As Executive Director of the Tennessee Charter Schools Association (TCSA) since 2007, I have had the honor to work side-by-side with many of you to strengthen Tennessee’s charter school environment. However, while I am excited about what the future holds for Tennessee students, the time has come for me to pass the baton to new leadership.
It is gratifying to look back over the past six-plus years and see just how far we’ve come together in our campaign to increase Tennesseans’ access to high-quality public charter schools.
When I came to Tennessee in 2007, there were only 12 charter schools, and the state had one of the most restrictive charter laws in the nation. At that time, charter schools could only be introduced in school districts where academic failure was present, and a sunset clause posed a threat to the program’s future. By building partnerships with legislators, community leaders, and educators, in 2009 we were able to expand access to charter schools to all free-and-reduced lunch students.
We continued to fight for all students to gain access to quality public charter schools, and in 2011, we successfully worked with legislative leaders to pass legislation that opened charter schools to students of all academic and economic backgrounds, and removed the cap which had previously restricted the number of charter schools.
In addition to this progress, I am proud of the additional ways TCSA has advocated for stronger quality options and opportunities for students across the state in my tenure. We worked with education stakeholders from across the state to help Tennessee win the first Race to the Top funds, which had a significant impact on the expansion of charter schools in Memphis and Nashville. We lobbied for high academic accountability, worked to ensure fair and equitable funding, and successfully defended charter schools against dozens of proposed pieces of harmful legislation. Along the way we managed to make many improvements to our law, and even secured nearly a dozen opinions from the Attorney General, all of which were favorable.
Due to these legislative and legal victories paired with the incredibly hard work charter school leaders and teachers are doing across the state, this month the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University published a study highlighting Tennessee’s charter schools as some of the strongest performers in the country. Thanks to this progress of our high-quality movement, this fall more than 16,500 students across the state will take their seats in more than 70 excellent charter schools.
Moving forward, I am excited about the collaboration between TCSA and the Tennessee Charter School Incubator to create the new Tennessee Charter School Center. During the strategic planning process, I will be serving as an advisor to the new Center as we work to create an even stronger voice for excellent educational opportunities in Tennessee. As the plan is established, TCSA will continue to serve as a resource to the parents, schools, and policymakers of Tennessee. TCSA has always had a strong working relationship with the Tennessee Charter School Incubator, and with each organization bringing their core initiatives under the umbrella of the new Center I am more encouraged than ever about the bright future of charter schools as Tennessee’s most impactful public education reform.
Through The Voice, our dynamic grassroots advocacy program, you and other supporters will continue to have a larger, louder forum to bring continued change and progress to public education. In addition, I am proud to have been your partner to build the Tennessee Charter Schools Association, and I look forward to the continued growth of excellent educational options in our state. It has been inspiring to work with so many leaders dedicated to making a difference for Tennessee families, and I know that the movement will continue to be in good hands.