Educator Spotlight: Donald Hense

Educator Spotlight: Donald Hense

By Curtis Valentine

The African-American community’s fight for quality education requires constant dedication and reflection on successful strategies to educate our children. Donald Hense and the Friendship Charter Network is an example of success worthy of recognition.

Hense is the founder and board chairman of the Friendship Charter Network, the largest African-American-led charter school network in America. Hense’s accomplishment is significant, because, while over 80 percent of charter school students are Black or Latino, fewer than 10 percent of charter schools are founded and led by Blacks or Latinos, according to a study by the Brookings Institute.

Three-quarters of the students enrolled in Friendship schools in D.C. are from Wards 7 and 8, the city’s two poorest areas, and nearly all are African-American. Their achievement is reflected in their continuous improvement on standardized tests. Most recently, Hense and his team celebrated, when five of Friendship’s 12 D.C. schools were rated Tier 1 by the Public Charter School Board – the highest of three ratings a charter school can earn.

As a native of St. Louis and graduate of Morehouse College and Stanford University, Hense has long understood the power of a quality education. But for years he had no interest in working in K-12 education. He was serving as executive director of Friendship House Association, a non-profit serving low-income families in Washington D.C., when he was approached by an executive from a local charter operator about using Friendship House to charter a school. After some reflection, he agreed to transfer his experience fighting intergenerational poverty to the fight for quality public education.

Hense made history as the first African American to win a grant from New Schools Venture Fund, which supports charter school founders. Friendship was among the first group of schools chartered by the D.C. Public Charter School Board in 1998. Twenty years later, it has12 campuses for students in grades Pre-K3 to 12 in D.C., an online school, and schools in Baton Rouge, La., Baltimore, Md., and Little Rock and Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Hense is proud of Friendship and of education reform efforts in Washington, but he is not ready to celebrate. “We declared victory too soon,” he says. “Fifteen years of education reform is not an institution.”

To Hense, the fight to reform school systems serving African-American students should include more leaders of color. For years, he held a monthly meeting of black charter school leaders in D.C. to talk about their experiences and discuss lessons learned, but it “fizzled out” after young leaders lost interest. “We brought in second and third generation [leaders] and forgot to show them that [African-Americans] need to work together to get things done,” he says. “New [leaders] have to participate in black organizations.”

In spite of a few setbacks, Hense is still dedicated to supporting African-Americans interested in opening their own charter schools. The greatest obstacle to their success, he believes, is lack of experience in management. A potential founder needs “a good plan and a good board of directors. It’s best to go in [to the charter application process] with a strong [management] team.”

Fortunately, there are positive examples of young, African-American charter school founders to emulate. In 2017, Dominique Lee of BRICK Avon Academy in Newark, New Jersey won a Promise Neighborhood grant from the U.S. Education Department. Dominque aims to use the grant to educate 3,000 students in Newark over the next few years, making BRICK the state’s third-largest CMO and the only one led by a person of color.

Hense recommends that other African Americans interested in starting charter schools apply for funding fromthe New Schools Venture Fund or for charter school design grants from Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS), if they are in D.C.

At 75, Hense says he is not done. The Friendship Education Fund continues to identify opportunities to replicate their model around the country. Friendship’s goal is to bring what Hense and his team learned in Washington to the countless districts struggling to grow African-American student achievement. As DCPS welcomes a new chancellor with experience championing school choice, there may be new opportunities in D.C. as well.

This article is a part of The ‘Reinventing America’s Schools’ series. This series highlights Change Makers from our community who are walking reflections of what’s possible when we place Accountability and Autonomy at the forefront. 

Lakisha Young, Oakland Reach

Lakisha Young, Oakland Reach

By Curtis Valentine, Reinventing America’s Schools, Guest Contributor

Lakisha Young is no stranger to education reform. A former Teach For America corps member and founding member of a KIPP Charter School, Young knows the power parents can wield when they demand educational options for their children. The daughter of a single mother who enrolled her in a traditional public school, a Catholic school, and later a private high school, Young expected to have the same power to make choices for her children when she became a mother.

