There are speakers and there are leaders – and what we do says more than what we say. Those of us doing the work in the charter school space don’t often have time to tell people about it. We need to find more people “on the job” and get their insights on what they see as issues and work with them to get a better understanding of what they’re working on in the community and uncover what they see as solutions.
As an educator still in the community, I understand that platitudes only get you so far. Getting caught up in the topics of the day don’t move conversations forward when parents are feeling left out – and when this happens, they react. As school leaders, we are fighting to both open and run schools. We are making sure kids come to school and teachers teach – there’s a tempo that is unlike simply talking about doing the work. The doers are the ones who are spinning plates – and you just can’t get this texture from people who don’t do the work.
The time I spend in the neighborhoods surrounding my school talking with my students, their families and other community members is just as critical to the work I do as making sure schedules, assessments and activities go as planned. I am keenly aware of the role my presence plays in building and maintaining the relationships that forge the kind of community trust that money can’t buy. This relationship currency not only ensures that I have the tangible and intangible support I need to be successful as a school leader, but it also strengthens the bonds of the community collectively. I’m not sure you’ll find a better definition of “win-win” than that.
We have to shine the light on the folks who are doing the work and staying in the work. Listen to the people who are staying in the work. For me, this means that I can’t just talk about one group. I am constantly held accountable. When I’m doing the work, I can’t be binary – there aren’t absolutes. You aren’t just white or Black or liberal or conservative. When we come together, proponents of school choice bring all of who they are and what they represent to speak with one voice on behalf of what matters to us all — ensuring that our children receive the education they deserve in the environment that is best suited to meet their needs.
When you’re doing the work, you understand the importance of finding your allies – no matter where they may be. There are people that we work with and we only agree on two things – that we should be breathing and every single parent is owed the right to select the right school and education for their child. As far as I’m concerned, these agreements are enough to move the conversations around school choice forward in a way that can make a real difference in the lives of students.
Dr. Steve Perry is an educator, bestselling author, Founder and Head of Schools at Capital Preparatory Schools, and a board member for the Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools (FCCS). Using his powerful voice, fighting for disadvantaged children and families for thirty years., Dr. Perry is widely respected by grassroots community members and internationally renowned leaders as an educator, social worker and public speaker, his charismatic and compelling voice is an inspiration.