Tag Archives: DC Public Charter School Board

What I Learned at a Rocketship “Launch” — and How It Changed My Career Trajectory

Five years ago, on a public school playground in San Jose, California, I joined a school full of students and teachers as they joyfully launched their day, an experience which ended up catapulting me into the elementary and secondary education world in an unforgettable way.

I was visiting a Rocketship Public Schools campus, where they begin every morning with what is known as “launch,” a combination of workout, celebration, information-sharing, and exhilarating warm up for the school day ahead. (Disclosure: Rocketship Public Schools, a national charter management organization, is a Bellwether client.)headshot of Lynne Graziano, Bellwether Education Partners

The students assembled into loosely organized classroom groups, many first stopping to greet, hug, or high-five their school leaders and teachers. Launch that day began with general announcements followed by recognition of teachers and students for various achievements. Next, everyone on the playground moved into a choreographed dance and vocal warm up to the tune of Katy Perry’s “Roar.” The students loved flexing their biceps and roaring at one another, and especially enjoyed shout-singing, “‘Cause I am a champion, and you’re gonna hear me roar.” Concluding with laughter and applause, the students and their teachers launched into the school day with energy and enthusiasm.

I remarked to my Bellwether colleagues that this was the way we should all begin our day: focused on important details, recognizing positive achievements, and getting our adrenaline pumping for the work ahead. I also asked a question that lingered with me: How do we allow some schools to take promising students like these, with a deep hunger to learn and unbridled desire to achieve, and fail them somewhere between the time they enter public education but before they reach the finish line? It was a question I couldn’t shake.

That morning, I witnessed Rocketship’s signature “launch” while working part-time as a contractor for Bellwether Education Partners. At the time, I was pursuing a Ph.D. in history, and while I always enjoyed working with young people, I thought teaching and mentoring at the college level was where I could have the most impact. But the launch experience lingered in my memory even as we completed our project. It followed me back to my dissertation work, and I eventually succumbed to its pull.

Less than a year later, I deferred my dissertation and jumped into the work of Bellwether full-time, with its mission of dramatically changing education and life outcomes for underserved students, many akin to the students I saw at launch that morning.

My career shift was an unexpected bonus of participating in that project. Rocketship has continued to replicate this school tradition as their network of schools has expanded. (I should note that across the country, many schools of varying types do similar morning routines to start their day.) Today Rocketship has 19 schools in four regions. In Washington, D.C. Rocketship Legacy Prep recently posted the highest score ever for a pre-K through eighth grade school on the D.C. Public Charter School Board’s School Quality Report. (They planned to open a second school in DC’s Ward 5 but were not able to, citing a facility/permitting issue.)

While Rocketship has its share of critics, its current students seem to be enthusiastic about attending school.  A colleague of mine recently witnessed this at Rocketship Legacy Prep. He was walking toward the school behind two kids who were maybe 7 or 8 years old — young enough that their backpacks seemed enormous, wider than their shoulders. As they approached the school, one said, “It’s three minutes to launch! We can’t be late!” They looked at each other before breaking into a run, backpacks bouncing in rhythm with their pounding feet.

So many students don’t attend schools worth running toward. I hope those two young learners made it to school on time, sang and danced during launch, and continued to hunger for education in a way will carry them through the years to come. And I hope that those of us in the education space continue to push for enough great public schools to keep students everywhere fueled and focused.

Why Quality Charter Authorizing Matters

Yesterday the XQ SuperSchools challenge — an initiative funded by Laurene Powell Jobs to catalyze the creation and growth of innovative, radically better high school models— announced awards of $100 million to 10 “super schools” across the country, including Washington, D.C.’s Washington Leadership Academy.

As a member of the D.C. Public Charter School Board (DCPCSB), the body that authorizes charter schools in D.C., I’m always excited when one of our schools gains national recognition for the incredible work that so many of them are doing. But I’m particularly proud of Washington Leadership Academy’s award because of the path the school took to get here.

The first time that Washington Leadership Academy applied for a charter, DCPCSB rejected the application. The plan wasn’t thought through enough, and we had a lot of questions about who the school would actually serve and how its model would work. So we gave them feedback and encouraged them to come back the following year. And they did. With a much better plan. Which is what enabled them to win this prize.

This is a great story about how amazing the people leading Washington Leadership Academy are. Their grit, persistence, and willingness to change in response to feedback are a big part of what enabled them to win this award. But it’s also, in a small way, a good illustration of why quality charter authorizing makes a difference. Authorizers are not the glamorous people in education. And that’s as it should be. But at our best, we’re like your middle school English teacher who pushed you to do better because she knew you could and covered your paper with red ink until you learned grammar. In the end, she made a difference. Good authorizing has played a crucial role locally in improving charter quality and growing the supply of quality charter seats in Washington, D.C. And it has been crucial nationally to improving quality and student outcomes across the charter sector as a whole.