Guest Opinion: Delaware Charter School Network recognizes big ‘IDEAs’

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Kendall Massett is the executive director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network.

More than a quarter of a century ago, a group of concerned, committed and innovative stakeholders came together around a truly novel idea. 

That idea came from questions like: How can we help future generations of children achieve their dreams in Delaware? What if we took away the bureaucracy and provided flexibility but held schools accountable? What if we release control of the inputs and hold firm on high outcomes for children? What if we allow those closest to our children — the parents and teachers — the ability to operate a school on their terms? What if we could find great innovative practices that work for all children? What if we embraced flexibility and accountability and could change the future for our children? 

On July 10, 1995, when then-Gov. Tom Carper signed the “charter bill” into law, that idea became reality. Now 27 years later, our state has 23 charter schools in operation, serving more than 17,000 students, with another school scheduled to open in the fall of 2023. In nearly three decades of charter schools, our students have achieved so much.  This is why Delaware charter schools celebrated the incredible educators, leaders, board members, students and families within the community during the Delaware Charter Schools Network’s 10th annual IDEA Awards during National Charter Schools Week.

The IDEA Awards — Innovation, Dedication, Education, Admiration — began 10 years ago to recognize the phenomenal work happening in all charter schools across the state.

Our students are setting the example for those who follow by forging new pathways in their schools and using their voice to affect change in their school, in their community and for our planet. Neha Veeragandham (Charter School of Wilmington graduate, class of ’22) is fighting for our environment, bringing awareness to her community and providing opportunity for them to pitch in through clubs and events like the Youth Environmental Summit.

The schools’ parent community is a coalition of tireless volunteers, spending countless hours to support our schools as they work to educate the whole child — academically, physically, socially and emotionally. Brooke Balan is the Charter School of Wilmington Parent Teacher Student Organization president. Along with all of her PTSO duties, she organizes parent volunteers and volunteers herself at almost every event, including the Charterthon event that raised close to $95,000 for the Andrew McDonough B+ Foundation this year.

Our energetic, passionate, compassionate, fun and innovative teachers are collaborating to create new strategies geared toward a more equitable educational environment. Charter school teachers are creating new curriculum, after-school activities and mentorship programs to meet the needs of every child. The Las Américas ASPIRA Academy DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging) Team facilitates roundtable discussions throughout the school year focused on ensuring equity with the school’s policies and procedures and auditing the curriculum through a culturally responsive lens.

And during COVID-19, the leaders and staff at MOT Charter School, led by Mitch Weiss, director of student services, worked together to implement programs, processes and systems to keep our students safe and then shared that knowledge with other charter, district and private schools.

Our leaders and their leadership teams are fostering a sense of community, creating space where innovation can flourish, mentoring future leaders and consistently communicating with all community members to ensure that everyone is connected to a vision of success for our students.

The IDEA Awards honor these individuals and groups who have positively impacted their charter school and the community, have utilized charter school flexibility to find innovative and creative solutions for student and community needs, and are dedicated to the education of not only those students within their classrooms but in classrooms across the state and country — regardless of the type of schools those classrooms are in. The IDEA Awards recipients and all nominees are the perfect example of what these awards were created for. Every nomination is an inspirational story of amazing work happening every day in our charter schools for our students. They paint the story of the incredible impact that our charter schools are having, as well as the awesome opportunities that are available for our students.

Delaware charter schools believe that every child deserves an opportunity for an excellent public education. The IDEA Awards event shines a light on how that can be done, not only in our charter schools but in any school.