By Scott Pearson, Executive Director of the D.C. Public Charter Schools Board
This is a critical time for authorizers. How we respond to COVID-19 will make a difference to the lives of the children our schools serve. It could also help shape the future of charter schools. Much will change on the other side of this pandemic. When policymakers and the public look back at how we responded, will they see public charter schools as part of the solution, or contributing to the problem? The charter model earned a huge boost due to its effective response to Hurricane Katrina. Now we face a different crisis and again we need to step up and show that the charter school model can be uniquely effective in response.
At the DC Public Charter School Board, I’ve laid out six broad priorities for our team.
- Collaborate with government partners to organize an effective response. This is not the time to stay in our corner, or to bray about our autonomies. This is the time to work together, to pitch in, and to contribute to solutions. For example, we worked together with our state department of education to allow public charter schools to be citywide food distribution centers. Now 25 public charter and 25 DC public schools are serving as meal sites – all serving all students and open to whomever lives closest.
- Facilitate learning and experience sharing. A key strength of public charter schools is their ability to innovate. The rate of learning and problem-solving going on now is astounding. We can help schools improve faster by learning from each other. And we can make charter-district collaboration real. We’re hosting three webinars every day for our schools focused not only on overall approaches, but on specific issues, like delivering related services, or college counseling, or parent perspectives. We’ve established a shared library where we post plans, ideas, and exemplars for all schools to see. And we’ve teamed with our charter association to launch a Slack platform with dozens of channels so that collaboration can happen at every job level across our schools.
- Conduct appropriate oversight of distance learning. Right away we told schools that we expected them to do their best to keep learning going, and to reach all students. We aren’t being punitive about this, and we recognize some schools will struggle. But every school we oversee must make a good faith effort to reach all students.
- Adjust our accountability standards. We have high standards. But every aspect of accountability needs to be rethought for 2019-20, and possibly for 2020-21. We are convening listening sessions with schools and promised them clarity on accountability by late April.
- Communicate three things. Our communications function is dedicated to a) sharing out essential information, b) elevating the heroic stories coming out of our schools every day, and c) facilitating experience sharing between schools.
- Enable our agency to function effectively. Over the years we’ve invested in moving our data to the cloud. Now our IT function is on overdrive, ensuring that every staff member has the tools they need to be effective while working from home.
These are times like no other. Effective authorizing can ensure that the charter sector rises to the occasion, and that the diversity of our schools is recognized as an advantage in this crisis.