The vocal debate around traditional public schools versus public charter schools has been portrayed as a war raging in communities across the country: neighbors pitted against neighbors, students blindly taught to hate their peers, and teachers turning their backs on fellow educators. We are led to believe the differences are too profound, too aggravating…divisive beyond repair.
Having had the privilege of serving as an educator on both sides of the debate, I can tell you, we are focused on the wrong conversation.
The question of how to best publicly educate our children doesn’t need to be “either” “or”. It needs to be “both” ”and.” The bigger conversation needs to move away from contention and toward collaboration. The root causes for much of the conflict over public charters and traditional public schools are many and complex; however, there is no reason that the current level of animosity needs to continue.
Learning from Mothers and Sisters
A few months ago I was at a board meeting about a local district authorizing a Rocketship charter to serve over 400 soon-to-be Rocketeers and families. I spotted a mother of a former student from my traditional public school days. We quickly caught up and then, as I turned to find a seat, I saw another familiar face and went over to say hello. It was the mother of a Rocketship student. These two moms — on opposite sides of the room — are sisters.
One was a parent leader at her district school and could talk for hours about how district schools had served her and her family well. The other was an active parent in the Rocketship community who could talk for hours about why Rocketship was the best choice for her daughter.
After the meeting, I asked them if they ever had any arguments or tension about being on different sides. They both looked at me and immediately shook their heads. They told me there was never any conflict because they both knew they sought the best opportunities for their kids. Both their kids would come home and do homework at the same kitchen table every night. They work with each other, help each other, and learn from each other.
Families build communities. We should be able to sit at the same table and help each other — learn from each other — so we can all achieve extraordinary results.
An Inspiring Eleven-Year-Old
A month later, I attended another similar meeting. There, a Rocketeer named Luna
served as a powerful reminder of what communities can accomplish together.
At just eleven years old, she stood confidently in front of a room full of people — district leaders, elected officials, educators, and families — some who enthusiastically shared her opinion and others who fervently did not. She stood tall and spoke eloquently about her belief in the need for high quality public school options for her community. When she began to speak, the room grew silent. Everyone, on her “side” or not, was engaged in what this courageous young lady had to say. Luna’s bravery and leadership that night inspired me to also speak and now write this story for you to read.
As a former student of mine, I wish I could take credit for Luna, but I can’t. She was the product of our entire community.
Luna was prepared at our Rocketship school to take on a leadership role by her third grade teacher, Ms. Thomson, who always pushed her students to find evidence to support their thinking and hold each other to high expectations using classroom discussion strategies she had developed and refined as a public charter school teacher. Her fifth grade teacher, Mr. Spencer, encouraged her to think outside the box with project-based learning and differentiation approaches that he acquired through his years of training at a district school. Her family, classmates, neighbors and school community have always expected nothing but the best from and for Luna.
Students like Luna happen when a community works together with the same common goal: our students attaining an excellent education.
Community Collaboration for the Future
My firm belief in the power of collaboration – uniting ideas, goals, hopes and dreams – motivates me as a founding team member for Rocketship Alum Rock. I can’t wait to work with students who have educational foundations at district schools, life-long Rocketeers, parents who have experiences in both the district and charter worlds, and the Jackson community as a whole.
I truly believe that as a community we can blast beyond the “us vs. them” and the “public district vs. public charter” divisions. Like the two sisters, we can find ways to work together, help each other, and learn from one another. Only then will we be able to collectively produce scores of students like Luna: the future leaders our communities want, need, and deserve.
Currently a fourth grade teacher at Rocketship Mateo Sheedy, Juan will be a founding assistant principal at Rocketship Alum Rock (also know as Jackson) next year.
Juan grew up in Oxnard, California where he saw too many of his fellow classmates afflicted by the unjust destiny of demographics and low expectations. He was determined to spend his time at Stanford and beyond working to ensure that the potential he saw in his community and those like it would be nurtured and ignited. After graduation, Juan joined Teach for America and began teaching at Washington Elementary in San Jose, and in 2011, he joined Rocketship Mateo Sheedy as a 4th grade teacher. Each day, Juan is humbled by his students’ commitment to learn, to take on new challenges and to make themselves, their families and their community proud. Juan currently lives in San Jose where his twin loves of teaching and learning are only eclipsed by his infatuation with futbol, Oxnard and Valentina hot sauce.