A single mother of three, Young is satisfied with the choices she’s made: Her sons attend a charter school, and her daughter attends a selective high school. However, successfully securing places in these schools was no easy feat. Young knows firsthand the aggravation of dealing with the Oakland school lottery. She also understands the anxiety parents feel not knowing whether their children will have to enroll in a low-performing neighborhood school should there not be enough seats available at quality schools. Her personal experience led her to organize other parents and teach them how to advocate for their children.

In 2016, Young founded the Oakland Reach, which she describes as a “parent-run, parent-led group committed to empowering families from the most underserved communities to demand high-quality schools for children in Oakland.” Since then, the organization has informed more than 4,000 parents on the state of Oakland schools and trained over 300 parents in advocacy through its Oakland Family Advocacy Fellowship.

“If you’re black and low-income in Oakland, you have to fight for the right to a good school,” Young says. Two-thirds of black students in Oakland attend a school rated below the state average and only 1% attend a school rated above the state average (For more information visit the Oakland Reach website.) So Young looks for “parents willing to speak truth to power—and kinda trouble makers.”

Oakland Unified School District, faced with fiscal problems and too many half-empty schools, is closing school buildings to save money. Young and Oakland Reach decided to ask the district to give preference in high quality schools to students whose schools are closed. They dubbed this policy “The Opportunity Ticket,” worked tirelessly to advocate for it, and won a victory when the school board voted unanimously for it.

“Having to choose a school and having access are two different things,” Young explains. The Opportunity Ticket will give more low-income families access to the district’s best schools.

Oakland Reach wants all parents to have the same opportunities Young had, when she enrolled her sons in a public charter school. Today, more than 31% of Oakland’s public school students attend charters. Young fought to have her sons enroll in a school that, on average, graduates 86% of its students on time, compared to 75% in traditional public schools. Young’s sons and their classmates are also more likely to be accepted to college. In Oakland, 34% of African-American and Latino charter graduates are accepted to college, exceeding the district average of 15%. (For more information visit http://library.ccsa.org/OUSD%20Charter%20Report%202017.pdf)

Young is part of a wave of black women leading parent advocacy organizations around the country, including Aretta Baldon in Atlanta, Maya Martin Cadogan in Washington D.C., and Sarah Carpenter in Memphis. To Young, parents most impacted by failing schools have not been at the decision-making table. We are at the table now,” she says. “Parents bring a certain level of urgency [because] we don’t have an out. All black mommas needed were resources. Black mommas have been fighting for their kids since fighting to keep kids from being enslaved.”

Philanthropic investments in parent-led organizations like Oakland Reach have shifted the landscape for black women in leadership. “The missing components were resources to fight,” Young says. “There hasn’t been enough resources put behind black mommas and black daddies. This is new, this is like putting on a new suit … for us and for funders. People with resources trusting us.”

While Young celebrates the voice of black women, she recognizes that the Opportunity Ticket was successful thanks to an alliance with upper middle-class parents. “You need multiple stakeholders at the table,” she says. “Passing the Opportunity Ticket took a coalition of white allied parents and a focus on quality and equity for all kids.”

In a city looking for stability after 13 superintendents in 20 years, Oakland Reach has become a steady source of support for parents. Young is excited about the future and quite surprised that what was once just an idea has become a refuge for parents. She describes how overcome she was when one mother told her, “If I want to learn more about being better advocate for my kids…everybody is telling me that I need to be part of Oakland Reach.”

“I didn’t know what was possible” with Reach, Young admits. “I was moving with sheer will, I’d be fighting this fight — with Oakland Reach or not. I did not expect it to get to this point. I’m not shocked, though. This is what happens when you get fired up parents together.”

Next Stop? Young is in search of “What tables [parents] need to be sitting at in Sacramento.” Watch out state capitol, here she comes!

This article is a part of The ‘Reinventing America’s Schools’ series. This series highlights Change Makers from our community who are walking reflections of what’s possible when we place Accountability and Autonomy at the forefront. 

State seeks grant applications for new, expanding charter schools

State seeks grant applications for new, expanding charter schools

By Alison May

The Delaware Department of Education is seeking grant applications for new charter schools interested in opening in Delaware or highly effective existing schools looking to add seats or additional locations.

