Six months into this new chapter, and the summer-time nervousness is kicking in. I should know better, having worked in ‘charter land’ since 1995. It’s June, and we have 140 freshman students on our estimated count list. Unlike traditional public schools, so much of what is done in charter land requires projections, best guesses of how many kids will actually show up on opening day – huge leaps of faith from time to time.

I’ve been in this situation before. June 2004 when I’d hired an entire faculty without one freshman student on the list. I cast the recruitment net far and wide, showing up at swap-meets, churches, July 4th celebrations, wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with “Free college. Ask me how!” If I noticed a group of kids hanging out at the mall or at a bus-stop, I would descend upon them with brochures and a barrage of questions about where they went to school, were they happy there, were they interested in an exciting new opportunity for urban youth in Phoenix. I recall buying a mattress, and while supine on a firm Queen, I asked the salesman if he had any high-school aged kids who might want to attend my school. I bought the mattress, the kid enrolled.

Charter school principals understand this behavior. Traditional school principals not so much. Not having to wear the many hats of superintendent, assistant superintendent for curriculum, assessment, finance, development, as well as nurse, chauffeur, substitute teacher, development director, test coordinator, fundraiser, and maker of forms, traditional principals enjoy an infrastructure without which most charters operate.
But this time, I have support and infrastructure in place. I’m hiring slowly. So far, I have four faculty (each inspirational and eager to make history with this new charter) along with a Student Success Liaison who’s helped with recruitment and extra-curricular programming. I have a custodian, a secretary, and a beautiful campus. Classrooms equipped with SMART boards, students with laptops waiting, and last Friday our outdoor seating was installed and reminded me of why we’re here.
The outdoor seating is the color of crimson, the color of Harvard. I’d decided that if we were going to be a college prep school, we really should be preparing kids for the best of college, the best of colleges, so I opted for Harvard Crimson as our school color. One of the perks of being in a charter school before you’ve hired anyone is that you get to make these big decisions all by yourself – the logo, the school colors, the schedule. I’m contemplating a variety of schedules so far …. one for 140 kids with four teachers, one for 140 kids with five teachers (which means they’ll get electives) , one for 200 kids with 8 teachers. I wonder sometimes if I was wrong not to recruit 10th graders, but I know that’s the nervousness talking. To be true to our mission, it is best to begin with Freshman kids, and we’ll grow a culture of teaching and learning together.
Back to Harvard. Several weeks ago, I met with a family whose 14 year old son told me that it is his dream to attend Harvard. He spoke quietly, informing me that he didn’t want to sound big-headed, as if this dream was too good for him. And in my hands, was one of those big fat teachable moments that keep us all doing what we do. I pointed out our crimson Marquee, our crimson logo, our crimson outdoor tables and asked him if he knew that we shared the colors of his dream school. No, he didn’t, but he got it. He understood that at the intersection of 38th and Maryland avenues, we are in the business of going after big dreams by empowering rather than enabling kids who might not otherwise think they can share their dreams of Harvard out loud, with pride.
And in spite of all the panicking about whether we’ll make the projected enrollment, or what the master schedule will look like, and how we’ll get the textbooks ordered before July 1, and the curriculum in order for August 11th, I’m back to the real work. Making college education a reality.