Remember when you first heard about charter schools? Think back to that moment… what was your reaction, what questions did you ask, were you as incredulous as I was? My initial reaction was that it sounded like an absurd idea. At the same time, I was a mother and college instructor who was perplexed and definitely frustrated with the K-12 system. Moreover, I was the first generation college student who went off to college thinking I was fully prepared for college-level work and quickly learned that college was not at all what I expected and I wasn’t prepared. So all of these experiences converged when I was first introduced to the idea of charter schools; however, my skepticism turned to excitement and motivation. As is often the case, my passion was ignited by the possibilities of creating a school that would prepare our students for the world beyond the K-12 system. Yet what I learned along my journey was that my true passion was in creating and unifying a community with a common purpose. In my earlier professional life, I studied social movements, and once I stepped into the charter world, I realized that I was part of a social movement that was focused on changing a system by bringing parents, families, and community members into a system that they had been excluded from for a long time. The system had been impenetrable, and the charter sector provided an opportunity to be fully engaged in the education of our children. It was liberating, yet intimidating, but I was inspired by the group of people that shared a common purpose and committed themselves to creating a successful school.

What I learned about myself through starting my first school was that schools are more than the education of a child. Schools are the reflection of a community and are inextricably woven into the community. After all these years of working in education, I am still inspired by so many schools. Walking into a school (no matter if it is located in a traditional school building or an office park or a strip mall) you feel the culture of the school wash over you. All of your senses are awakened and you literally can feel the essence of a school. For me, it happens so quickly and I notice all the little things that makes each school unique. However, at the core of the culture of the school is the people in the school who have created this culture. It’s the collection of people who have devoted themselves to this school, meeting the school’s mission, embodying the cultural norms, and most importantly, serving the students in the school. It is a powerful experience.

So why do I do this work? Simply, it is because I believe that schools can and do greatly impact the trajectory of every student in the school. I believe that schools change students’ experiences, perspectives, and provide unique opportunities. I believe that every person working in a school should be, and usually is, fully committed to the mission of the school and meeting the needs of all students. I believe that schools are essential to our sense of community and belonging. I believe that it is a privilege to be a contributor to the K-12 education system. Ultimately, I believe that schools change lives!

Dr. Terry Croy Lewis

Executive Director, Colorado Charter School Institute

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