Leader Voices

By Christina Reyes, Executive Director of Inwood Academy for Leadership

Starting Your School Right

The proverbial saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” is one that I constantly refer to as I relate the process of opening a charter school. It seems like an impossible task at times – opening a school that teachers want to teach in, parents want to send their children to and that will help students succeed could seem like the largest elephant of them all. The reality is, no one can eat the elephant on their own. An excellent team and support from the field are the keys to success. The charter sector in NYC is one of the most open environments that I have ever seen. Charter leaders and educators, in general, are willing to share best practices and learn from one another in a way that not many other competitive fields do. The New York City Charter School Center is at the heart of this open communication and best practice sharing.

When I brought the idea for Inwood Academy to the Charter Center in 2008, the team listened, gave critical feedback and supported us every step of the way. The first step including a vetting process of interviews with staff members from the Charter Center – they wanted to know what we were made of and what our team was capable of. Through this vetting process, the Charter Center gave very specific and pointed feedback that allowed us to sharpen our plan, and in some areas, completely change course. With the expertise housed at the Charter Center, we quickly realized that the advice we were being given was golden and we’d better take it in order to fulfill the vision we had for our school.

After this process, we began to receive professional development as well as resources through the Charter Center. The pre- and post-authorization grants we received were vital to helping us launch the school in 2009. And, we continue to participate in various professional development opportunities and sector-specific events. This support is just as valuable as the grant money because it allowed us to avoid common pitfalls that might be typical for first year charter schools to make, most assuredly saving us thousands of dollars.

In addition to this type of support, the convening of professionals who are facing the same issues has been a huge value add to us as a school. The Charter Center brings hundreds of professionals together to discuss issues such as staff retention, facilities acquisition, and leadership development among a myriad of other topics. This collegial time allows the practitioners to bounce ideas off of each other.

With the support of the Charter Center, our school was able to start “right” and for that we are forever thankful.