Report highlights innovative school leaders of color

Leaders of color
From left, Maquita Alexander, executive director and head of school for Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School in Washington, D.C.; Kriste Dragon, CEO and co-founder of Citizens of the World Charter Schools in Los Angeles and Kansas City, Missouri; and Freddy Delgado; superintendent and principal at Amigos Por Vida Charter School in Houston. – Photos courtesy of PRNewswire


WASHINGTON (PRNewswire) – Earlier this month, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in partnership with Public Impact released Identity and Charter School Leadership: Profiles of Leaders of Color Engaging Families, addressing how the experiences of three leaders of color influence how they interact with and invite families to participate in their children’s schools. The report is the second in a series of three reports profiling charter school leaders of color to show some of the ways their experiences and perspectives shape how they lead schools with excellence.

“Our goal for this research is to feature leaders of color in charter schools – which are all public schools – who are making a clear positive difference in their communities across the country,” said Amy Wilkins, senior vice president of advocacy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “Through these reports, we hope to shed light on some of the unique values leaders of color bring to their schools, and the thoughtful and effective practices that other leaders – regardless of their race or ethnicity – would be wise to adopt.”

The leaders profiled in this report all stood out for how they engaged families as genuine partners.

Maquita Alexander is the executive director and head of school for Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. Alexander looked to parents to play a leading role when she wanted to create a more inviting campus for students of all backgrounds and income levels.

“People who send their kids to Yu Ying want the best for their kids. But if you come from a socioeconomically disadvantaged background, then you may feel intimidated when you come to this campus, and more so if you didn’t have a good experience in school,” Alexander explained. “What we want to do is communicate to every parent that we value you and your child, and will make sure that we are addressing every need.”

Kriste Dragon is CEO and co-founder of Citizens of the World Charter Schools, a national network of public charter schools in Los Angeles and Kansas City, Missouri. Dragon’s teams has constantly considered the systems and structures that make it more difficult for some families to engage at the same levels as others and adjusting how they involve and what they ask of parents.

“[Strong academic] results are actually a symptom that we’re thinking about the whole kid,” Dragon stated.

Freddy Delgado is superintendent/principal at Amigos Por Vida Charter School in Houston. Delgado has built on the school’s family-centered culture and reset expectations for parental involvement to focus on what students need to succeed.

“As a charter school, we have a different opportunity to be creative in the way we work with parents,” Delgado said. “I take pride in how we engage them in our school.”

The report also spotlighted some of the unique challenges and opportunities of engaging diverse families. Two of the profiled leaders who serve students from different racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds found that all families are not equally positioned to learn about their schools or to participate in the schools once they arrive. This is in part because of their own experiences as people of color. However, the leaders at both schools have prioritized efforts to level the playing field.

The report highlights common themes that ran across all eight profiles in the report series related to leaders’ experiences as people of color:

  • Addressing holes and creating opportunities based on personal experience. Based on holes in their own academic experiences as a person of color or as a child from a low-income family, several school leaders reported taking nontraditional steps to address those same challenges in their own schools.
  • Emphasizing value over deficits. Many of the leaders in this series emphasized the value students and their families offer rather than seeing their primary roles as compensating for or working around perceived deficits.
  • Providing an equitable educational experience to produce equitable student outcomes. The leaders of color included in this series work hard to provide students an educational experience like that of their more advantaged peers – an experience full of art, sport, travel, and extracurriculars – as well as opportunities to learn from their mistakes. In some cases, they have even built their schools around themes and curricula seldom available in low-income districts.

Two additional themes related to family engagement also shined through these particular profiles:

  • Engaging parents as genuine partners. All three of the leaders expressed a belief that parents should be partners in their children’s education, rather than just observers.
  • Acknowledging and addressing the unique challenges of diverse campuses. At CWC schools and Yu Ying, student enrollment is diverse in terms of race and socio-economics. Both organizations noted that such diversity posed special challenges to family engagement in that families were not on equal footing to learn about their schools or to participate in the school once they arrive. In response, both schools have recruited community partners and took steps to identify and address practices that might make it more difficult for some families to participate at school. As a result, they have eliminated membership fees for parent organizations and provide child care during meetings.

“The practices that we explore in this report are consistent with decades of research showing that students whose families are engaged in their education tend to perform better in school, regardless of family income, parent education, or racial background,” said Daniela Doyle, vice president for policy and management research at Public Impact. “Moreover, we find that the ways these three leaders choose to engage families reflect their own, very personal experiences as people of color.”


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