Carolina School for Inquiry is in its 5th year. We have made AYP for two years in a row, with test scores that exceed many of the district's best schools. We have done this without teaching to the test, without segregating the blue birds from the red birds from the crows, without breaking the spirits of the children.
We have done this with child-centered, inquiry-based, multi-aged education. Innovation that has been proven to work for all children and not just for children of privilege.
Now it is time for the board of directors to work hand-in-glove with the director to make sure that this success is sustainable, long after we are gone.
In the development of a charter school, as with a young nation, there is a need for different kinds of leaders at different times. Some can transition, but others will move on to new projects that better suit their style and emotional needs.
The early leaders of CSI were visionaries and charismatic leaders who were able to convince people to take a chance with their most precious resources, their children, and to pin their hopes on a new way of teaching and learning... a new way of thinking. Like the leaders of the American Revolution, such as Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, & Benjamin Franklin, they were flashy, fast and opinionated. The charisma was palatable and people were drawn like moths to a flame. And that was good.
After CSI was established, the mission remained the same, but the job at hand shifted from recruitment and rhetoric to "making it happen." Carolina School for Inquiry was fortunate to have a director who had the diverse skill set necessary to make the "fine fine ideas" a "fine fine school."
I'm constantly amazed at the things Victoria Dixon-Mokeba has done. The job hasn't been easy and it hasn't been glamorous. There will be no parades or national holidays in her honor. She has charisma, although it's not the kind that sucks the oxygen out of any room she enters. It's not a "look at me" charisma, but the charisma that you feel when you talk to someone who is really interested in you, your child, and your ideas. She has developed her natural empathy, organizational skills, determination and dignity into a skill set that pretty much defines "great charter school leader." I think that one of the most important skills is her humility, her ability to set aside her ego in order to listen to others and to learn new things. She is determined and hard working and has inspired (and sometimes cajoled) those around her to work as hard and to take the responsibility that comes with freedom and flexibility. Although I think there must be other people who could have lead Carolina School for Inquiry through the tumultuous first five years, I am not sure anyone could have brought us to this point of success. Most of the board members over the past five years have supported Ms. Dixon-Mokeba as she lead the school through the development phase.
And now we are here, what next?
The Carolina School for Inquiry Board of Directors needs to move CSI from "fine idea" to "fine fine school" to "fantastic model of a fine fine school."
- After a brief return to the cult of personality, it is time for the board to re-establish policies and procedures that serve as clear guidelines for the administrator, faculty, staff, parents and children, so that the director can operate without fear that the board will "get her" to satisfy a private grudge or to meet a private need.
- The Board of Directors needs to establish a 10-year plan, which should include the funding and purchase of a school building so that CSI is no longer used as a pawn in the drama and personnel issues of other agencies.
- A long-term sustainable fund-raising plan needs to be developed, and I'm not talking about wrapping paper and donuts.
- We need to support and encourage the development of cutting-edge movements in education in order to serve the students and their families better and better. I'm particularly excited about the plan being implemented by the special education teachers to help kids before they become paralyzed by their labels. (I think this is going on, unless the past board shut it down.) The board needs to encourage innovation, through its support of the director's initiatives.
- CSI needs to serve as a resource to other schools and educators who want to develop child-centered, inquiry-based, multi-aged schools. We need to allow the director to re-establish relationships with colleges and universities in the area. We need to work with groups hoping to form middle or high schools on the inquiry model and with people who want to replicate the K-6 model of CSI.
There is a vision that I share with Victoria Dixon-Mokeba and with many other former board members and members of the CSI community: A Vision of Sustainability. And that will be our reward.