Debbie Beyer, founder and director: I think the biggest part of our success has been that we have had a very clear mission for 18 years. My thing was, “Can there not just be a school that does what’s right, that teaches kids to read and write, values parents, teaches character education, teaches American history the way it happened?” That’s what we’ve hung on to. We’ve got a very solid mission and an understanding that our only reason to exist is to produce a high-quality product.
Andrew: How do you find teachers who rise to the high expectations that you set for your school and the students in it?
Debbie: It is becoming more difficult. Most of our teachers come through word-of-mouth or people that have heard about what we’re doing and want to come onboard. I am looking for teachers that are running to me, rather than people that are running away from something else. I find that people who are running away have got their same bitter baggage, and I’m not looking for that. I want people who are running to us to jump on board and be a part of the good things we’re doing. I really feel like teaching is a calling. You really have to have a mindset of knowing that you’re not getting rich, there may not be work-life balance, you’re going to work some late hours, it’s going to be hard, it’s going to cause sacrifice. We interview in a unique way, in a panel. We interview five or six candidates at a time. On our side of the table, five or six of our teachers will sign on to be a part of the panel. We have a standard set of questions that we ask everyone depending on the grade levels. Having them interview as a team helps us see how they interact with each other and respond to one another. It really does give us insight. We’re looking for great teachers, but we’re also looking for great team members that we see could fit into what we already have. We ask them questions such as, “Give us an example, unrelated to your going to school and getting a teaching credential, when you’ve had to demonstrate perseverance or grit.” We get great stories that give great insight into peoples’ character. We also ask, “If I were to ask your friends and family if you are a risk taker, what would they say?” “What was your favorite thing to do when you were a kid?” and “How did you find us?” Those three questions give me insight as well.
Andrew: In addition to the rigorous coursework, what types of activities go on at Literacy First Charter Schools?
Debbie: When we have School Choice Week, we do a whole big parade. All of our campuses are located on a main street somewhere and three of our four campuses are located in what used to be churches. We have some pretty high visibility. We do the same [parade] for Veteran’s Day. For Veteran’s Day our kids dress up in red, white, and blue and make noise makers. Then as a school we go out on the street and we just bang and honk and blow horns and hold signs up. Our parents decorate their cars like parade cars, and they drive back and forth. The police go back and forth on their motorcycles. We have a big assembly and we sing patriotic songs.
It is also part of our goal that our children learn to present. Starting in kindergarten, they learn the Preamble to the Constitution. In first grade they learn Martin Luther’s speech. In second grade they learn the Gettysburg Address. – Debbie Beyer
In third grade students do a big variety show. Eighth grade does a matriculation project where they research a topic and present in front of a panel. Our seniors right now are doing an exhibition. Our kindergartners just did a program called “We The Kids” on teaching parents the constitution. The 4th-8th grade campus did a big musical production of “Aladdin.” Our high school kids just did “Arsenic and Old Lace.” We have a very robust sports program too: baseball, softball, football, track and field, cross country, soccer, volleyball. Our team does amazing work!
Andrew: Why is it important for parents to have a choice in their children’s education?
Debbie: I think choice in education is an absolute. You cannot be stuck in a place where, “This is where you go to school, and you have no choice about it, even if its poor-performing and putting out a bad product.” I’m not opposed to good public schools. I’m just also thinking, “If there’s vouchers that work, if there’s homeschooling programs that work… ” There’s not one size that fits all for anything. Why do we think education would be any different?
Choice is a very American thing. Our founders came over here because they wanted choice. They wanted to go some place where they had the freedom to choose to do religion how they wanted to do it. That was the very genesis of this country. To deny parents the choice to choose how they want to educate their kids is really denying them a very fundamental principle. – Debbie Beyer
Andrew: You’ve made such a big impact. What are your plans for the future at Literacy First Charter Schools?
Debbie: At this point what we’ve decided is that we do a lot of things really well, so we’ve adopted some smaller charters that are struggling. We’re going to begin to share with them. We’ve sent over some trainers to train. There’s a small school in San Diego that’s really struggling and was up for renewal. I sent over one of my experts in restorative practices and we trained their whole staff on restorative practices. All of our staff is trained on brain compatible learning with a program called Quantum. We’re going to do the same thing with them. We’ve sent our high school kids over and they built benches and beautified their entire campus. I just figure, “I’m going to find the places where we can have an impact.” One of the points of charter schools is to build replicable models. We’re just trying to find places where we can impact as much as possible. I really feel like that’s my mission in life, to have an impact in a positive way.
Andrew Campanella is President of National School Choice Week.
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