Working at Charter Schools

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Summary

In charter schools, teachers, administrators, and board members shape important decisions about working conditions, including the mission, curriculum and instruction, programs and services, schedules, budgeting, and staffing--with the goal of improving educational outcomes for students.

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About Working at a Charter School

In charter schools, teachers, administrators, and board members shape important decisions about working conditions, including the mission, curriculum and instruction, programs and services, schedules, budgeting, and staffing--with the goal of improving educational outcomes for students.

As the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has pointed out, many charter schools have been started by teachers. Examples include Renaissance Charter School in Los Angeles, where teachers and entertainment industry executives teamed up to start a vision-driven school committed to excellence in the arts, as well as the Knowledge Is Power Program public charter schools started by urban teachers with their own highly successful theories for how to inspire achievement among the most disadvantaged students.

What is it like to teach at a charter school?

Hear first-hand from teachers!

Other Ways to Be Involved

Charter teachers, administrators and staff are aided in their work by parents and community volunteers who directly influence the lives of students by sharing knowledge, talents, skills, and role modeling. Through the gift of time, volunteers help expand student curiosities, provide additional opportunities for learning, and share in the process of students becoming successful individuals.

Charter school volunteers assist with a variety of tasks, in and out of the classroom. Some volunteers, often parents of children attending the charter school and members of the community, serve on schools' governing boards. Every charter school is required by law to have a board of directors that is ultimately responsible for what the school does. Legally, the board oversees the operations of the school and makes sure it is financially sound and follows the law.

Get involved! Find charter schools in your area.

Hear from the 2011 School Volunteer of the Year

In their Own Words: Teachers on Working at a Charter

Fenton Avenue Charter School, located in the San Fernando Valley, was a traditional public school that converted into a charter school in 1993. The conversion was led by the school's principal at the time, supported by the teachers at the school, who were heavily involved in writing the charter petition.

Four of the teachers that were part of the founding team are still working at Fenton Avenue, joined by many others over the years. What is it like to work at Fenton Avenue now? Teachers and staff, many of whom worked at traditional district schools before working for the charter school, shared their thoughts on working in the charter school environment.

Shannon Coulter
When asked, "What's a charter school?" I always explain that the difference I most appreciate is the ownership we have; our ability and desire to make our school function in the most effective, efficient way possible. When something's not working as well as it should, the Fenton Family jumps in to find better solutions.

Michelle Rappino, Ed.D
Having worked in a district for most of my career, I believe one of the best aspects of Fenton is that it is truly independent. Fenton makes decisions that impact Fenton students and the surrounding community as opposed to having a superintendent and a school board who have no knowledge of our particular school/community needs making decisions for us. Being financially independent is a plus in that we are able to allocate our funds in the way we see fit (not withstanding the current budget crisis, of course). For example, if Fenton had an increase in behavioral/emotional needs, we could hire another counselor to service our students. Whereas a school in the district would have to maintain the one-day-a-week apportionment set by the district guidelines, regardless of school need. If we decide to change the textbook series because the series is not meeting the needs of our students, we, as a school, are able to do so. However at a district school, each site is stuck with the decisions made by the people at the top....Decision-making is truly in our hands here at Fenton.

Susan Cornell, National Board certified teacher with 37 years experience, left the district to join Fenton's staff in 1993
It is one thing to have a vision about how Fenton could be, it's another one entirely to bring it to fruition. I am proud that we have been able to create a school where the teachers, as well as the rest of the staff and community, have become partners in the decision-making process. It is an extraordinary accomplishment to have empowered the stakeholders to work together for the success of our students. I believe it is because we have a voice we feel a sense of ownership. Fenton is OUR school, so people willingly make extra effort, put in the extra hours, and take on the extra responsibilities for our students and their families.

Dustin Katch, Teacher
What I am most proud of is the fact that we refuse to accept the status quo. We implement strategies long before traditional public schools.

Toni Frear, One of the classroom teachers who signed the original charter, still working at Fenton, now as a counselor
I am very fortunate to say that I have spent half of my career as an educator at Fenton Avenue Charter School, one of the first charter schools in California. There have been so many positive strides that I have seen in the charter school movement as well as here at FACS and now our new K-1 Fenton Primary Center.

The teachers and staff have historically had a voice in school wide decisions through their ability to sit on governing councils. Staff votes have been weighted equally among ALL the staff working at the school. This has given every employee a vested interest in all that is happening here. Although our governance system may be changing because of new laws, our staff remains actively involved.

I am proud to say that our staff is exceptionally close and supportive of each other, both personally and professionally. They have embraced cutting-edge, research-based teaching strategies and curriculum as well as met extensively on how to best implement these new concepts in the classroom.

Another aspect of being a part of these charter schools is the knowledge that our students are feeling the benefit of fiscal responsibility at the school site level. Our students have benefited from this one factor in many ways. Their desks and chairs are new and sturdy and their ability to utilize technology has been above and beyond what is available at other schools in our area. Our students have all their needed supplies and new books. Finally, our students enjoy a campus that is litter-free, clean, large, and surrounded and interspersed with many plants and green areas!

