My Charter School: I Hope Good Triumphs

Last night I attended a school board meeting, not for my school, but for the district in which my school resides. I teach at a charter school. We have no district, other than our charter organization, which is consistently rated one of the best in the state, with 12,000 students from LA to Sacramento. However, unions don’t like us. We take students from district schools, schools that are often struggling to meet student needs. We take them and we teach them, successfully.

Still, it does not matter if my school is successful. What matters is that we take students from districts with unions with lobbyists that despise us because we also take away money. Our charter needs to be renewed, either by this district or the state. People are fighting against us, because of money, because of politics. There is a divide between public and charter schools, maybe rightfully so. Charters are a quick fix, a small band-aid to a system that in many places is not working.

However, this band-aid fixes real students. This week is conference week and I cannot count how many families have told me our school has changed their child, that before they struggled, but now they succeed. I get that a very real debate exists about charters and how they do not fix the system as a whole, how some fail their students, how there is so much inconsistency. But, if a charter works and the schools around it don’t, what kind of world do we live in where the schools that fail stay open and the ones that succeed close?

We’re not there yet, there are still multiple avenues to pursue, and the district has not decided whether to grant us a charter. Even so, listening to their board meeting last night, I could not help but be smacked in the face with the realities of bureaucracy. Members spoke candidly about how we take their students, their money, how they would prefer we just left, even if we’re doing a better job for our kids than the other schools in the neighborhood.  A few spoke up about our success, those few gave me hope that we still have a chance. After all, this is the third board meeting I have attended, the other two at the state level, someone always dislikes us, someone else always disagrees.

Before our portion of the hearing, enraged families stood before the board, upset the district will not allow their children’s epilepsy drugs to be administered by volunteers at the school. Drugs that prevent brain damage, pain, and even death from seizures. Sitting, listening, I could not help but think we live in a bizarre world, where liabilities, unions, and finances stand in the way of life-saving drugs given to children, successful schools automatically approved to stay open.

What struck me most is that our system is slow and cumbersome because of bureaucracy. Panels, boards, committees left to ponder big questions with other interests seeping in. People who do not like successful charter schools must be very patient souls if they are willing to wait for the system to change on its own. They must not know the children and families that I know. They must not see the true depth of good created by this band-aid.

Still, it is too early to say how the board will rule, and maybe I am still young and naive not to see some sort of bigger picture. All I can really say is that I hope good triumphs.




8 thoughts on “My Charter School: I Hope Good Triumphs

  1. It’s amazing to me that the same problems happen all around the country. Here, charter school are attacked for their exclusivity, for the ways in which they spend their own money . . . It all makes my head spin. I don’t understand how our country hasn’t yet figured out how to effectively educate its children. All of them. Thank you for writing this!

    • oliviaobryon says:

      So interesting that you hear the same things. It really gets under my skin that charters are all lumped together. Teachers I know in nearby schools always make assumptions, saying things like we must “cherry pick” our kids. Nothing could be further from the truth! Likewise, the district actually complimented our modest spending/salaries at all levels. Yet, we still get put into the same box as the more frivolous charters. Just interesting to me that public opinion is so against us when we do good work. Makes my head spin too! 🙂

  2. My mom has taught in Sac City USD for over a decade now — she also worked at a charter school a few years ago, but the school (as well as her job) was pretty short lived. So you can see she has mixed feelings toward them 🙂 I don’t understand much about the debate, except that it’s very political and divisive. Best of luck to your school!

    Also, I interned at a state senator’s office when a bill was introduced that would authorize volunteers to administer epilepsy drugs and the like…surprisingly that’s a HUGE hot topic amongst parents! Who’da thought?

    • oliviaobryon says:

      Yes, that’s the thing about charters, they really vary in quality because each is managed so differently. I’m lucky to work for a good charter, so I get frustrated that people make assumptions about us based on what they hear about other charters. I’ve never worked for a district, it just seems to me you have to be patient for things to change with so much bureaucracy. The board meeting I went to was not Sac City though.

      How interesting that you witnessed so much surround that bill. I knew very little about it until the other night, and still know only what I heard. I just don’t see why volunteers can’t give the drug even with that bill passed and all. I don’t understand the district’s argument for denying these families such crucial medical attention.

      Thanks for sharing your insights!

      • Yeah, my mom’s charter was not so much a high-achieving school, but rather, an alternative high school for low-achieving students. It was a noble idea but ultimately failed, obviously!

        I’ve actually personally been affected by the bureaucracy surrounding the district/union – I’m still on my mom’s health insurance for another couple of years, and our copays were raised in order for more teachers to keep their jobs. Lots of complicated politics going on there…

      • oliviaobryon says:

        Definitely an interesting time in any workplace. Before I switched to teaching, our pay was cut to adjust for the recession. At the school where I teach now, no one has been laid off, but in order for this to happen financial sacrifices have been made in other ways, like pay freezes. Teaching is especially tricky because firing teachers doesn’t just affect teachers, but also students and families as class sizes get bigger. That’s a bummer your copays went up, although nice for the teachers able to keep their jobs! 🙂

  3. You are so powerful when you write. Its like I can hear you speaking these words with passion. You are gifted Liv.

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