Charter School Colleagues and Friends,
This past summer, I was honored to be named the Kansas City Charter School Leader of the Year. How they could pick a "winner" out of one of the deepest fields of any city in the country is beyond me. I want to take a moment to share, however, one of the keys to my success in my seven years as University Academy's superintendent in the hopes that it may help or inspire you. The secret is, shhhhh, "learn from and appreciate your peers".
I arrived in Kansas City over seven years ago, family in tow from Long Beach, California. I made it a point to try to learn the local landscape of charters and non-charters alike. I had incredible guidance from folks like Aaron North and Corey Scholes at the Kauffman Foundation who helped introduce me to many people in the city that would become invaluable resources. Our sponsor, at that time, was UMKC. Dr. Chase introduced me to the likes of Dr. Vivian Roper (Tolbert Academy), Roger Offield (Brookside), Nicole Goodman (SVN), Uğur Demircan (Frontier), Kevin Foster (Genesis), and more. I've developed a great working relationship with Hannah Loftus (Kauffman), Dean Johnson and Tysie McDowell (Crossroads), Jana Cooper and Jay Pittman (KIPP), Tricia DeGraff (AFIA), Joe Palmer (Guadalupe), Chad and Johna Sutton (NKCPS), Steve Fleming (KCIA) and dozen more leaders, principals, and directors.
Within a few years, I quickly learned that most of the answers I needed were within 25 miles of Kansas City, on both sides of the state line. That's not to say I didn't learn a great deal from visiting North Side Community School (STL), where I met Anne Miller and struck up a friendship that eventually led to PreSchool Collaborative, which provided over 150 additional PreK seats with six charter school partners. Or, the time Candice Carter-Oliver brought her entire team from Confluence to visit us at UA and we shared best practices.
I've learned at least one powerful practice from each of these incredibly talented and accomplished leaders, and more lessons and best practices from many others I don't have space left to name. My career is a combination of a little bit of original ideas, mixed heavily with a collection of best practices harvested from pioneering leaders in the charter movement.
American public education does indeed work in many places in this country. The key that we must all do is to find out what's working and do those things. Find out what's not working and stop doing those things. Don't be afraid to ask. Visit, learn, share, collaborate, be vulnerable, be accessible, and look for ways to help your students and staff.