On June 26th, Founder and CEO Shantelle Wright participated in a spirited panel discussion about expanding high-performing charter schools. The discussion was hosted by the Fordham Institute, a Washington, DC – based education policy think tank. Other panelists included Scott Pearson, executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board; Preston Smith, co-founder and president of Rocketship Education, a network of rapidly-expanding charter schools; and Richard Whitmire, veteran journalist and author of On the Rocketship: How Top Charter Schools Are Pushing the Envelope. Bruno Manno, senior advisor at the Walton Family Foundation, moderated the discussion.
The Fordham Institute used Whitmire’s book as a starting point of the discussion. Whitmire followed a year of Rocketship Education’s operation, which has involved rapid growth to multiple U.S. cities, and suggests that this kind of replication among many other high-performing charter schools, such as Achievement Prep, could be the solution to saving public education in America. Achievement Prep has been a high-performing DC charter school since its first year and expanded in 2013, adding an elementary campus to its flagship middle school program. Yet, Shantelle Wright stated she was not interested in rapid expansion if it might compromise quality. “I’m not interested in growing for the sake of growth,” said Mrs. Wright. “I’m focused on impact. We have to be sure we can open [additional campuses] with quality from day one, not [get to quality by] day 120,” she added. Mrs. Wright shared her belief that the key to high quality schools is creating a strong school culture, and that this takes time to develop and scale to multiple campuses. Mrs. Wright said a critical element of growth is developing strong school leaders and teacher talent who can duplicate the school culture in additional campuses. She shared that this is challenging to do without substantial resources to be able to develop talent before they take on new schools, rather than learning and adapting on the job.
Shantelle Wright has stated her interest in expanding Achievement Prep’s impact to more families that desperately need a high quality education. “It’s hard to talk about families winning a lottery to get access to a great education,” said Mrs. Wright. She has stated her interest in pursuing numerous avenues to expand such access, including partnering with the traditional school district, modeling effective programs and sharing best practices with other school leaders. Mrs. Wright made it clear that not all high-performing schools have equal opportunity to grow rapidly. Some schools have the backing of big funders, such as corporate and foundation philanthropy, that assist with securing and financing facilities, talent development, marketing and advocacy. Schools that lack those resources must grow slowly and steadily to ensure they make the intended impact on the communities they serve. “We can’t experiment with the lives of children who need this opportunity the most,’ said Mrs. Wright. “We have to be sure we can get it right from the start.”
You can view the recording of the discussion at the Fordham Institute by clicking this link: Fordham Institute Discussion on Expanding High Quality Charters.