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. 

States Hunt for Evidence to Underpin School Turnaround Efforts

States Hunt for Evidence to Underpin School Turnaround Efforts

Education Week logoBy Alyson Klein

Allendale County’s school district sits in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, in an impoverished, rural region near the coast known as the “corridor of shame” for the chronic poor quality of its education system. Until recently, three of the district’s four schools were considered among the lowest performing in the state.

But after an assist beginning more than a year ago from the state—which is working to rebrand the area as the “corridor of opportunity”—two of those schools made it off the state’s list of the lowest performers….

Read full article here. May require subscription to Education Week.

Telling Black Stories Through Poetry

Telling Black Stories Through Poetry

New Orleans Data News Weekly

As a child, in between born into an interracial family, Poet Michele Reese knew she wanted to write about the Black experience with works that delved into African American history, from very early on.

She bared the words from her soul in front of a room full of young writers with her son sitting in the front row as she read from her first published book of poems, Following Phia, which indirectly focuses on her journey through life, sexuality, race, motherhood, and other topics.

“My home sits in sandy soil, where once indigo was caked in lye, I’ve painted my children’s walls haint blue to keep them safe from mosquitoes and restless spirits,” she said. “They have been fed from my breasts, bathed in tepid water to bring down fevers, inoculated, taught to swim… I have done all the things that mothers do to tether their children,” Reese read at Xavier University’s Fall Literary Reading series on Oct. 4th.

Reese started her writing journey very similarly to other writers. It was one of her own teachers in middle school that inspired her to pick up the pen and write what she was feeling, whether it was about what she ate that morning, or how she was feeling about rainy mornings in West Virginia. All she knew was that she had to write.

“It was my own English teacher in seventh grade that made me write a poem,” she said, “I’m pretty sure it was for an assignment, but I haven’t stopped writing ever since. I had no clue it would be paying my bills today,” Reese said.

As the daughter of a Jamaican Immigrant, Reese began to tell stories through her poetry that dealt with race, intersection, gender, sexuality, slavery, and much more. These very stories were things not just about slaves and their struggles, but also about her own Jamaican family heritage.

Although she grew up in West Virginia, a mostly White-populated state, Reese never lost sight of her Jamaican roots. She was determined to begin writing poetry that dealt with African-American history, symbolism, and culture. It helped her to connect with the Black experience.

“I am tired of being beneath him. I cannot wait to escape,” Reese read from one of her poems, discussing the rapes of African-American enslaved women.

Although these topics were not always so easy to discuss, read, or write about, that did not stop her from writing about them. These were messages she believed needed to be talked about, especially ones about race and gender. She felt drawn to these topics because of the Jamaican blood running through her veins.

As a way to branch out and get away from West Virginia, the poet went to the University of Southern California where she earned a bachelor’s degree in creative writing/poetry and print journalism in 1994. She then went on to graduate school and then earned her doctorate in 2000. The poet’s latest work, Following Phia, was published earlier this year and focuses on the journey of her life, both spiritually and intellectually. Reese discusses her travels, her love of being a mother, her heritage, and much more throughout the book.

“As the child of an immigrant, a Jamaican Immigrant at that, race was something I really wanted to tackle in my writing,” Reese said. She often wished she had poems that were light-hearted, and a little less serious, but she never stopped writing them because she knew the Black experience is never an easy subject. She wanted her readers to really connect with the struggles and the joys of being Black.

“I wish I had some more funny poems,” Reese said. “But a poet named Pat Parker wrote a powerful piece titled, “Where Would I Be,” and that kind of made me realize we have to have the courage to stand up for what we believe in and as a writer I think that’s very important,” she said.

Some of Reese’s poems have been published in several journals like The Oklahoma Review, Poetry Midwest, The Tulane Review, and Hand in Hand: Poets among others. She also is a former writer for The Watering Hole. The organization, founded by Candace G. Wiley, a Clemson University Professor in 2009, first started off as a small Facebook group. Since then, it has attracted dozens of members and their writers have earned numerous awards.

