#39 – Unexplored Educational Territory–District-Charter Collaboration

Parents and families face a myriad of options on where to enroll their children each school year. Traditional schools remain situated in their neighborhoods, but a looming fear exists that construction of new charter schools only signifies the start of a decreased enrollment in traditional district schools and potential disillusionment on how best a neighborhood school can meet the needs of every child. 

District and charter schools can often be regarded as adversaries in an increasingly competitive educational landscape as parents ponder which school will best suit the needs of their child. Few stories circulate on the positive relationship between district and charter schools that enrich and enhance the educational experience for students.     

In too many instances, the divisions between district and charter schools prevent any opportunity for connection, communication, and collaboration between schools in the public education space. Initiatives that connect both schools enable all students to benefit from innovative pedagogical practices, as well as, lend the social and emotional support that students need to thrive and flourish in their futures. 

KIPP’s Chief of Policy and Public Affairs, Rich Buery, has spearheaded initiatives that promote collaboration, rather than competition, between district and charter schools. Prior to his role at KIPP, Buery worked under New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, as Deputy Mayor. He led Pre-K for All in which the City provides free full-day pre-kindergarten to all four-year-olds in the city. Buery created opportunities in which charter schools could offer pre-K services to families, early childhood educators could receive professional development, and a streamlined process for enrollment in pre-K at charter and district schools now existed. In a similar program, he created Schools Out NYC that provides free after-school programming for all NYC public middle-school students enrolled in either district or charter schools.

Buery maintains that the more individuals experience the benefits of shared collaborative efforts then more opportunities to connect will arise. 

Buery continued his collaborative spirit at KIPP in which he coordinated the KIPP College Counseling Institute in San Antonio. Three partner districts and one charter network attended the event. The Institute focused on college counseling for high school students and enabled all participants to share and exchange ideas on how best to serve students in their area. Shared collaboration creates connections beyond school designation.

Additional cities around the country have developed more partnerships between district and charter schools. District leaders increasingly recognize the facility asset they hold to leverage with charter school organizations as they build their school. In exchange, charter school organizations can offer robust professional development material or innovative pedagogical practices from which district teachers can benefit.

In 2014, superintendent for the Spring Branch school district in Houston, Duncan Klussmann, visited several high-performing charter schools–YES Prep and KIPP–to observe the special classroom culture that focused on urgency and authentic student relationships. Klussmann would then invite YES Prep and KIPP to open two middle schools that would eventually expand into high schools within the district. Many cities have also sought ways to provide charter schools with building facilities so they can open their own unique programs for students.  

In 2017, the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) released a report that highlighted the status of 23 cities that signed a District-Charter Collaboration Compact. In their report, they cited five cities–Boston, Chicago, Denver, Central Falls in Rhode Island, and New Orleans–had district and charter schools adopt innovative practices that meaningfully addressed the systemic issues many students face in public school. Each city had tremendous results within their own District-Charter Collaboration Compact effort:

  • Boston: District, charter, and Catholic schools share data to locate and learn from classrooms in which students perform well academically.
  • Chicago: The district appropriated more funds that charter schools could use for facilities.
  • Denver: Professional development to help special education and English-Language-Learner students made available to all teachers.
  • Central Falls: Shared a reading curriculum, as well as, bilingual language education knowledge.
  • New Orleans: Created universal school discipline standards adopted by all city public schools.

All students deserve a meaningful, enriched, and enlivening educational experience that will elevate them to a prosperous future. Students enrolled in either a district or charter school have committed to the public education system–a system designed to benefit all students irregardless of the type of school a student may attend. Parents have more choice than ever to decide which school will help fulfill the future ambitions of their child. 

Join us to support systems, solutions, and strategies that will create collaboration rather than cause conflict. Join us to innovate and implement initiatives that bridge divides and unblock systemic barriers that bar all children from benefiting from transformative programs. Join us to highlight successes and lessons learned in the effort to reinvent the narrative on the relationship between district and charter schools. 

More to do. More to come.

Ana Cunningham
Director of Projects, SchermCo


To learn more about SchermCo or inquire about our services, please email Ana Cunningham, ana@scherm.co. Lastly, follow our journey and engage with us on our social media platforms: FB, IG, and Twitter.

SchermCo is a social-impact implementation firm that offers strategic advising, organizational development, and implementation services to schools and education-focused organizations. SchermCo reinvests 1% of their time/funds from each project back into the communities they serve.

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