Skin in the Game: Cultivating a Culture of Success in Charter Schools

Public education is failing students of color. It is ripe for disruption. Enter charter schools. They are a private and public hybrid. I completely understand the critics who state that they are responsible for a type of brain drain where the most motivated and engaged students leave the public schools for ones that are chartered. This results in more isolated population of students who are left behind. There is, nevertheless, a role for charter schools to address the calcified state of public education. It is a partial response. The task of overhauling public schools remains for the one million school children in New York City.

I believe in improving public education writ large. When I joined the Collegiate Academy for Mathematics and Personal Awareness (CAMPA)  Board of Trustees in 2015, I wanted an opportunity to build a new school from the ground up.  I wanted to part of a solution that addresses the current state of public schools. The fact that crisis is an adjective often applied to schools in the urban centers is appropriate.  I have also come to realize that that charter schools like CAMPA are a necessity. It is located in East New York where zone schools routinely post below average scores on Regents exams. CAMPA will go beyond the drill-and-kill and has instituted a college preparatory curriculum for middle school students.

As an educator who began my career at Benjamin Banneker Academy for Community Development, I was witness to a high functioning and high academic achieving public school. As a professor of education, I now see that Banneker Academy was an exceptional academic institution. Dr. Daryl Rock was the principal during the ten years I spent as a teacher and administrator. He is a model head of school who insisted on cultivating a staff and student body of culturally aware and ones who demanded excellence in education. Dr. Rock convinced George Leonard to come out of retirement and serve as the principal for CAMPA’s second year. Mr. Leonard is an award-winning educator who was instrumental in shaping my early career. In fact, he saved my bacon when he served as the Banneker dean during the always difficult first year teaching. I am forever indebted to Rock and Leonard as I found my voice as a master teacher.

With the combination of Leonard, Rock and Richmond, CAMPA is off to an auspicious new year. I cannot forget the entire squad: teachers who will do the hard work of training these young scholars, administrators in the front office and the board members who have put in hundreds of hours into executing the school mission. It has been truly a cooperative group effort. Like Banneker Academy, CAMPA has a very specific vision of education to instruct students in the pedagogy of race. The culture of the school is built on the idea that all students are educable and success is expected.

Lessons from Charlottesville: The Pedagogy of Race


The events of Charlottesville, while deeply troubling, are part of a long history of race and injustice in America. The media cycle has played out predictably: righteous anger by people of conscience, strong and middling condemnations from liberal and conservative leaders, protests and counter-protests. And then there is President Trump. He has never been an example of a profile of courage. His true north is to stoke the flames of racial antagonism. His refusal to give a full throated condemnation of neo Nazis in particular and white supremacy in general is, well, SAD.

Leaving aside Trump’s moral equivocations for the moment, the question before us is this: how can we, educators, activists and people interested in social justice, proceed? This is a question of particular interest to me who is in business of training the next generation of teachers. August is the moment when summer is winding down for most people. My news feed is filled with those enjoying the last bit of summer break. For teachers, however, August is do-or-die time. Teachers are feverishly planning for the upcoming year right now. As educators are editing lessons plans, mastering national and state standards, and decorating classrooms, my exhortation is consider race in the classroom.

The lesson from Charlottesville is that racial injustice in America is an active and living entity. It has not been relegated to a historical matter. I believe that education, as first exemplified in the landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education, has always an area for civil rights activism. Teachers who acknowledge fully that there is an education gap between the achievement between minority and white students can go about addressing it. They must craft a culture of inclusion that flattens privilege and truly believes in the success of all students. This is where the best practices enter the conversation. Those teachers during August must also craft a genuinely multicultural curriculum, which is based on the high standards of each discipline.

Yes, teachers are on the front lines and have an incredibly difficult job. Race is here. Those educators whose mission is to instruct young people in the highest tradition of a liberal arts curriculum cannot ignore race. Not in the aftermath of Charlottesville.