The funds are part of the $10.4 million federal grant Delaware won in October to strengthen the state’s charter school system. Funds from the U.S. Department of Education’s Charter School Program will be distributed over five years to support:

  • Sharing best practices between charter schools and other public schools;
  • Evaluating and enhancing the impact of charter schools on student achievement, families and communities;
  • Strengthening the charter school authorization process; and
  • Providing subgrants for the planning, program design and initial implementation of new charter schools and expansion and replication of highly effective existing charter schools.

The grant also will help the Delaware Department of Education to improve its charter authorization process by enhancing reporting to include additional measures, providing technical assistance to charter school stakeholders and addressing policy to strengthen authorization practices.

Those applying for subgrants from the state must show how they will use the funds to:

  • Increase academic achievement for all students in the school as well as educationally disadvantaged students;
  • Collaborate to share best practices with district and charter schools;
  • Engage the families of educationally disadvantaged children on school choice opportunities with a focus on Delaware’s rural and urban areas;
  • Leverage partnerships with local agencies (i.e. social services, behavioral health, mental health, educational support, job placement, before/after care) to enhance school services and ensure sustainability.

The department released its request for applications (find information online here). Applicants must notify their intent to apply by April 30. Applications are due May 31, and awards will be announced in July.

This article originally appeared in Delaware Department of Education News

EDUCATOR SPOTLIGHT: Rebecca Francis

EDUCATOR SPOTLIGHT: Rebecca Francis

By Lynette Monroe, Program Assistant, NNPA ESSA Awareness Campaign

Rebecca Francis, like most dynamic leaders of our time, recognized a problem and created a solution. As a former behavioral counselor, fourth grade teacher, and international high school psychology and English literature instructor, Rebecca Francis’ professional resume alone qualifies her to lead in the field of education. But her personal experience as an adolescent in the Bay Area, traveling 45 minutes across town to attend a higher performing school in a more affluent neighborhood, sparked the passion she needed to lead effectively.

Now Francis is looking to expand her passion for equity in education to Houston, Texas. Drawing from her studies at the Purpose Preparatory Academy in Nashville, Tennessee, Francis is proposing a new, independent, PreK-5 public charter school in the Bayou City. Through a Building Excellent Schools Fellowship, she is designing and founding Elevate Collegiate Charter School, slated to open Fall 2020.

Francis has visited over 25 high-performing schools across the nation to learn what it takes to make award-winning, high-quality public charter schools. She believes charter schools offer an alternative option to parents and students who are not satisfied with the options available to them. Although she supports traditional public, neighborhood schools, Francis recognizes the reality that all schools are not created equal and that traveling far away from home can inhibit children’s social development.

“As a little girl, traveling long distances in pursuit of a higher quality education I thought, ‘What is wrong with the school in my own neighborhood? Why does something like this not exist closer to my home?’” Lessons reiterated as a professional, “then, as an educator it became more clear that children on different ends of the income spectrum were receiving vastly different education experiences” Francis said.

Elevate Collegiate Charter School seeks to provide an accessible high-quality option to underserved students in Houston. Their mission is to equip all pre-kindergarten through fifth grade scholars with the academic knowledge and character development necessary to set forth confidently on the path to college. Elevate Collegiate Charter School strongly believes that they are not just responsible for providing a college preparatory education to students, but also to help instill the character traits necessary for them to be positive members in their class, school, and community.

Increased access to opportunity is a major goal of Elevate Collegiate Charter School. “We see education as a tool that all children need to unlock their greatest potential.” Francis says, “To better serve minority and low-income students this charter school will feature double literacy blocks, which we hope will promote advanced literary skills, and an increased prioritization of computer science. In the eight largest tech companies, African Americans make up less than 5 percent of the workforce. So, our challenge is also to figure out innovative ways to infuse coding, robotics, and basic computer software to light that tech spark in the curriculum.”

Title IV, Part C, of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), entitled, “Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools,” supports the increased accessibility of high-quality public charter schools. State entities can even receive grants from the federal government to open and prepare for the operation of new charter schools. ESSA defines a high-quality charter school as an educational institution that shows evidence of strong academic results or growth and has no significant issues with fiscal management or procedural compliance. ESSA gives states more flexibility to states to decide how to incorporate charter schools into their accountability systems, but most state charter school laws hold charter schools to the same standards as their traditional public school counterparts.

