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It All Counts

Commentary by: JoAnn Mitchell, CEO/Founder of Mission Achievement and Success Charter School, @MAS_charter

Our meetings with community partners and local leaders all have one thing in common. At the end of our presentation, we always get The Question: “So what’s your secret? What’s the magic piece that makes MAS Charter Schools so successful?”

Every time, the answer is as unsatisfying and anticlimactic as the last. “Well, it’s everything.”

It’s a question the whole education community asks, from state and federal lawmakers and district superintendents at the top to our newest teachers in the classroom. How do we aid kids in overcoming odds to read and do math on grade level, to graduate from the public school system to achieve success in the postsecondary and professional world?

At MAS, we’ve built our reputation on improving student outcomes. Despite high rates of poverty and English language learners, our students keep up with or outperform those in affluent Albuquerque or Santa Fe schools here in New Mexico. More than three-quarters of our students in kindergarten and first grade are already reading, where our state hovers at just 25 percent for students at the critical third-grade milestone. One hundred percent of our three classes of high school seniors have graduated–with acceptance to a postsecondary program or a branch of the military. New Mexico’s graduation rate was 74.9 percent in 2019, ten percentage points behind the national average.

So what’s the secret sauce? The whole model.

We teach teachers to grow into the excellent educators they all have the potential to be, through continuous professional development throughout the year. Our educators participate in 45 minutes of professional development every day, adding up to a minimum of 135 hours each year. Most traditional public schools only offer two to three days of training each year. Giving teachers the tools they need to be successful is key to our students’ achievement.

We also maintain high expectations for students and give them everything they need to reach them. We teach them that success is normal–and expected. We don’t give zeroes for undone work; we give students another chance to complete it and hold them to it. When they still struggle, we’re there with tutoring and other supports, which always include parent communication so support can come from home too.

But perhaps the most important piece of all these pillars is the underlying belief that everything we do, every day, is about kids being successful. Our school days are long, our culture is strict, and the work is difficult, but we know it’s worth it. Just like in life, there is no easy way out, and that’s what we teach our students.

Anyone who tries to boil success down to one thing–a pill, a mantra, a curriculum–is selling you something. And in education, there’s too much at stake for anyone to be duped. No matter what this historic school year brings in the midst of a pandemic, or how many times our plans have to change, this commitment to our school community will stay the same. Our kids deserve nothing less.

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