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How Charter Schools are Using Pandemic Lessons to Better Support High Needs Students

How Charter Schools are Using Pandemic Lessons to Better Support High Needs Students

May 22, 2024

Earlier this year, the National Alliance released its Best Practices to Accelerate Student Learning Series which explores how a diverse set of charter schools leveraged their flexibility during the pandemic to meet the needs of students and families. The National Alliance was particularly interested in finding out more about how charter schools supported English learners, students with disabilities, and students living in poverty. These vulnerable student groups are disproportionately impacted by pandemic learning loss and, in some cases, they are more likely to attend charter schools. With this in mind, we set out to highlight innovative strategies at several charter schools that are going above and beyond to serve these students. Recovering from pandemic learning loss should be a priority across sectors, and with this project, we hope to elevate promising practices that can be used in the charter sector and beyond. 

  • At Washington Latin Public Charter School, a diverse middle and high school in Washington, DC, the school quickly redistributed resources and reprioritized staff at the start of the pandemic to expand services to support their families living in poverty. This case study, available as part of the Best Practices to Accelerate Student Learning Series, details the school’s Department of Integrated Services. The Department became a critical part of the school’s strategy to support families hardest hit by the pandemic. With additional staffing, the Department of Integrated Services provided a wide array of services, including home visits, technical and IT support, and targeted academic intervention, among other areas. Above all, the Department of Integrated Services at Washington Latin aims to help families ensure their students show up to school each day ready to learn.

  • Meanwhile, at NYC Autism Charter School, a charter school that specializes in serving students with autism in New York City, the school collaborated with families during the pandemic to ensure students continued to receive high-quality support remotely. This case study explains how the pandemic pushed NYC Autism Charter School to engage families as partners in teaching and learning. The school taught parents and guardians strategies to better support student needs both in and out of the classroom. The school’s approach not only helped students adjust more smoothly to remote instruction but also strengthened the relationships between school staff and families. These strengthened relationships have endured post-pandemic and continued to help to combat student learning loss caused by the pandemic.  

  • Finally, at HIVE Prep, a single site charter school in Miami, Florida that serves a high proportion of English learners, being able to adapt to meet the needs of a changing student body is key. This case study discusses how the school intentionally hires bilingual educators, when possible, even if it is not an immediate requirement of the role, because the need for bilingual staff can arise unexpectedly. For example, during the pandemic, the school had two older students enrolled who spoke virtually no English and required one-on-one, full-time individualized instructional support to access their coursework. Because of the school’s approach to strategic staffing, they were able to quickly adjust resources internally to meet the needs of those students. 

While these are certainly not the only examples of charter schools leveraging their autonomy to develop new and innovative approaches to serve students and families, these case studies provide insight into some schools that are doing it well. As the pandemic moves further into our rear-view mirror, the National Alliance is confident that the charter school sector will continue to evolve and innovate to meet the needs of all students, especially those that have been historically underserved by public schools. The strategies discussed here, and many others, are available in The Best Practices to Accelerate Student Learning Series. Feedback about these tools and suggestions for our next research topic are appreciated.

Katie Burke is the senior director of policy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

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