Why Houston? Rebecca is an alumna of the University of Houston where she earned Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in African American Studies. Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the nation and there are currently roughly 22,000 students on alternative school option waiting list.

Elevate Collegiate Charter School seeks to provide the individualized learning support towards mastery that ESSA encourages. It will do so by hiring teachers with experience teaching underserved populations and who have the passion to do so effectively and consistently.

To learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the innovative opportunities it affords to Black students check out nnpa.org/essa.

The Teachers’ Unions Have a Charter School Dilemma

The Teachers’ Unions Have a Charter School Dilemma

A dispute over pay and class size in Chicago boiled over into the nation’s first charter school strike this month, raising questions about how teachers’ unions, going forward, will reconcile their longheld opposition to charters with their need to pick up more dues-paying members. 

Education Week logo

The historic walkout—and the concessions won by the Chicago Teachers Union on behalf of the striking charter school teachers—was welcome news for unions, which are predicted to potentially shed substantial members and revenue after the fateful U.S. Supreme Court Janus decision earlier this year.

Soon after the strike started, people began asking whether cracks were starting to show in the charter movement, the first viable public alternative—and challenge—to traditional public schools. For so long the charter movement has steadily expanded in many American cities, propelled by some of the world’s wealthiest philanthropists.

The Chicago teachers’ strike has been largely cast in the media as a major symbolic win for teachers’ unions and a warning sign for charter schools and their supporters.

But there are equally fraught—if less examined—questions facing unions as they simultaneously decry charters as the tools of billionaires trying to privatize public education and encourage charter teachers to join their ranks. A growing unionized workforce in the charter sector may very well require changes from teachers’ unions as well as charter schools.

Anti-Charter Policy Pushes

Unions have longed positioned themselves as the defenders of traditional public schools, and have used their considerable political and financial clout to stymie charters. In Chicago, the Chicago Teachers Union has called for a moratorium on all new charter schools. Elsewhere, unions have lobbied to block additional state funding for charter schools, backed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of charter schools, campaigned to keep caps on the number of charter schools allowed to open, and called for bans on charter management groups and companies…

Read full article click here, may require ED Week Subscription

Defend and Transform Oakland’s Public Schools

Defend and Transform Oakland’s Public Schools

The Post Salon co-sponsored a community dialogue on schools Sunday, Dec. 9. along with Oakland Public Education Network (OPEN), Educators for Democratic Schools, the New McClymonds Committee and the Ad Hoc Committee of Parents and Education.

Speaking at the meeting were Oakland teachers, parents and community leaders concerned about low teacher salaries, upcoming budget cuts and the threat of closing schools and selling or leasing the campuses to charter schools.

Mike Hutchinson from OPEN said, “There’s only one way to stop this. That’s to organize.” And he presented information to indicate that the district is not really in a deficit. Taylor Wallace explained why the state does not have Black and Latino teachers and called for changing this serious situation. Oakland teacher Megan Bumpus represented the Oakland Education Association and explained the teachers’ struggle with the school district.

Among ideas presented at the Salon was a brief draft program that includes demands on the State of California, which bears much of the responsibility for Oakland’s problems.
While the district may be guilty of misspending, it is the State of California that is responsible for funding and is depriving the public schools of the money they need to serve the needs of Oakland children.

And it is the State that decides who is allowed to teach and creates obstacles that keep some of the best young teachers out of the classroom.

More than 100 teachers, parents and community members attended a community assembly Sunday, Dec. 9 to discuss the fight for a living wage for teachers and other school employees and “for schools our students deserve.” Photo by Ken Epstein.

At the end of the dialogue, participants adopted a motion to hold a press conference at the State Building in January.

Draft of a People’s Program:

1. No public school closings. Closing schools does not save money. It hurts kids and neighborhoods.

2. No sale of public property. A major element of privatization is selling off the legacy of publicly owned property and institutions left to us by earlier generations of Oaklanders.

3. No budget cuts to the schools. California is one of the richest economies in the world. It has a budget surplus, a Democratic majority in the legislature, and the capacity to fully fund schools.

