I spent the past two days in Charleston, South Carolina.
My father, who recently passed away, is from South Carolina, so the visit had deep meaning for me.
More importantly, the conversation going in Charleston is steeped in meaning because of the city’s historical racial injustices and the recent horrific shooting at a house of worship.
In education reform, a common critique is that reform is done to a community.
And, to be honest, when I visit cities I often give a talk or two, meet some political and philanthropic leaders, and then fly out.
This is probably the wrong thing to do.
On this trip, our hosts had us spend two hours with teachers and families at a public meeting before we opened our mouths.
I got to hear what some educators and families were going through; what their struggles were; what their hopes were.
The picture above is from a panel that took place at a church the next day.
Before the panel began, an African-American high school student gave an overview of the data of the achievement of his peers.
It was not a white business leader telling a community that the schools weren’t good enough.
It was a black male teenager.
A quick look at the picture above will make it clear that the panel had a diversity of views.
I’m associated with the charter school movement.
The leader sitting to my right, Kaya Henderson, is rightfully considered to be one of the best district leaders in the country.
We’re flanked by Dana Peterson and Chris Barbic, each of whom having been shaped by their own experiences: Dana as a labor organizer and Chris as a charter school founder and superintendent.
It’s rare that you get a former labor organizer, a sitting superintendent, a charter proponent, and a former charter and district CEO sitting on one panel.
All of the panelists, in my opinion, did a great job of being honest about what worked has worked in their cities, being open about what has failed, and clearly stating that the Charleston community has to blaze its own – and inevitably unique – path.
In many cities, panels like this focus on what has happened. Local and national leaders opine on recent reforms efforts.
In Charleston, they are having the conversation beforehand.
Their community has yet to put forth a vision of what the coming years will hold for their schools.
But whatever path they choose, it will have been formed through robust and open public debate.
They are having the conversation beforehand.