As a writer, there is a very slim chance your work will get published, Reese said, because someone must find it and fall in love with it. “If you are a writer, even if you just started, do not give up. Believe in yourself and in your writing, even if no one else does,” Reese said. “Continue telling those stories that people are afraid to tell because they deserve to be heard. Just like news reporters, poets tell stories,” she added.

Young writers like David Evans, a Xavier student, said that as a frequent writer himself, he couldn’t help but feel touched not only by Reese’s work, but by her sincerity as a writer.

“You can tell her writing comes from a place of realness,” Evans said. “As a writer, I felt the urge to pick my pencil up and start writing those things I’m so scared to write about because we all have a voice, even through ink and paper.”

He said he is grateful that Reese took the time to inspire another generation of writers with her story. “Writing has no limits. It is all about what you feel and sometimes even about what you have been through,” he said. Young Black writers don’t always get to see themselves in poetry, according to Biljana Obradovic, the English Department Head at Xavier. She wanted her students to have more knowledge on how to publish their work and to be exposed to different types of work. Not only did Reese come and just share her work, she gave aspiring writers an even greater message to leave with: To believe in themselves, their voice, and in their writing, “She is an amazing writer because her writing is sincere,” said Obramovic who met Reese six years ago during a teaching trip to Italy.

“Her writing speaks to the soul, and her writing speaks for a lot of minorities with similar views, similar heritage and those who have faced similar adversities. I am able to teach students that come from all over the world, and at an HBCU, I think it is so important for students in general to use their voice,” Obradovic said.

This article originally appeared in LA Data News.

VIDEO: College funds raised for Rouses employee who helped teen with autism: report

VIDEO: College funds raised for Rouses employee who helped teen with autism: report

A Rouses employee in Baton Rouge was surprised with a free car Monday morning (Aug. 6), days after the employee let a teen with autism help him stock shelves in the store, Fox 44 Baton Rouge reports.

Jordan Taylor was stocking shelves of orange juice one day when Jack Ryan Edwards and his father came across Taylor. A video that has gone viral shows Taylor patiently teaching Edwards how to stock those shelves for roughly 30 minutes, Fox 44 reported.

With Taylor’s kindness in mind, Neighbors FCU President and CEO Steve Webb acknowledged Taylor during the Central Community School System Convocation Monday. Fox 44 reported that Neighbors worked with “community partners” to provide Taylor with his own new vehicle.

Taylor’s actions also spurred the Edwards family to create a GoFundMe account to raise $100,000 for Taylor’s college tuition. In five days, more than 3,300 people have donated $115,485 as of Monday afternoon.

Read and watch the full story at the Fox 44 website.

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Wilborn P. Nobles III is an education reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at wnobles@nola.com or on Twitter at @WilNobles.

AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events and critics are furious

AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events and critics are furious

Since 2002, the AP World History course has covered thousands of years of human activity around the planet, starting 10,000 years back. But now the College Board, which owns the Advanced Placement program, wants to cut out most of that history and start the course at the year 1450 — and some teachers and students are appalled.

The College Board, which is a nonprofit organization, announced recently that it was making big changes in the course, and said it would publish an updated course and exam description next year for the 2019-20 school year. The more than 9,000 years that will no longer be covered in AP World History will instead be put into a new series of courses the College Board is creating for high schools that can afford to purchase it, called Pre-AP World History and Geography.

Read the full article here.

Tulane recognizes father’s efforts in his autistic graduate’s success

Tulane recognizes father’s efforts in his autistic graduate’s success

Graduation season comes with inspiring stories about remarkable students, and Tulane University recently shared one about one of its own graduates.

Ben Alexander, a nonverbal student with autism, graduated from Tulane May 19, with the support of his father who accompanied him to every class since 2014.

Dr. Sam Alexander told Tulane he always wanted his son Ben Alexander to have the same opportunities that Ben’s two siblings had, according to a Tulane news release. Sam Alexander, an obstetrician-gynecologist, lauded Tulane’s students and professors for always expressing acceptance toward his son, who communicates via computer.