4. End the teacher shortage and the lack of Black, Latino, indigenous and Asian teachers by eliminating such barriers as multiple standardized tests and multiple fees and by reforming the non-elected, unrepresentative State Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

5. Rescind the remainder of the debt imposed on Oakland by the State legislature 15 years ago and spent by state-appointed administrators without input from Oakland residents

6. A living wage for all school employees. A first-year teacher, a custodian, a school secretary should all be able to live in the city where they work, if they wish to do so. That’s a “community school.”

7. End the discrimination against schools below the 580 freeway.

8. FCMAT (Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team) out of Oakland. Democratic control of our school budget and school governance.

9. Open the books of the Ed Fund, which was created by non-elected State Administrators and does not provide transparency.

10. Reduce class sizes, standardized testing, test prep, age-inappropriate expectations, unnecessary bureaucracy, and mid-year consolidations.

Engage parents and teachers in a collaborative recreation of special education and the education of immigrant and emergent bilingual students.

If you have thoughts or comments on this draft program, send an email to Salonpost02@gmail.com

The post Defend and Transform Oakland’s Public Schools appeared first on Oakland Post.

Experts Tie Student Success to Bridging Education and Workforce

Experts Tie Student Success to Bridging Education and Workforce

WASHINGTON – Better integration of education at all levels, eliminating the distinction between higher education and career preparation and more cooperation among local, state and federal policymakers can remove barriers and better prepare a workforce that increasingly includes individuals who don’t fit the traditional profile of college students.

Those were some of the suggestions made by two experts at a policy roundtable discussion Wednesday presented by Higher Learning Advocates, a nonprofit organization devoted to connecting federal policies with the needs of postsecondary students, employers and communities.

At the roundtable, titled “Bridging the Education-Workforce Divide: Upskilling America’s Workforce,” Dr. Aaron Thompson, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, and Dr. Jason Smith, partnership executive director of Bridging Richmond talent hub in Virginia, discussed challenges to bridging higher learning and the workforce and issues of access and success for students.

“The conversation itself is problematic and where to place emphasis in the pipeline,” said Smith. “We have to stop separating education and workforce preparation. We take those two parts and separate them out, and I think that’s really problematic. We need to start thinking about it all as being workforce preparation.”

Given the demographic changes and projections of postsecondary school populations in the United States, neotraditional or new traditional may be better terms for students long described as nontraditional. Through most of America’s recent history, the profile of an average college student was an unmarried middle-class White student attending full-time immediately after high school with parental financial support, living on campus and earning a bachelor’s degree in four to five years.

Today, however, only 13 percent of college students live on campus, 26 percent are parenting, 38 percent are older than 25, 40 percent attend part-time, 42 percent live at or below the federal poverty line, 47 percent are financially independent, 57 percent attend two-year colleges and 58 percent work while in school.

Add to those factors the unprecedented cultural diversity of student populations and diversity of postsecondary education options and the need to remove barriers to quality, affordability and successful outcomes for students becomes clear, said moderator and HLA deputy executive director Emily Bouck West.

A significant change in recent years, Thompson observed, is more students who perceive that they don’t have access to higher education and that they lack opportunities to succeed in that space, in spite of financial aid and other support systems designed to help students achieve both.

“Our job is to put value back in that value proposition,” said Thompson. “How do we change that? How do we talk about quality?”

A central part of the discussion should be greater alignment of educational arenas from preK-12 to two-year and four-year institutions, Thompson said. Providing quality education in a seamless continuum with career preparation as a central driver can help skeptical prospective postsecondary students – especially from underrepresented groups – see that education beyond high school is affordable and valuable, doable in a reasonable time and leads to employment, he said.

Breaking down silos between different types of postsecondary institutions can benefit students, said Smith, whether community colleges, baccalaureate programs, vocational-technical programs or online for-profit learning.

Data-sharing and articulation agreements that promote more thoughtful and efficient transfer of credit between schools can benefit students, Smith added. For example, a student may transfer from a community college to a four-year university without having earned a credential, but may find after one or two courses that those credits can be reverse-transferred to the community college and qualify the student for an associate’s degree.