I personally would like to share that this charter school forum has enabled me to develop my professional skills in a way the traditional school setting would not have allowed. I have been allowed to design a program that fits the needs of our students, at our campus, in our neighborhood. Education here is child-centered, addressing the needs of the student. We focus on the whole child making sure to meet their social emotional needs as well as their academic needs.

David Riddick, Incoming Principal of Fenton Avenue Charter School, former LAUSD teacher and administrator
I am proud to be a part of a school that accomplished an unheard-of feat - leaving the constraints of a large district to run a school that works for the staff and students that attend. The amazing thing is that this bold act proved successful. If a school is run by educators that have a heart for the community they serve, it will accomplish great things. Because of the accomplishments of the leadership and staff back in 1993, Fenton has been able to uphold a thirst for innovation and an appetite for cutting-edge practices. We were not complacent in 1993 and we have not become complacent in 2011. As pioneers in the charter school movement, school leaders and politicians from all over the state continue to seek our advice not only what we did in 1993, but on our current practices of today.

Marya Abolian, Teacher
I think I'm most proud of the growing access to technology that our students and teachers have that brings the curriculum and standards to life. Specifically with programs such as Keynote, Pages, and Powerpoint, where students can create and present classroom content to their peers. We are so lucky to have all of this technology at our fingertips!

Aleks Mantelzak, Art Specialist
I am most proud of the fact that, even in the face of budget deficits, we've been able to create and maintain a visual and performing arts program and thus hold firm to our unwavering commitment to the education of children.

Nitima Angus, Teacher
I'm proud of the academic gains that we've accomplished. We've had mostly years where scores have risen, and a couple years where they have faltered--but mostly it's been on the up-and-up. Mostly, I'm proud to work with a spectacular staff: talented, committed, kind, compassionate... This applies to everyone at Fenton--everyone is always willing to listen and lend a hand. We've created that kind of community among the staff.

My son had a horrible kindergarten teacher two years ago; and thinking about how little this teacher did or cared about her students and my son, just sickened me. It really made me appreciate the "good" teachers--and that's what he have here at Fenton, but I wouldn't use "good," I'd use REMARKABLE!

Lastly, I'm proud of the "voice" that we have in our committees too, but we all must embrace that and speak up and have an opinion, and know that what we say does matter. Whether it's choosing an adoption, deciding on staff development, or monetary issues--we all have the possibility of deciding our "way of life at Fenton" and we must be involved. This is a huge component that makes us unique.

Max Schafer, Teacher
The thing I am most proud of is one thing that didn't happen at Fenton. We didn't fire teachers.

This year, when we had to make some really tough budget decisions, it really tested our commitment to the idea of "Children first." When you have to make big cuts, it really is time to evaluate what is most important to spend money on, and what is in the best interest of the child.

During the entire time I was involved with discussions about cuts at staff meetings and informal discussions around the lunch room, not once had I heard any teacher or staff member desiring the cutting the Art, Music, PE, or Science teaching positions. This is despite the fact that the savings would be considerable, that the staff was looking at having to reduce their own salary, and that the administration could easily justify cutting programs that was not specifically related to increasing test scores in Math and English.

I'm certain that cutting these programs would have been the highest priority at schools where increasing tests scores are the only considerations, or where teachers are most concerned about their own salaries. I'd like to believe that as a charter school, we tend to look at the bigger picture. As a parent, this is the kind of school I would want to send my children. Oh, I forgot, my children did attend Fenton.

Wendy Kaufman, Teacher
I am most proud of the quality of our teachers and staff. We have an amazingly professional staff who are willing to go the extra mile to help children succeed. I am proud of our beautiful, clean, and safe campus. I am proud that we have always put children first when making decisions. I am proud that this school has fostered my growth as an educator, affording me opportunities I would get nowhere else!

Richard Parra, Principal of Fenton Avenue Primary Center
To everyone else's comments, I would also like to add commitment and hard work. When people ask if hard work pays off, we are a true example of that. We would not be where we are without the commitment and hard work of our entire staff.

Stacy Carroll Hutter, Teacher
I am very proud of the access we have created for the students in our community. What we provide is usually found in elite private schools: art, science, and music teachers, a high level of technology, small classes and social/emotional education. These are also examples of how we have stayed true to providing a well-rounded education even in a high-stakes testing environment. We have stayed true to teaching and what is truly best for children.

Jennifer Nishimoto, Teacher
I think it is all about teamwork, commitment, dedication, and professionalism that we have here! I also think that as time goes on more teachers are helping make the Fenton name as groups of teachers are presenting at conferences and workshops. It is not always the veterans giving their point of view or history. It's wonderful to see that we are all contributing.

Mary Ann McPherson, Teacher

I am most proud of the fact that our teachers and administrators deeply care about the quality and caliber of the education that is delivered to our students. I feel that we as a collective group have supported each other and brought out the best that we have to offer in terms of going the extra mile for all our students on a daily basis. As Fenton has evolved through the years, it has brought many changes to the current climate of instruction, and I think that our staff has done a wonderful job in using its resources including personnel, instructional data, and current research available to meet the needs of all our learners.

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