Day three of the Virtual National Charter School Conference struck a much-needed optimistic note as the keynote and featured speakers focused on reimagining education.

Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush shared their vision for public education in America, focusing on innovation and ensuring that all students have resources they need to learn outside the classroom.

The Senator from New Jersey began his remarks by highlighting the need for high-quality schools for all children, regardless of their zip code. He shared his personal story of his parents' fight to move to a neighborhood with well-funded public schools and during his time as Mayor of Newark New Jersey, the personal pleas from parents to help their students in failing schools. He noted that while charter schools have contributed significantly to the education sector, more work is needed to ensure equity, inclusion, and transparency. Senator Booker ended his talk with words of encouragement, noting that the charter community has fought through many obstacles and challenges and would surely overcome the current crisis with even better results for the students they serve.

Senator Cory Booker
Senator Cory Booker, D-NJ

Next, Governor Jeb Bush, in a conversation with NewSchools Venture Fund CEO Stacey Childress, struck a similar tone suggesting that a culture of action and creative problem solving was needed in public education. Some of the proposed solutions discussed included creating a national plan to ensure that all students have the resources they need to learn outside the classroom. Governor Bush also spoke about Congressman John Lewis's legacy and his incredible bias towards action when it came to addressing racial inequalities and the lack of economic opportunities. "We need more people like John Lewis," he said passionately.

Jeb Bush
Governor Jeb Bush

The featured sessions for the day carried on the problem-solving mindset with in-depth conversations on how schools can safely and successfully reopen and understanding how embracing social-emotional learning can ultimately lead to a better classroom environment and more equitable outcomes for students. Marc Brackett, founder and director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, gave a compelling presentation on the importance of cultural competency and emotional intelligence. One of the most powerful moments in the presentation was when Dr. Brackett noted that misreading students' emotions led to miscommunication and inequity, which can harm students. Trying to adjust the behavior without understanding the feeling often leads to a suppression of their feelings and worse behavior.

At the other featured session on reopening schools, school leaders from DSST Public Schools, Statesmen College Preparatory Academy for Boys, Summit Public Schools, and STEM Preparatory Schools convened to discuss the complex factors involved reopening strategies. The school leaders shared insightful tips and tricks on how to provide counseling for children and adults, developing school culture online, maintaining academic standards, and engaging thoughtfully with students and parents. The consensus among the leaders was that schools should focus not on recreating the physical school environment but instead nurture relationships with students, create community, and provide the best remote learning experience for students. One of the highlights for me came from Diane Tavenner of Summit Public schools, who noted that her team does not refer to online learning as distance learning because she never wants students or teachers to feel distant from one another. Instead, Summit refers to their online learning as homeschool and has developed a comprehensive strategy to make sure students feel that they are part of a community.

In many ways, the school leaders, professors, and speakers that lead sessions on day three of NCSCvirtual embodied the very optimism and can-do attitude that both Senator Booker and Governor Bush attributed to the charter sector. Attendees were able to attend sessions that will help them adapt policies to address the digital divide and inequity and deep-dive into Google applications that have helped teachers with remote instruction.

The 2020-21 school year is sure to be filled with challenges, and charter schools are sure to create new and innovative ways to meet the needs of students.

Jamison White is the senior manager of data and research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.