Earlier today, State Superintendent Catherine Truitt named Ashley Baquero as the new director of the Office of Charter Schools. She’ll begin September 6. The Coalition’s spotlight of Ashley is below.
Meet Ashley Baquero
A former teacher and advocate for disadvantaged students will lead OCS
The state’s new director of the Office of Charter Schools brings hands-on classroom experience and a diverse skillset to her role. A member of the OCS team since 2018, Ashley Baquero first began working with the state’s charter school office as an education planning and development consultant. But as she steps into the director role this fall, she’ll also draw on her professional background as a former attorney, Teach for America alum, and teacher of disadvantaged students.
Ashley’s educational ethos is fueled by this core conviction: Everyone, regardless of background, deserves access to a good education. Her perspective has been shaped indelibly by personal experience. “I grew up with a single parent; neither of my parents was a college graduate,” she says. “I knew that education was the route to progressing as a person, from what you’re born into, so that has always been extremely important to me.”
Education for Ashley included a B.A. from Eckerd College as well as a law degree from the University of Florida. However, subsequent work as an attorney left her unfulfilled, prompting reflection about what she enjoyed. Her epiphany launched a career in education. “It always came back to teaching, which is how I got directed into TFA,” she says.
‘There is no one-size-fits-all educational program’
As a TFA corps member, Ashley taught at a Title I district school in Atlanta, later heading to a grant-funded private school in Clarkston, Georgia, to work with refugee students. In 2015, she moved to Durham, North Carolina, to teach at Maureen Joy Charter School.
Working at schools with high numbers of disadvantaged students bolstered her support for choice. “I believe parents know best, and that every child should have the chance to attend a school that provides a high-quality education,” she says. “There is no one-size-fits-all educational program.”
For charters, greater visibility—and opportunity
Across her seven years in North Carolina, Ashley has seen the state’s charter movement change substantially. The pandemic has accelerated shifts. The movement “has become more visible,” she says. “That can have its pros and cons. As everyone knows, charter schools can be a controversial or political topic. But the growth of parental choice and the movement to charter schools during the pandemic are undeniable.”
Such visibility makes accurate messaging essential. It’s even more important, she says, to ensure “we’re telling accurate stories about charter schools and highlighting the innovations and great things that are happening.” The public needs to understand why families are choosing charter schools.
Heightened visibility is also creating opportunities for charter schools. “Everyone, especially a parent, is thinking: What does education look like for my child, post-Covid, as we progress into this different phase? Charters have a really important role in that conversation—and in helping parents understand the charter community and whether it is a good fit for them,” Ashley says.
Shifting the conversation: Are you for kids?
In addition to sharing accurate information, charters could also have a role in framing the discussion. But there are hurdles ahead: “Often, especially with charter schools, the conversation isn’t about what’s impacting kids. It’s focused on adults or it’s political,” Ashley says. “But it should be about students—about how choice is opening up opportunity for them and impacting their lives.”
“I would love to see a time when the conversation isn’t, ‘Are you for charter schools? Or are you for traditional public schools?’” she adds. “Instead, we should be asking, ‘Are you for kids? Are you for student opportunity?’ I want to open doors for that kind of understanding.”
At OCS, Ashley says she’ll work to improve access to charter schools and provide help for schools that need it. Equity for charters is also important to her. “I want charter schools to get the support they need—and ensure they’re treated fairly,” she says.
What does she wish charter operators knew about her? “One of my strengths is listening to different viewpoints and trying to find a common thread—bringing opposing viewpoints together to find commonality,” she adds.
“That’s what I want to do with charter schools.”