Making Space for Charter Conversations

“At the first level on the path he saw mountains as mountains and rivers as rivers.

On the second level of the path he saw that mountains are not mountains and rivers are not rivers.

And at a third level he saw once again mountains were mountains and rivers were rivers.”

~ Zen teacher Qingyuan Weixin

As president of Building Hope Real Estate, being host of a web-series and founder of an online community is not in the job description. My “day job” requires deep commitment to lead a team in securing financial investments and partnerships in order to develop and redevelop land and facilities to expand the capacity of charter education across the country.

Building Hope Real Estate creates space for charters from inspiration through execution, and there is nothing more rewarding than seeing students in each of these new schools across the country. So why create Charter Conversations? Why fly into this new territory, and why now?

In late February, there were just a few dozen known cases of Covid-19 at the time. I struggled with a decision I made to opt-out of a business trip to Florida. By late spring, almost every state saw the rate of infection grow.

For the last five years, I traveled almost every week for work. I spent my time on the road, working with our talented team of people at Building Hope, meeting with all types of leaders trying to effect change in education, investors, lawyers, architects, contractors, and real estate brokers.

By late April, I missed seeing them. I missed the face-to-face meetings and working through issues as we pursue a vision to develop new school facilities. I missed the energy that passionate educators bring to their school communities every day. I missed being on the ground with them fighting for their schools to open on-time.

I’m a real estate and construction guy, not an educator. I’m lucky to have found work where I can surround myself with forward-thinking leaders almost every day. They take huge risks to start schools, on a shoestring budget, so families and students in their local community can have educational choice.

“The parallels between the leaders in the charter school and tech industries are striking. What we are going through right now is reflected in Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore.”

In the 1990’s, I surrounded myself with the same forward-thinking energy when I worked with some great innovators in technology. The parallels between the leaders in the charter school and tech industries are striking. What we are going through right now is reflected in Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore. Much like the Zen teaching quoted at the top of this blog, Crossing the Chasm states:

First there is a market… Made of innovators and early adopters, it is an early market, flush with enthusiasm and vision, and often as not, funded by a pot full of dollars earmarked for accomplishing some grand strategic goal.

Then there is no market…This is the chasm period, during which the early market is still trying to digest its ambitious project, and the mainstream market waits to see if anything will come of it. 

Then there is. If all goes well, and the product company passes through the chasm period intact, then a mainstream market does emerge, made up of the early and the late majority. With them comes the real opportunity for wealth and growth.   

My last google search came up with about 50 million students enrolled in public schools, 3.7 million teachers, and 91,000 school buildings around the country. Charter school enrollment hovers around 3.5 million students. About 7.5% of all public school students attend a public school of choice.

Since the first charter school was launched in Minnesota in 1992, the Charter School movement has grown.

Where it is along the above-mentioned chasm is an interesting question. There is no singular answer because the movement is made up of individual leaders and communities who have embraced the notion of school choice in varying degrees. Is this still the beginning, made up of early adopters, flush with enthusiasm and vision? Have we made it into the mainstream, or are we still lurking in the doorway?

“In this current time of reflection, we are tasked to keep moving, to keep creating, and to keep fighting for positive, lasting change in education.”

In this current time of reflection, we are tasked to keep moving, to keep creating, and to keep fighting for positive, lasting change in education. To support this, and to shine a light on the people and organizations who are pushing through the challenges, Charter Conversations was launched.

As we continue to speak to leaders from across the charter school spectrum, we develop a deeper understanding of what is necessary to impact positive and lasting change in education. Bringing the webisodes to the online platform, we hope to create a space to deepen the conversations and help to create connections and community for leaders in the charter school space.

Picture of Dru Damico

Dru Damico

Dru is responsible for oversight and management of all Building Hope Real Estate investment opportunities in educational facilities. He joined Building Hope in 2015 with 20 years’ experience in community-based development; real estate; and construction of charter school, retail, and entertainment projects. He has been an active member of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and currently serves on the Board of Trustees for the Rowland Hall School. Dru holds a B.S. in Management Information Systems from Fairfield University. Dru hosts Charter Conversations, Building Hope’s web series highlighting innovative charter school leaders from across the country.