Fall in Utah is lovely. The maples and aspen turn red and yellow. Dustings of snow start to cover the highest peaks in the Wasatch and the High Uintas. Cool mornings are a great time to read on the porch, and cool evenings almost invite friends over for s’mores around a backyard campfire.
Today, Utah does a good job of telling that story, but it hasn’t always been the case. For many, many years, Utah was a little-known backwater, flyover country at best. Sure, WordPerfect was founded here and everyone used it. But Moab, as a national, even international destination, simply didn’t exist. Slickrock, Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, etc. – Utah offered all of these treasures, but no one knew, so no one came – until Utah started to tell its story.
I worry that Utah’s charter schools face much the same problem. Absolutely great things are happening in our schools, but we are not very good at sharing our stories. It’s particularly curious, given that we have more stories and more tools to share those stories than ever before. Let me offer a couple of examples of what I mean.
Over the past couple of years, UAPCS’ wonderful communications director, Gina James, has partnered with a professional videographer to tell charter school stories. The two of them have visited more than a dozen schools and helped each school identify various stories that make their school unique.
In each case, the video tells a story of how the school changed one person’s life. We have explicitly aimed for stories that highlight the personal, the stories that take all our collective and individual work and focus on direct impacts on a single person. That could be a student, a teacher or a director. But it’s always about how one school changed one person’s life.
We release the video and promote it on our social media channels. The school it’s about does the same. And that’s as far as it goes. Parents don’t share the story. Teachers don’t share it either. Other schools don’t share it.
As we’ve puzzled over why this is, we’ve noticed a gap in our collective strategy, and this gap seems to explain (at least in part) why we aren’t making more of a dent in how the public and policymakers view Utah charter schools. Too few schools (really only a few at most) follow other Utah charter schools’ social media accounts. Sometimes we are so consumed by the day-to-day running of our schools and solving those problems that we don’t take enough time to celebrate our own wins and achievements.
And I use the word “our” in its most inclusive, broadest meaning. Any win for a charter school in Utah is a win for every charter school. We should all celebrate when charter schools occupy most of the list of the top Utah high schools. We should all celebrate that Beehive Academy consistently ranks as one of the top schools in the country in how it serves low-income and ethnic minority students. We should all celebrate when former charter school students accomplish great achievements.
It’s no secret that the Winter Sports School features many Olympic athletes. In two years, we will celebrate alongside them as those students compete in Beijing. How many of you know that former AMES student, Rhyan White, just won a silver medal in the women’s 400-meter medley at the 2020 Tokyo Games!?! And isn’t it even more amazing that she attended a charter school without a swim program and which focuses quite single-mindedly on academic – not athletic – success!
I say all of this because we need this collective celebration and promotion to counter the false narratives our detractors too often share. When there’s a negative story about one charter school – we all get tarred by it. We all find ourselves explaining. And so, we all need to share a constant drumbeat of the good and beautiful that happens in Utah’s charter schools.
To that end, UAPCS is asking each charter school to do the following:
- Identify someone on your board and someone on your staff to monitor and expand your school’s social media footprint.
- Share your stories.
- Follow every Utah charter school on your social media platforms.
- Share the good news from every Utah charter school on your platforms.
- Encourage your teachers, students, and parents to do the same.
As we share the good that is already happening in Utah’s charter schools, we can and will move the needle on how the public views charter schools. They want to know that charter schools serve more special needs children than any Utah school district. They want to know that we go out of our way to serve immigrants and refugees. They want to know how we create safe, inviting, and challenging places for students across the state. Whether that’s in Moab or downtown Salt Lake; in Syracuse or St. George; in Ballard or Enoch. Utah’s charter schools give every student, every teacher, every family the chance to find their place. Let’s shout that message from our collective rooftops!