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As the Board Chair at Cesar Chavez Academy (CCA) in Detroit, the largest charter school in Michigan, Lawrence Garcia, former city attorney for the City of Detroit, knows sometimes there can be misconceptions about charters, something he even encountered with his wife.
My wife is a teacher from traditional public schools so naturally she has a bias against public charter schools, which was a debate in the early parts of us dating each other. It didn’t take long for her to come around.”
Although he may not have known much about charter schools or school boards in general, Lawrence said when he was asked to be a part of CCA’s board, he did his research and can now better explain it when others ask.
I’m a lawyer so I always kind of look at things in a rule based way and when I took the invitation to get involved with the board I did research to figure out what it is. What I explain to people is board members are kind of like elected officials or representatives in the sense that our job is to make sure public funds going into the school are being spent appropriately, ensuring there’s no corruption and no waste. We oversee the school’s operation from a distance that is pretty far removed but close enough to be aware that balanced budgets are being maintained, schools are safe and progress is being made around increasing the life chances and opportunities for the students.”
One of the misconceptions surrounding charters is charters are not transparent. Lawrence said transparency is key to a successful school, whether it is a traditional public school or a public charter school, specifically ensuring the budget is balanced.
The part of transparency that is necessary to me is balancing the budget and that is transparent. You can’t get away with having a deficit as a public charter school; traditional public schools can and all faces of government can and do run deficits. The number one responsibility to me is satisfied by existing regulation or structure we already have in the system."
Lawrence said what he thinks all schools need is more information for parents and those making the choice for their students.
I think what we need is more resources and more hope for people to believe in the system’s ability to actually outperform expectations but I don’t think that’s going to come from legislation.”
After being on the board for almost 12 years, Lawrence said he can see the individualization charter schools can provide and is able to tell others about it.
CCA does a great job of serving the particular needs of a specific community, which is one of the great virtues of charter schools, they have the ability to do that. Not every school has to be sensitive to every single kind of thing and it’s a great burden for a school to be all things to all people. CCA has a special sensitivity to the Latino immigrant community and I know Southwest Detroit and I know how many people are there from that background. I think the school does an incredible job of giving those folks an option for education that fits, is culturally sensitive and uplifting for those immigrant school children and it outperforms those public schools.”
For Lawrence now, he said being able to see the way CCA is impacting students’ lives and how it is leading to their success is one of the best parts about serving on the board.
Kids at CCA are always happy when you walk the halls and there’s a life affirming energy. It’s inescapable for people to visit those campuses and see how much uplift there is and how much positive energy there is. We’re eager to make it the highest achieving school as possible in academic proficiency, achievement and growth. The culture is already incredibly positive and that is invaluable to me because I think those students deserve that kind of opportunity.
Not only is CCA able to provide these opportunities for their students but Lawrence said it translates to the surrounding community as well.
CCA has become hubs for good activity in the neighborhood. It has some renewed currency these days, the idea that schools can be centers for community resources and CCA schools are doing that- going above what is required.”
Why does he do what he does at CCA? Lawrence said it is vital to ensure students get the best education possible.
I believe children are our future. What’s more important than kids? And what better way to ensure future success in the society than making sure kids are well educated.”