“Obviously I wish he could have gone by himself, without his father hanging all over him. But what a wonderful experience it was,” Sam Alexander said in a statement.

Sam Alexander’s efforts were also praised by Patrick Randolph, director of Tulane’s Goldman Center for Student Accessibility. Randolph said Ben Alexander would likely not even be at Tulane if not “for the constant and unwavering support of his father.”

Read full article here

Cypress Academy voices concerns over Orleans School Board takeover

Cypress Academy voices concerns over Orleans School Board takeover

The Cypress Academy community took members of the Orleans Parish School Board to task Tuesday night (May 22) during a meeting at the Mid-City school hours after OPSB announced it would directly manage the charter school to keep it from closing by Wednesday.

Tuesday’s meeting was initially planned by the Cypress administration to explain to parents why its board voted on Sunday to merge the charter with the Lafayette Academy Extension at the Paul Dunbar Building in Hollygrove. The weekend announcement stated the school’s small headcount of students made it “very difficult” for the school to pay for the needs of its students.

Parents in the Cypress cafeteria audibly gasped after head of school Bob Berk told them Cypress has to raise about $600,000 to balance its budget for the next school year. Berk said Cypress even opened this school year on “a leaner model” than they did last year in an effort to maintain the school, which involved only using one co-teacher across grade levels instead of two. However, Berk said the school realized that the leaner model “wasn’t working school-wide.”

Berk said he managed to find a few donors willing to pay up to $250,000 to Cypress, but he acknowledged he did not feel like they would still be able to raise the full amount of funding in time. Several parents in the room filled with more than 30 people told Berk the board should have been more transparent with parents about their financial burdens…

Read the full article here.

Wilborn P. Nobles III is an education reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at wnobles@nola.com or on Twitter at @WilNobles.

VIDEO: Watch as King Charter students get fit alongside the New Orleans Saints

VIDEO: Watch as King Charter students get fit alongside the New Orleans Saints

The students and staff of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology had a busy Monday morning (May 21). In addition to a graduation ceremony staged for the Lower 9th Ward school’s kindergarteners, students were given an opportunity to test out their newest fitness gear alongside members of the New Orleans Saints team.

The New Orleans Saints and UnitedHealthcare, the country’s largest health insurer, devoted new fitness equipment to the students that was positioned in a “Get Fit” youth fitness zone designated on the second floor of the school. The football players showed 100 students how to properly use the fitness gear in order to encourage students to stay active.

New Orleans Saints Cornerback PJ Williams, Safety Kurt Coleman, Cornerback Arthur Maulet, and Wide Receiver Robert Meachem each spent their morning demonstrating to students how their new fitness equipment is supposed to be used. The initiative at the C-rated school comes a year after the Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health deemed Louisiana No. 8 in child obesity…

Read the full article here.

Wilborn P. Nobles III is an education reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at wnobles@nola.com or on Twitter at @WilNobles.

Betsy DeVos Loves School Choice. But You Don’t See Much of It in ESSA Plans

Betsy DeVos Loves School Choice. But You Don’t See Much of It in ESSA Plans

Education Week logoU.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a big cheerleader for school choice. And way before she came into office, states around the country were adopting tax-credit scholarships, education savings accounts, and more.

So has all that translated into a big bonanza for school choice in states’ Every Student Succeeds Act plans? Not really.

To be sure, ESSA isn’t a school choice law. School choice fans in Congress weren’t able to persuade their colleagues to include Title I portability in the law, which would have allowed federal funding to follow students to the public school of their choice.

However, the law does has some limited avenues for states to champion various types of school choice options. But only a handful of states are taking advantage of those opportunities, according to reviews of the plans by Education Week and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

School Improvement: At least 12 states say they want schools that are perennially low-performing to consider reopening as charter schools to boost student achievement. Those states are Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah.

Read the full article here: May require an Education Week subscription.