Post-secondary students drop out or stop out for a range of personal issues, from financial to family concerns. Better credit-transfer rules and other such policy changes – which local, state and federal policies could promote – would increase the number of students completing a credential and help move more workers into the employment pipeline.

“One very different thing for students today is it is no longer the experience that you went to one institution and stayed there until you completed it,” said Smith. “People now are looking for learning they need for employment now. And where can I go later to add on? How can I stack into something that helps me over a long period of time?”

Smith and Thompson agreed that employers and schools must begin to work more closely together, and earlier in the formal education process, to ensure that student learning fits employer needs and expectations.

“There’s a need to get employers more involved on the front end in creating programs that matter and teach what they’re looking for,” said Thompson. “Everybody doesn’t have to go to college, but should have education post-high school that works. We need to be far more intentional in putting people on pathways, with employers engaged throughout the process for a continual-improvement model. We in higher education have to rethink how we’re doing business. And so do employers.”

Policies around financial aid also need to be revisited as both an access issue and a success issue, Thompson and Smith said. Paying for school and having the financial resources to meet human needs are concerns for traditional students as well as students from low-income and underrepresented groups, and guidelines around student loans and the Pell grant should be aligned with those needs, Thompson said.

Policymakers at the state and federal levels can play a role by incentivizing “disconnected” systems in higher ed to work better together for post-secondary students, said Smith.

Curriculum redesign informed by the employment sector as early as elementary school and wise use of outcomes data can close completion gaps and help students become culturally competent workforce participants, Thompson said.

“Schools need to align ourselves with a student success paradigm so we’re on the same page when talking about issues of quality and engagement,” he added.

Treating higher education as one system rather than multiple systems and helping students experience wrap-around services in a more integrated way “would go a long way” toward promoting the success of all students, Smith said.

“There needs to be a shift from an access-for-all mentality to a success-for-all mentality.”

LaMont Jones can be reached at ljones@diverseeducation.com. You can follow him on Twitter @DrLaMontJones.

CCSD Accredited, So Will Johnny Learn To Read

CCSD Accredited, So Will Johnny Learn To Read

A few weeks ago when I heard Charleston County School District for the first time had received accreditation I thought, “What the what?”

I was both surprised and concerned. I had never imagined our county school district until then was not accredited. I knew that Charleston County School District has some low performing schools, but it never occurred to me the district was not accredited. I mean, very few things are any good unless it’s accredited. Sure we have some individually challenged schools, but surely the district was accredited, I had just assumed. So hearing that CCSD was just getting accredited for the first time had me flabbergasted.

I remember when I was applying to colleges all those years ago; one of the things I looked at was the school’s accreditation status. I felt like a degree from a non-accredited school wouldn’t mean very much, so accreditation was important. How could it be Charleston County School District was not accredited? So I asked a few questions.

I’m finding that this accreditation business is a very complex issue. The first thing I learned was that although the district as a whole had never been accredited, certain schools – the county’s high schools especially – were. That made sense. High schools had to be accredited otherwise their graduates might not be accepted at institutions of higher learning.

Okay that was a concession, but I still was left wondering how an elite, arrogant community like Charleston County didn’t have an accredited public school district. In one brief exchange with a friend, I asked whether the fact that we received accrediting for the first time was good or bad. My friend answered with an emphatic “good!” I respect my brother Jason’s perspective, but I can’t imagine how being accredited for the first time in its history can be a good thing for a 200-year-old school system. By the way, Charleston County school district is the last Lowcountry school district to receive accreditation. I guess Jason figures better late than never.

Jason and I never got the chance to fully discuss the subject of CCSD accreditation, so I’ve still got a lot of questions I think our community also should be concerned about. First and foremost, just what does being accredited mean? Maybe the folks at South Carolina State University could help. They were facing some real challenges about accreditation.

Like SCSU did as an institution of higher ed, Charleston County School District got its accreditation from one of the foremost accrediting agencies around for education systems– AdvancEd. I looked ‘em up and they apparently can cut the mustard. I was concerned CCSD administrators weren’t just giving us another dog and pony show, hiring some no-name company to take a pay off in exchange for a good rating. But AdvancEd appears to be reputable.

