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NC Department of Public Instruction Archives - North Carolina Coalition for Charter Schools

New 2024 Charter School Principal of the Year

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Dr. Sarena Fuller is the 2024 NC Charter School Principal of the Year. Photo credit: ArtSpace Charter School.

Dr. Sarena Fuller, the executive director of ArtSpace Charter School in Asheville, is the new 2024 Charter School Principal of the Year. The Department of Public Instruction on January 25 announced Dr. Fuller’s distinction in a press release naming eight other Regional Principals of the Year. All nine school leaders will go on to compete for the statewide distinction of Wells Fargo Principal of the Year, awarded on May 24.

In DPI’s release, State Superintendent Catherine Truitt stated:

Principals are challenged with creating a culture of excellence and advocating for both students and teachers. Though these nine regional Principals of the Year are from diverse backgrounds and different areas of the state, what they have in common is an unwavering commitment to improving student outcomes and making an impact on their communities.

DPI’s release also included this summary of Dr. Fuller:

After nearly two decades in education, Fuller has developed a leadership philosophy guided by the doctrine of charity. By assuming the best intentions and building a culture of trust, her school has been able to avoid the staffing shortages that many others face.

“Truly, the school operates as a dynamic ecosystem, each part of each process depending on another to function well,” she said. “By their nature, educators are some of the most generous, creative, compassionate, hard-working people I know. I see my job as a school leader to support, empower and serve them in a way that allows them to thrive, for it is then that they do their best work for students.”

ArtSpace had a banner year in 2022-23 under Fuller’s leadership. The school was recognized as an ESEA National Distinguished School for its work with students with disabilities, its middle school team won the “Team to Watch” award from the NC Middle Level Educators Association and the school was a semifinalist in the national IMPACT Award in Innovation.

Congratulations, Dr. Fuller! We celebrate your leadership–and its impact on our state’s charter schools.

For schools, safety is the ‘number one job’

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A new Parent Engagement Committee, with a charter parent and law enforcement expert on board, is at the ready

On October 27, the Center for Safer Schools (CFSS) launched its timely new Parent Engagement Committee, featuring district and charter parents from each of the state’s eight education regions. Committee members will advise Karen Fairley, the executive director at CFSS, and will help develop school safety recommendations for state policymakers. The new committee moves forward with a highly qualified charter parent for whom the Coalition advocated: law enforcement expert Ed Carter, whose 6th grade daughter has attended Classical Charter Schools of Southport (CCSS) since kindergarten.

Advising policymakers on school safety is work Carter is fully prepared to do. A former deputy sheriff, police officer, and U.S. Air Force law enforcement specialist, he has considerable experience working in schools.

“I’ve been in law enforcement since 1995, so almost 30 years,” Carter says. “Early in my career as a law enforcement officer, I served as a school resource officer at a high school. So, I’ve had some experience in dealing with the safe schools issues.” He has also served on the board of the North Carolina Association of School Resource Officers. As his career advanced, he began training SROs.

Since his retirement in 2020, Carter has stayed on as a trainer. “I’m one of the guys that helps new officers to be school resource officers and I also continue to educate the guys that are in place,” he says.

Students and staff from Classical Charter Schools of America, a network of public charter schools. Photo credit: CCSS.

Addressing campus disparities—and understanding community context

He’ll leverage his considerable experience as he looks for ways to improve school safety statewide. What’s top of mind for him right now? Carter is concerned about campus disparities—in SRO utilization, incident reporting, and emergency response protocols.

“SRO engagement and involvement is a big ticket right now because that’s a fairly inconsistent thing across the state,” he says. “One school system may use officers this way while another may use them another way.” Disparities in reporting complicate matters further. “I would like to clean that up so if an officer goes from this classical charter school to another charter school, they’ll be on the same playing field. There has got to be some bridge-building and information-sharing going on,” he adds.

Basic, shared safety protocols are also essential. “We’re going to be following the same protocol regardless of the property,” Carter says of the response from law enforcement. “If there’s any difference in how the charter is doing it versus what we expect to see happen, that’s going to be a huge hindrance.”

Understanding community context is critical too. “One thing that is really important from the officer perspective—and this is true for any school, whether it’s a charter or Christian or [traditional] public school—is that school is always going to be a reflection of the demographic that feeds into [it],” he says.

Providing ‘really important representation for the charter system’

CCSS Headmaster Bill Stidham has seen firsthand how valuable Carter’s expertise can be in securing school safety resources and strengthening protocols. Last year, when an incident occurred on CCSS’ campus, the school did not have a funded SRO, which fueled a drop in enrollment. Carter helped Stidham apply successfully for a grant to fund one. Carter’s informed perspective on the new committee will be invaluable, Stidham believes, especially given funding disparities between district and charter schools.

“His involvement on our campus and his eye through a law enforcement lens has really helped with putting structures in place,” Stidham says. “To have that voice at a state level representing charter schools—[given] the disparity between what a public school for each county gets, versus what is appropriated for charter schools—will provide really important representation for the charter school system.”

Baker Mitchell, the founder of Classical Charter Schools of America—the charter network of which CCSS is a part—is hopeful that the new committee will be comprehensive in its scope and mindful of charter autonomy in its recommendations. “Safety in the law enforcement aspect has its vital role; but in a school’s day to day operations, other areas also need attention and demand awareness with reporting protocols,” he says. Facility repairs, dangerous weather events, health hazards: These, and others, all fall within the scope of administrators’ safety concerns. “Safety must have the broadest definition possible,” he affirms, “with flexibility for charters to customize their response to fit their local communities.”

In the end, the mandate for schools is clear. “We have to portray to the community that we have safety measures in place to keep their children safe from the moment they get here to the moment they go home,” Stidham notes.

“Safety is our number one job,” he adds.

Classical Charter Schools of Southport is a 600-student, K-8 school located between Southport and Supply in Brunswick County, North Carolina, and has been part of the Classical Charter Schools of America network since 2015.  The school recently celebrated construction of a new auditorium and gymnasium and launched its inaugural 8th grade class this fall.

Dept. of Public Instruction Announces New Parent Safety Committee

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Last week, the Center for Safer Schools (CFSS) at the N.C. Department of Public Instruction announced the formation of a new statewide parent advisory board on school safety. Known as the Parent Engagement Committee, the group will include 24 parents (two district school parents and one charter school parent from each of the state’s eight education regions). The committee is modeled after the Superintendent’s current Parent Advisory Commission, DPI noted.

Parents to provide input for policymakers, elected officials

“Members will share their aspirations for and discuss challenges within the K-12 education system, helping to put together recommendations for elected officials and policymakers in North Carolina, and provide direct input to CFSS Executive Director Karen W. Fairley,” DPI indicated in a press release.

We encourage parents to apply! Turnaround for applications is fast: Applications must be submitted by Friday, July 7.

Notifications to selected parent committee members will go out on Friday, July 28. Find the Parent Engagement Committee application here. Please note that parents must also submit a reference from an educator or public figure (county commissioner, member of the local chamber of commerce, etc.) with their completed application.

Questions? Email cfss@dpi.nc.gov.

Ashley Baquero Named as Director of the Office of Charter Schools

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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

Ashley Baquero is the new director of 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.”