Running a school is the most challenging and most fulfilling job in education. As the global pandemic hit, “challenging” didn’t even begin to describe what school leaders faced. For charter school leaders in the midst of their renewal decision, it seems even more daunting.
I know because that was my story.
In March 2020, the elementary school that I led in Brooklyn, New York was on academic probation with the state and up for its charter school renewal with our authorizer. We were getting ready for the state assessments that could show how we had progressed and served students well. Then, everything changed. We had to shutter our doors and transition to virtual school.
My energy turned to providing laptops to students, helping staff and students learn Google Classroom, and ensuring that our families had access to food. It was a chaotic time and we still had to go through all the comes with the renewal process.
Without the academic assessment data that is often at the heart of renewal decisions, I knew we had to show what our school was about and share the “so what?” of our choices.
For my school, delivering laptops to all students and ensuring our families had access to food wasn’t the end goal of navigating the pandemic. The laptop distribution led to 90 percent student attendance throughout the pandemic. It ensured that our students with IEPs could access counseling supports. We could close the technology gap and still ensure student learning. Food distribution ensured that students were fed and families did not have added insecurity when their lives were already in upheaval.
Despite the very real chaos of the pandemic, we took renewal as an opportunity to build our narrative. Other school leaders should too.
As school leaders, we know that the outcome of assessments are one measure of student learning. They are also a measure of teacher effectiveness, strong operations in a school, how a school leader oriented her budget, how she reallocated staff both inside and outside of the classroom, and so much more.
As you approach renewal as a school leader, you must add this context to your assessment scores. It’s time to see building a school’s narrative as an opportunity to show the deliberateness of your choices. The test score is important, but you can also share the full learning environment. Authorizers want to see that, but it’s your job to provide it.
The good news is that my school earned its renewal in March 2021. The renewal process, while not easy, gave us the opportunity to tell our story of how we created a strong learning environment for children while they were home. I hope more school leaders will do the same.
Guerschmide Saint-Ange served as executive director of La Cima Elementary Charter School for three years, where she led the school through the global pandemic. She previously served as an authorizer with the New York City Department of Education. She is a co-author of NACSA’s 2021 NACSA Supplemental Renewal Guidance.