This year has been polarizing in a most disturbing way politically. Good conservatives have been told they are progressives because they cannot find it in their moral fiber to support Donald Trump. Democrats had a similar problem trying to move from their preferred candidate Bernie Sanders to the — if the headlines are to be believed — almost inconceivably corrupt Hillary Clinton. On some matters, the polarization arguably carries a lot of weight.
But there are some issues, even in this most contentious of election cycles, that have the ability to cut through party lines and burn down big tents. Chris Gibbons, CEO and Founder of Charter School network STRIVE Preparatory Schools in Denver is the first to attest to this having witnessed it firsthand.
“We’re in the business of trying to run great schools and we do not see that as a partisan issue. We’re in it for the success of our kids, the success of community development over time,” he says about Denver’s somewhat provocative choice to embrace school choice.
They, ironically, didn’t see much choice.
It wasn’t long ago that Denver was a city with a failing public school system. Their students weren’t graduating and the ones that were weren’t making it through college if they managed to attend at all. Gibbons had done some work with a program called Breakthrough Collaborative (previously known as Summerbridge) that was a 50-city national summer school program for middle schoolers.
It had some of the autonomy and independence of charter schools. So Gibbons decided to attempt to implement what he had learned through that program to help his city’s failing system.
“I had become the director of Denver program — I was part of the program for 10 years, and I got frustrated with seeing families at end of summer say, ‘I wish we could do this for 9 months, I wish it were a school and not just a summer program’,” Gibbons says.
“I had a lot of passion about social justice and racial justice prior to that experience, but seeing the kind of impact I could have in the classroom…that was just extraordinary.”
So STRIVE Prep was born in 2006. According to the STRIVE Prep website:
Under Chris’ leadership, a STRIVE Prep school ranked 1st among all DPS middle schools for academic growth from 2006 through 2013. In an effort to expand this success and student access, and backed by the Charter School Growth Fund and major Denver-area funders, Chris and the STRIVE Prep community have embarked on an impactful expansion plan to grow from 11 schools serving 3,500 students to 17 schools serving 7,500 K-12 students by 2022.
“I would argue that robust school choice should be sustained as a component of the future in education,” says Gibbons. “We have tremendous respect for the agency of families to make a determination about what’s right for their kids. It’s a fundamental right they have and I believe a really important one.”
And it would appear that even die-hard Democrats who were of late performing at Hillary Clinton’s birthday party are beginning to recognize the importance of choice in education — even if it means not only going against their political grain but their cultural one as well.
Charter public schools are not the solution to every problem that’s plaguing public education. The NAACP is right to raise some questions over the practices of some individual charter schools. There are schools of all models – district, charter, magnet, private – that are failing to educate our kids properly and accountably. States and districts should hold all of these school types to high standards of accountability.
Some issues are too important to be polarized.