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Five Characteristics of Effective Charter Schools

My journey into public charter schools, and learning about the characteristics of effective schools, began in 2008 when I was an Exceptional Children’s teacher. I later became the director of a rural charter middle school in Brunswick County at Charter Day School. It was during this time that my “leadership lid” was lifted as I spent time in five high performing K-8 public charter schools in North Carolina during my dissertation study, The Characteristics of Effective K-8 Charter Schools in North Carolina. The leaders and community stakeholders from the schools that I served as a Principal, have helped shape my understanding of what makes an effective school.  According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, this week is National School Choice Week. As we celebrate National School Choice Week, let’s also discuss five characteristics of effective charter schools.

Research and Strategy Application

The five characteristics I discuss below are based on the findings from my 2011 research. I use these same strategies as I assist public charter schools leaders across the country as a coach, trainer and consultant. As a result of my research and strategy application, the school improvement initiatives helped Charter Day School develop a culture that focused on character education, building relationships, and academic strategies for long term success. Charter Day School eventually became one of the highest performing Title I schools in the region.

Five Characteristics of Effective Charter Schools

Clear School Mission

Effective public charter schools understand and live their mission daily. From the governing board to the families, they are intentional with communicating the mission at every opportunity. The mission lives through succession planning, stable school leadership, effective teachers, and highly engaged parents.

Student-Focused Instructional Planning

Effective charter schools teach students where they are, not where they should be based on their age or grade-level. This occurs by having clear systems for prevention and intervention in place to assess students strengths, learning styles and interests to reach every child. Additionally, those same systems are applied to help students build the necessary strategies and skills to be more successful in the classroom. By having such a clear education plan in place, teachers can master their craft and implement these plans with fidelity. Effective schools do not waiver from their clearly defined education plan; they tweak it based on the results closing the achievement gap for all.

Multiple Levels of Parent Engagement

Being schools of choice, public charter schools count on building strong relationships with their parents and community.  Effective charter schools engage their parents and community to be partners in the school’s programs and success. These relationships grow through intentionality, purpose and transparency. From working side-by-side to build the school to teaching classes, the formula is simple: be clear and deliver on those promises.

“Real Time” Site-Based Decisions

Effective charter schools have built operating systems that continually inform leadership of what is working and what is not. These leaders have trust in their “on the ground” staff to make decisions based on what is best for students and the organization. These systems create speed, flexibility, and the potential to gain competitive advantage by responding to an event soon after it occurs. These “real-time” decisions bring value to the organization and improve customer relations.  

Strategic Personnel Decisions

Effective charter schools develop strong processes to recruit, hire, and retain dedicated, mission and value-oriented members. Through autonomy, they can provide their current staff expanded professional opportunities without an inflexible process that school districts may incur. As a result, school leaders intentionally build leadership capacity in teachers and staff carrying the school through the development of innovative school improvement initiatives.   

Study Outcomes

The results of this study will provide any school leader with resources, strategies, and tools to effectively develop a charter school application, school improvement plan, or begin the planning of turning around a failing school.  The characteristics that were found strongly align to the over 30 years of effective schools literature.  I encourage you to take a look as there are multiple effective schools research, I found Ron Edmunds’, the father of effective schools research, a great foundation for your plan.

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