Dear GothamSchools Community,

A few weeks ago, as I read through GothamSchools, I saw a link to a column written by Marc Waxman. Even though Marc now lives in Denver, I know him well. For over a decade he worked in New York City where he worked as a teacher and administrator at KIPP Bronx and then founded and directed (with his wife) a school in Harlem which became a conversion charter school several years ago. Since his school and mine, Renaissance Charter School in Queens, are one of only five conversion charter schools in the city, we worked closely on many issues.

After emailing with Marc about some technical issues relevant to running multiple charter schools (something I am working on here in NYC and Marc is doing in Denver), Marc invited me to enter into a public dialogue with him (a la Diane Ravitch and Debbie Meier). This letter is the kickoff of that dialogue.

I was delayed in getting this first installment for GothamSchools’ community page. Why was I late? Well, I am a school principal (aka leader, administrator, management) and this is the beginning of the third week of school. Things are busy and I am working — 60-plus hours a week. This is not meant to get sympathy — I have a big job to do and failure is just not an option — but okay, you say, where is this going?

I am also busy leaving no child behind, chartering new territory (yes, this is a clue to my background), racing to the top (did I say I am afraid of heights?), advocating for anything advocatable (I am asking that this become a new eduterm), analyzing data to do all of these things and now I stand outside school every day waiting for superman.  He has not arrived. At least not yet.

I also need you to know that I am an idealist. Sometimes I am a cynical idealist and some days I am a cynical idealist realist. This comes from being in a school for the last thirteen years. This comes from being an observer and an active participant and on some days even a change-maker.

When Marc asked if I was interested in starting up a dialogue about educational issues facing us today, I first thought “Isn’t there enough of that?” But then I was reminded by a wise woman at GothamSchools that this dialogue often takes place outside of those people actually doing the work day to day educating our young people. This is not to say that those people don’t have something to say, because surely they do and their contributions and lobbying have been instrumental in helping to push education to the forefront of policy makers. In fact, I think it is safe to say that we have a pretty strong consensus among folks who usually can’t even sit in a room together without disagreeing in the first five minutes that our nation is in a state of emergency as far as education goes.

Our goal for this dialogue is to take back ownership of some of these issues, while discussing them in the context of real-world practice.

We won’t have all the answers, you’ll surely disagree with us and you’ll see that we don’t camp out in any one camp ground. Did I say that Marc’s one condition in writing this post together was that I promise to be candid and brutally honest at all times? This will not be a debate column on good pedagogy. Although I reserve the right to use appropriate quotes as necessary.

So, for now I am putting on my tights and cape and trying to act like a superhero so that when superman or superwoman comes he/she won’t feel so alone.

Marc — even though we have communicated a bit over the past couple years, there is a whole bunch that has been going on at our school and in NYC around charter schools and education generally. Let me catch you up on some highlights. Do you remember when we co-chaired a committee called Advocacy and Equity at The New York City Center for Charter School Excellence (now known as The New York City Center for Charter Schools)? We asked many questions (which it would be great to revisit in this blog) but one of the most controversial at the time was whether charter schools and teacher unions could truly be partners in educational reform. This year this very question was embedded in a series of articles dubbed “The War on Charter Schools” in the New York Post. Unfortunately, the conclusion reached in this article was a pretty resounding, “No, not today, not tomorrow, forget about it, Al Shanker!” I have a lot to say about this and interestingly after all that I experienced firsthand for the last two years, I continue to see that ray of sunshine and possibility coming through (remember, I am the idealist). But I would love to hear how unions and charter schools co-exist in Denver.

Sincerely,
Stacey

Stacey Gauthier is co-principal at the Renaissance Charter School in Queens.  Renaissance is a K-12 unionized, conversion charter school originally founded in 1992 by a group of teachers wanting to create a “renaissance” in NYC public education. Prior to joining Renaissance she worked in various not-for-profit settings including a major art museum and for a prominent labor union.