The 2012 Missouri Charter Schools Conference began on Wednesday, October 3 with an evening of 10 student performances and a welcome by St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay. After Mayor Slay’s welcome, Kindergarten students from The Spanish School at St. Louis Language Immersion Schools began the performances with the Mambo. The SLLIS class was followed by two performances by the Grand Center Arts Academy 7th and 8th Grade Treble Choir.
The Step Team from KIPP Inspire Academy followed with six step performances that received a standing ovation from the audience. Next Lift for Life Academy student Alysha Paimin sang “Never Give Up” by Yolanda Adams and DeLaSalle Charter School students Dominique Williams and Tyrone Wilson III gave a physics demonstration with bike they had built from bamboo. The public speaking and debate team from Preclarus Mastery Academy followed with a speech on why education is serious for them and for the community.
Grand Center Arts Academy again closed the student showcase with students Daniel Schmidt on violin, playing “Gavotte” by J. S. Bach and Xuan-Xuan Casseregola, also on violin, playing “Sonata No. 3” by Handel. The 9th Grade Dancers from GCAA also performed a contemporary dance piece to end the show. The 350 students, parents and others in attendance gave all of the students a resounding ovation at the end of the show. We look forward to this segment of our conference, which had two performances in 2011, continuing to grow and bring in more parents and community members.
The first full day of the 2012 Missouri Charter Schools Conference began with an emotional keynote speech by Erin Gruwell, leader of the Freedom Writers Foundation. In January 2007, her story was told in the film Freedom Writers released by Paramount Pictures and starring two- time Oscar winner Hillary Swank as Erin. Erin showed clips from the movie and took the attendees to her classroom in inner city Long Beach, California describing the methods she used to turn 150 low performing student into high school graduates and college attendees by promoting a culture of diversity.
After Gruwell wrapped up the first keynote session, attendees chose from a series of six breakout sessions tailored to their position in Missouri’s charter school community. This year, the MCPSA Conference was broken into a series of six strands: School Leadership, School Governance, School Sponsorship, Community Stakeholders, Business Operations and General Sessions. Click for a detailed description of all of the conference breakout sessions.
After a networking lunch for attendees, two more series of breakout sessions were held prior to a conference reception and dinner. The keynote speaker for dinner was nationally renowned education reform author and advocate Kevin P. Chavous. In his speech to the conference Chavous stressed the need for wholesale reforms in our country’s education system that puts the children at the front of the line and the “system” far in the back. Chavous received a standing ovation for his impassioned speech and followed up by moderating a panel of Missouri charter schools stakeholders titled “Missouri’s Charter Schools: The Next Ten Years.” Participating on the panel were Kelly Garrett (Executive Director of KIPP St. Louis), Danny Tipton (Superintendent of Hogan Preparatory Academy), Vonelle Middleton (Hope Academy), Deb Carr (University of Missouri – Columbia) and Earl Simms (MCPSA).
The panel focused on how charter schools should continue to develop in Missouri over the next ten years and discussed some of the successes and challenges of the first ten years in operation in the state. The panel also focused on the need to keep autonomy and not be forced into becoming too similar to the traditional district schools. The panel ended the discussion wanting to see charter schools be considered mainstream education options in the next ten years as well as being operated in many more locations on the state with the newly adopted charter school statutes allowing schools outside of Kansas City and St. Louis.
The final full day of the 2012 MCPSA conference began with an address at breakfast from Missouri Commissioner of Education Dr. Chris Nicastro. Dr. Nicastro stressed the need for Missouri to increase performance as a state and discussed the difference many charter schools are making in Missouri’s urban communities. She also defended the Department’s decision to close six St. Louis charter schools and reviewed the process for two other sponsor closed schools at the end of the 2011 – 2012 school year. To wrap up her presentation Dr. Nicastro highlighted her Top 10 by 20 plan to move Missouri into the top 10 states nationally for education by the year 2020.
After hearing from Dr. Nicastro, conference goers attended two more sets of breakout sessions before returning to the main ballroom for the annual MCPSA Excellence Awards. The annual awards are presented in five different categories of work in the Missouri charter school sector. MCPSA received many quality nominations and all of the nominees are to be commended for their work for Missouri’s charter school children. The 2012 MCPSA Excellence Award Winners winners were:
Charter School Best Innovative Practice Award
Hope Academy, Program Rise
Charter School Advocate of the Year Award
Missouri State Senator Bill Stouffer
Charter School Teacher of the Year Award
Alison Owens, Lift for Life Academy
Charter School Leader of the Year Award
Eduardo Mendez, Alta Vista Charter Schools
Charter School of Excellence Award
City Garden Montessori
While the awards luncheon wrapped up the main part of the conference, MCPSA hosted a special strand of sessions for teachers on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.
On the afternoon of Friday, October 5 and the morning of Saturday, October 6 MCPSA held a strand of sessions dedicated to charter school teachers. This was the first year for this part of our conference and it was a success attracting 50 teachers to ten sessions dedicated to their professional development. The feedback we received from this new section of our conference was very positive and we look forward to growing this valuable tool for Missouri’s charter school teachers in future conferences.
Overall, the 2012 Missouri Charter Schools Conference was a rousing success. Almost 300 attendees from Missouri’s charter school sector enjoyed state and nationally renowned keynote speakers and session presenters. Once again, all 30 exhibitor booths sold out and provided conference attendees an opportunity to meet with quality service providers for their schools and organizations. The student showcase grew from two performances to ten performances and was attended by at least 350 students, parents and other charter school stakeholders. Very deserving members of Missouri’s charter school community were recognized for their achievements over the past year. And MCPSA added a special set of sessions devoted to teachers that drew 50 attendees for their professional development.
We enjoyed hosting this conference for Missouri’s charter school community and look forward to our 2013 conference already scheduled to be held on October 2 – 5 at The Intercontinental Kansas City at The Plaza.