Last week, I had the honor of serving as a panelist for the African Leadership Group’s (ALG) 5th Annual Afrik Impact Educational Forum. The forum had a fitting theme that has been the topic of conversation in both my personal life and professional life: “Defining the Quality Education for our Children Post Covid-19 Era.”

The event included a great array of speakers including: Papa Dia, founder of ALG; Mike Miles, CEO of Third Future Schools; Lydia Natoolo, Vice President of the Uganda North American Association; Susana Cordova, Denver Public Schools Superintendent; Jennifer Bacon, DPS Board of Education Vice President, and many more.

I was part on a panel focusing on: Change Management and Solutions to Help Ensure Educational Success During the Covid-19 Era. I shared my perspective as a charter school authorizer and was able to convey how CSI is unique and how it is time to rethink what an authorizer is.

The COVID-19 pandemic shook the foundation of our work in various ways. The suspension of in-person learning forced a swift and substantial shift in learning platforms, formats, and approaches. The lack of new state assessment data resulted in the loss of the primary driver of academic accountability. Since our schools are located across the state and use different educational models, there was an immediate need for guidance on how to move forward.

Change Management and Solutions from an Authorizer

We quickly realized we needed to adjust expectations for schools. However, as an authorizer, we still needed to focus on the pillars of access, autonomy, and accountability. We needed to reflect on our own practices and identify ways to make meaningful and practical changes – including advocating against the inequities exacerbated by the pandemic. As I shared during the ALG panel, we can acknowledge the gravity of our situation, but also recognize the learning opportunity it presents.

Over the last several months, we have sought to find the proper balance of support and compliance while ensuring that the values of quality authorizing are not forgotten. Charter schools have always had to be resilient and flexible. Their unique autonomy has led to a range of responses to these challenges. It is our job as an authorizer to ensure that schools are meeting their missions, offering a high-quality, accessible education to students while also being supported during these unprecedented times. To this end, we have focused on:

1. Collaboration with education partners.

We have always valued partnerships with other organizations that align with our mission. Collaboration is especially important now. CSI has worked with the Colorado Department of Education, the Colorado League of Charters Schools (CLCS), the Colorado Association of Charter School Authorizers (CACSA), and others to develop resources, guidance, and support for charter schools. We have compiled key resources on our Coronavirus Updates webpage.

2. Facilitating information-sharing between schools.

Our schools are located all across the state and offer a diverse range of educational models. Yet, they face many of the same challenges. We have made it a priority to facilitate collaboration between schools by:

  • Offering model-specific calls so schools with similar educational models can discuss more tailored problem-solving.
  • Hosting weekly school leader calls as an opportunity for CSI to share important updates and for schools to ask questions.
  • Sharing best practices from remote learning plans and 2020-21 learning plans so schools can see what others are doing to respond to crises.
3. Redefining accountability.

Due to the lack of state assessment data, we had to rethink what accountability looks like in the near term. We have adjusted the charter renewal process. We are adjusting our annual school evaluation, too.  As we continue to adjust, we are committed to transparency and holding our schools to high standards. 

While we are still deep into this work, we recognize that our role may continue to shift, and we are leaning into that reality. Just like our charter school leaders, we must be nimble, agile, and rise to the challenge.

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