By Kendall Massett, Executive Director of Delaware Charter Schools Network
As an advocate for public education for the past 10-years and in my role as Executive Director of Delaware Charter Schools Network, I focus on our students, teachers, schools, and our community in my pursuit to provide all students in Delaware with a free, high-quality public education that sets students, families, and communities up for success. I believe that parents should have options in public education and the opportunity to find the right learning space to meet the needs for their children, which is why I fight for charter public schools.
Charter schools are always public schools, free to all, and in the case of schools with more applicants than spaces, schools use a lottery to determine entrance. What makes charter schools different from district schools is the flexibility and autonomy built right into the structure of the school. In other words, teachers can better decide what is happening in their classroom, which is critical to meeting students where they are, as kids’ needs vary and change every year. These hyper-local decisions about curricula, teaching style, and technique allow teachers to change how they lead and approach their classrooms to best serve their students. Any great teacher in any great school who knows how to tailor instructions and lessons can do that. But only in charter schools can change happen in real time.
Take Melissa Tracy, Social Studies teacher at Odyssey Charter High School. Yes, she teaches social studies, and she also does so much more. Melissa is a cross-disciplinary teacher who was named the Delaware STEM Teacher of the Year. Melissa decided to take a hands-on approach to teach her students Food Studies, a unique offering that merges history, environmental science, and other subjects. In this course, she and her students grow and maintain hydroponic gardens in the classroom that provide thousands of fresh fruits and vegetables to the school’s cafeteria and community every month. Melissa felt this was the right way to teach these important subjects, while instilling generosity, patience, and teamwork in her students.
Melissa’s charter school provides the capacity and space to be innovative and find the best way to meet the needs of students – a common feeling amongst charter schoolteachers and leaders. When teachers have independence and authority in their classroom, they are happier and feel valued, and that translates directly into providing a high-quality learning environment for students.
I firmly believe that everyone who works in education has the same goals: to see all students succeed. We believe that all children deserve to reach their potential, and we want to do what’s right for kids. Teachers may take different paths to help students reach success, because there is no silver bullet to education – but education is the silver bullet to end poverty.
Charter schools are an important part of Delaware’s public education system – and our teachers are phenomenal. Our leaders in the state house and on local school boards must recognize the flexibility built into the very core of charter schools provides the ability for teachers to serve individual student needs, and adapt accordingly, and produce amazing results for students, families, and our communities.
When talking about why he became a teacher after a 20-year military career, Anthony Taylor, a teacher at Freire Charter School, said to me, “When I was in school, teachers didn’t believe in me. I knew that I couldn’t allow other kids to not be believed in and be told that they weren’t going to go anywhere. I know that my kids have a future and I know that they are going to go somewhere.”
I’ve spoken to hundreds of charter schoolteachers who have a story like Anthony’s. These teachers choose to work at charters because they know that they’ll be able to have autonomy to serve their students in whatever way necessary to help them find success in high school, college, and throughout life.
Charter schools are the answer that many parents and students seek. I know this because I am a charter advocate and a charter parent. Right now, 17,201 students are enrolled in a charter school in Delaware, about 12% of our state’s students. Only one of these students is biologically mine, but I feel responsibility to serve the other 17,200 of them as if they were my own. It gives me great joy to know our students and their families are being served by teachers who love their jobs and believe they are changing lives every day. I hope over the next decade of my advocacy career, I can help clear the path for more high-quality schools, allowing families and teachers alike to choose what’s best for them.
Kendall Massett is the Executive Director of Delaware Charter Schools Network.
Visit decharternetwork.org/BestForMe for more stories from Delaware’s charter school teachers.
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