When selection committee members from the Building Hope IMPACT Awards finished their work in 2022, they realized they might need one more category of schools to celebrate. They received feedback that charter schools wanted examples of overall excellence, they knew they had to make it happen.
A year later, they have that category — the Model Charter Award.
When Building Hope hands out IMPACT Awards in May, one institution from around the country will gain the distinction of being the inaugural example of what a charter school can be. For awards leaders, the hope is that the winner can educate charter school boards and principals about the differences between good and great, and the path to get there.
“We felt there were many more schools to be recognized in their own way,” said Miami Dade College North Campus President Fermin Vazquez, a selection committee member for the Model Charter School Award. “This is something natural that just occurred out of last year, that an annual legacy award for schools would be one of the great adds.”
Building Hope Senior Charter School Operations Director Curtis Fuller said that this year, more than 250 model school applicants were whittled to three finalists. One school will win based on a strict weighted matrix of criteria. Committee members evaluate finalists through their:
Impact: Student engagement, student empowerment and innovation, desire from the community to enroll (waitlists)
Programs: Implementation and success, adaptability to student needs, overall culture, student learning outcomes
Leadership: Stability, alignment with past success and future training, internal collaboration, internal processes
Capacity for growth: Enrollment history, waitlist status, staff training and development, financial stability, student and staff expansion plans
Support: Online reviews, parental testimonials, parental and community giving, grants, college placement successes (for high school charters)
In short, model schools are ones that pushed through — and sometimes because of — growing pains to prove academic excellence, financial stability and community importance with sound leadership and political savviness.
“When you look at a model, it’s usually something that is replicable,” Vazquez said. “These are great educational institutions that can repeat their success in different schools and for different grade levels and serve their communities in different ways. It’s coming up with the secret sauce.”
For Building Hope Board Chair Sheila Ryan-Macie, the qualifications are simple.
“From a business perspective, they’re strong. From an academic perspective, they’re strong. From their stakeholders and communities, they’re very strong. And they have an interesting program on top of that,” she said.
Simple to describe, difficult to achieve. Evaluators like to see agility and adaptability, schools that respond to updated curriculum needs and feedback from parents and students. They like schools that learn from their mistakes and get stronger, be it through better process or stronger personnel.
“Not change for the sake of chance but for the sake of really moving the needle,” Ryan-Macie said.
As a testament to the growth and breadth of charter schools, finalists came from around the country: California, Oregon, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas.
One driver to have a model charter category was, not surprisingly, knowledge. Schools that weren’t finalists in 2022 wanted to know more about what the finalists were like and what they endured to gain success. Even those finalists wanted to learn more about their high-level achievers.
School leaders naturally wanted to look at shining examples from similar charters, from special needs schools to STEM schools to language immersion to Montessori to project-based to place-based.
They also expressed an interest in learning from schools that aren’t like them. Because, well, processes, politics and public relations are often universal areas of growth. So are fundraising, parental collaboration, community engagement and student recruiting.
Replication is important in many communities because waitlists can grow untenable for schools and frustration for parents. School leaders who enjoy success with one school and have a healthy waiting list sometimes asked about creating a second charter school. Through their charter experience and with a more developed peer network of charter success stories, the second school can ramp up more quickly, with fewer hiccups and more streamlined operations.
Having a model school tell its tale can only help, making the new award worthwhile.
“In the end, it is really about not only recognizing individual schools, but helping to move the movement forward,” Ryan-Macie said. “What a great service to showcase schools that had done and done it well.”
The finalists for the 2023 Model Charter Award are:
Greenville Technical Charter High School in Greenville, SC
Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana, CA and California School of the Arts-San Gabriel Valley in Duarte, CA
True North Classical Academies in Miami, FL