Unwavering vision, relentless hard work, and a little bit of luck—that’s what successful charter-school networks are made of. This heartwarming (and at times heart-wrenching) book chronicles the development of the Harlem Village Academies (HVA), and the conjoined life of their founder and CEO, Deborah Kenny. Convinced that “education is not about developing products; it’s about developing people” and deeply concerned by teachers’ feelings of disempowerment, Kenny created two schools—and growing—grounded in the efficacy of her teachers. Before opening, she spent days vetting would-be instructors, interviewing them, observing them in action—and only hiring amazing teachers dedicated to the mission of HVA. (A recent CRPE study finds that this sort of “hiring for fit” is common among the best charter networks.) With quality ensured (and a commitment to accountability established), teachers at HVA are granted more autonomy over classroom practice and curricular designs—so long as their teaching jives with HVA philosophies. Kenny and HVA offer a powerful and immensely successful model for schooling—though not one that is altogether novel. High-performing nations—yes, with Finland at the fore—have competitive and rigorous teacher-training programs, ensuring quality at the front end and allowing for more autonomy in the classroom. They also allow school leaders exponentially more flexibility in hiring and firing decisions than is typical in America’s traditional district schools. Kenny’s story is inspiring, grounded, and actionable. Developing great teachers (not simply programs) is a keystone to any successful school’s strategy. But that ain’t easy in America outside the realms of charter and private schooling.
SOURCE: Deborah Kenny, Born to Rise: A Story of Children and Teachers Reaching Their Highest Potential (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2012).