And AdvancEd didn’t just hand over the all-clear without some stipulations! For those of us who have lived here a long time the stipulations seem repetitive – improve governance, classroom culture, school alignment, allocation of resources and community engagement – stuff constituents have complained about for years. AdvancEd gives its accreditation for five-year cycles and will allow the district a few years to make the improvements if it wants to keep the accreditation. I’m anxious to see how that plays out.

At the top of the heap of the stuff that has to be improved is board governance. Charleston County always has had a racist, elitist and self-serving school board. It’s now devolved into a dysfunctional one as well. I’ve seen some back-biting entities – that’s not the nature of the beast, that’s the nature of stupid people! That’s also our fault (voters) because we continue to elect people to the board who don’t serve the interest of the community as a whole. We continue to elect people to Charleston County School Board who serve parochial interests – people who obviously have no understanding of the reality that high tide raises all boats.

I tell people all the time our school system, with all its flaws and inequities, works exactly as it is intended. The system isn’t designed to provide equal education opportunities to all children – and I don’t know where this new cliché about education opportunities depending on zip codes comes from. What does that mean?

Okay, okay, okay. It’s complicated. But you put people in position to achieve certain outcomes. People are spending a lot of money to get elected to the county school board. The first time I heard a guy had spent $50,000 to get elected it blew my mind. Now folks are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to get elected. They’re forming slates of candidates. You don’t have to be real bright to realize that means people have agendas and are willing to go all the way to achieve those agendas.

We’re talking about a system that provides billions of dollars to the local economy and facilitates how our community is shaped in many ways. Public education is serious business! It ain’t just about insuring little Johnny learns to read. Lil Johnny doesn’t need to read to push the hamburger button on a cash register at Burger King. And soon they won’t need lil Johnny at all because customers will be placing their own orders! Some kids get a good education in Charleston County because some kids will push hamburger button, others will own the restaurant or design the buttons.

So what about school district accreditation? I’m still a little confused about the why and how it will affect public education in Charleston County. But as I argued with a friend recently, every little bit helps. Accreditation certainly can’t hurt. I think the real issue is will we move beyond getting accredited.

DanceLogic Teaches Girls Dance and Computer Coding

DanceLogic Teaches Girls Dance and Computer Coding

Participants in the DanceLogic program. (Facebook)

[/media-credit] Participants in the DanceLogic program. (Facebook)

Shanel Edwards, co-instructor of danceLogic, stated that “danceLogic is helping these girls have access to the arts realm and science world as possible career paths, it is allowing them to stretch their own boundaries of what success looks like for them. ”DanceLogic, a unique S.T.E.A.M. program that combines dance and computer coding leading to the development of original choreography and performance, is continuing onto its second year. Girls ranging from the ages of 13 through 18 years participate in the program held at West Park Cultural Center in Philadelphia and learn the value of focus, dedication, and teamwork, as well as industry standard coding language.

During the dance class, led by instructors Edwards of D2D The Company and Annie Fortenberry, a performer with Ballet 180, the girls learn dance skills and movement techniques. This is followed by an hour of learning industry standard coding language under the direction of coding instructor Franklyn Athias, senior vice president of Network and Communications Engineering at Comcast. “I’m helping the kids see that someone, just like them, was able to use Science and Technology to find a very successful career,” Athias expressed in a press release.

The girls use coding to create their own choreography. “The combinations of dance and logic have good synergies. Learning something like dance requires practice, just like coding,” said Athias. “The dance is more physical, but it requires the students to try, fail, and try again. Before long, the muscle memory kicks in and the student forgets how hard it was before. Coding is really the same thing. Learning the syntax of coding is not a natural thing. Repetition is what makes you become good at it. After learning the first programming language, the students can learn other programming languages because it becomes much easier.”

“My favorite thing about the program is that the students can explore leadership roles. By building their own choreography and supporting each other in coding class, they navigate creating and sharing those creations, as well as resolving conflict to make one cohesive dance. There’s a lot of beauty and bravery in that process,” stated Fortenberry.

]The very first session of danceLogic culminated with the girls performing choreography and sharing what they learned through coding and how it has impacted their lives.

For more information, click here.

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.