Amid Change, Our Autonomy and Community Are Our Strength

Amid Change, Our Autonomy and Community Are Our Strength

This blog post was written by Dr. Sana Shaikh, who served until this spring as Director of School Operations at Rise Prep High School, an autonomous school in Springfield, Massachusetts. Rise Prep is one of 13 schools in the Empowerment Zone, schools designed to provide principal leaders the autonomy to make equitable decisions for student impact. Dr. Shaikh designed and managed the systems that impact student learning. This included professional development training as it relates to anti-racism and culturally responsive teaching. She currently works for an edtech company.

This year was overwhelming. And we made it through, centering our community in all we do.

Operations, generally, is an iterative space and one that requires research, forecasting, and diligence in implementation. With COVID, we had to create systems from scratch, without having any precedent or data we could use to guide our decisions.

Moreover, there were continued inconsistencies in what our day-to-day would like. In July 2020, we were told we would be going in-person in August. Two weeks before school reopened, we learned that was not the case and we would be operating fully hybrid.

Since last August, my mantra was grounded in cautious optimism. We can only plan for what we know and with so many decisions outside our realm of control, we were diligent, systematic, and focused.

Throughout all these challenges and changes, our community is our strength.

We were purposeful in how we centered our community throughout this year. We had advisors routinely check-in to get feedback on schedules, remote learning, and student progress. We had an administrator on call daily to provide technical support and troubleshooting to families who need those services. We elicited feedback using surveys as we thought through COVID protocols and procedures to implement in our reopening plan.

We tried to ensure that we elevate community voice as we developed spaces that best propel academic outcomes. Most of Rise Prep students are Latinx. With Spanish-speaking parents and families, we ensured that they had consistent access to our Spanish-speaking staff. 

Our goal this year was to be there for our students and families and to lead with empathy and respect. 

The shift to community-centric responses is so important, especially with the trauma of the last year. Education is a team-sport and requires collectivism and collaboration between and among staff, students, and communities. Charter schools are positioned well for this type of collaboration because they have the autonomy to prioritize innovative thought and aligned action.

Now more than ever, we need to rise to the challenge and continue to invest in our communities. Because if not now, when?

Read more about how this commitment to collaboration #WithCommunities happens in practice and why it’s critical to advancing quality education systems. To read the full guide for educators, school leaders and advocates, visit

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