administration was weak. The teachers were detached. The kids were suffering.
I had to get out.
None of this has to do with the fact that it was a district school. All of this has to do with the staff. For any school—district, charter, private—to be successful, the staff must be a united platform. And at that school, we were not a united platform. We were an angry, confused mob that undermined our own efforts.
When I decided to move out of state for personal reasons, I was more careful in choosing a new school. I researched schools. I visited schools. I looked for a school that was staffed by people who were driven and determined. Still not really understanding district vs. charter, I checked them all. Even private. I wanted a school that felt like a village. A school that continued to train and support their teachers. A school that kept hope alive for every student no matter their background.
I found that in a charter school. And thus began my own education.
A charter school starts when an educator has a specific vision. That educator then drafts a plan. Then she finds other educators who believe in this plan. From day one, everyone works toward the same specific goal. No detail is left undiscussed. “What is best for the kids?” is asked thousands of times a day. Everyone in every moment in every corner of the building is obsessing over the same goal. This takes time, organization, commitment. This takes a strong leader and an even stronger vision.
That is why I work at a charter school.
So, I agree with you. All children do deserve equal access to a great education. All children deserve a dedicated staff. It is time for all of us to step up and work together to provide such an education. Be they traditional public or public charter schools, every district should be filled with villages of strong leaders and even stronger visions. Only then will all our students realize their potential and the bright futures before them.