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One Founder’s Lessons in a Year Like No Other

This blog post was written by Aasimah Navlakhi, CEO of BES.

BES Fellows spend countless hours, days, weeks, and months planning, working in high-performing schools as resident leaders, distributing thousands of flyers, and gathering hundreds of signatures.

Rather than prescribing a new school’s vision, our Fellows — individuals who embark on a four-year process to design, found, and lead an excellent public school — listen and learn from local stakeholders. They seek to understand what their unique community is looking for in a school — information they will present during the authorizing process in their respective cities and states.

Though the BES Fellowship is nearly two decades old, there has never been a year with so many unknowns, and partnering with communities has never been more necessary. We’ve changed our approach to supporting founders and their teams, helping them as they re-examine the school experience they first envisioned. Their goal is to meet the current and changing needs of families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we shift, we’re also considering what authorizers can do. For excellent, community-responsive schools to have a transformational impact, authorizers must also reflect on their roles and how they evaluate and support schools. Our latest suggestions build on those I offered during BES’s presentation at the NACSA 2020 Virtual Leadership Conference.

When thinking about how charter authorizing might shift, we wanted to get the perspective of a founder who had recently participated in the process. I spoke with Isaac Rivas-Savell, Founder of Voz Collegiate Preparatory Charter School in Albuquerque, NM. Isaac took part in the 2018 BES Fellowship, thanks to the generous support of Excellent Schools New Mexico.

Due to the pandemic, Voz’s opening was pushed from Fall 2020 to Fall 2021. Like many of his colleagues, Isaac used this time to rethink how his team could respond to urgent and longer-term family needs and build necessary community partnerships. Isaac offers insight into what it’s like to prepare to open a school during a pandemic, and what authorizers can do to support founders moving forward.

Read the complete #WithCommunities blog post and learn more about community-centered charter schooling on the NACSA website.