David Singer started his teaching career twenty years ago as a high school math teacher but became passionate about early education and the ability to help more kids at an early stage in their academic careers. Since then he founded his own charter school University Prep in Colorado and currently acts as the executive director. This National Charter Schools Week, the National Alliance is honoring Mr. Singer as a 2023 Changemaker.
Mr. Singer founded University Prep in 2011 with the mission to educate every child for a four-year college degree and a life of opportunity. The school’s first group of students consisted of just one hundred kindergarten and first graders. The school has since grown into a network of two public charter schools serving nearly seven hundred children and was approved in 2021 to open its third campus.
The National Alliance connected with David Singer for a Q&A about his experience as a teacher and charter school founder:
How has working at a charter school shaped your career as an educator and founder?
It’s hard to imagine my career without public charter schools and their existence. Had the Charter Schools Act in Colorado not been signed in 1993, setting the stage for a new, innovative, and still public approach to education, there would have been no vehicle for my social entrepreneurship. The journey I had the privilege and opportunity to lead of founding an elementary school from scratch alongside families and community would not have been possible. Public charter schools have been at the center of my career and instrumental in shaping my nearly 20 years in education. They have allowed me, my team, and families to take a simple idea—we can do better with and for kids in our community—and bring it to reality—creating a different set of expectations and outcomes, which lead to transformed life trajectories.
Tell us one of your favorite anecdotes from being a founder that showcases why you do this work.
When I was a high school math teacher I would ask my freshmen what they wanted to be when they grow up. I was often greeted with a shoulder shrug and some version of, “I don’t know.” Young people I worked with, who I loved and adored, were at a critical stage in their lives and unfortunately lost. Years after leaving the classroom we now have our first graduating seniors who are alum of our very first class of enrolled scholars at U Prep. Talking to them about their post-secondary and career pursuits 12 years after they started with us as 1st graders is why I do this work. From software design at the CO School of Mines to chemical engineering at Clark Atlanta to neonatal nursing at Howard University, our scholars are pursuing their ambitions with pride, confidence, and conviction. Seeing our once 6-year-olds having a true destiny with choice as they transition to adulthood is what this work is all about.
What do you love about working in education—at a charter school or in general?
I love the classroom. I love great instruction—watching children learning in real-time in classrooms that believe they can do really hard things, and in doing so, are setting young people up to genuinely take on the world that awaits. I love kids, and especially little ones who bring an infinite supply of zest and joy for growing and learning. When children throw their hand in the air to answer a question, or blurt out a response with amazing enthusiasm, or can’t wait to tell their partner and classmates their ideas… I love it all. And, perhaps more than anything, I love the idea (and reality) that a great education is still a potentially great equalizer in our nation. Of all the things we can do each day to level the playing field and ensure everyone has a real shot in life, I don’t think there is anything worth more time and energy than bringing excellence to our classrooms at schools across the country who serve our nation’s most historically marginalized populations.
What made you decide to join the education field?
When I entered my undergraduate program I was convinced we could do something to fix innumeracy in America. While we talk so much about illiteracy and its horrific impacts, we still don’t talk nearly enough about the impact of our population struggling as much as we do with mathematics. And, when you consider the information economy we live in and the constant evolution of science, technology, healthcare, etc. those with mathematical competence and confidence, in addition to strong literacy skills, have far more opportunities in front of them. I went into education thinking I could help kids fall in love with mathematics and also excel at it.
What makes you most excited about the future of public education or what opportunities do you see?
I see the incredible opportunity to continue disrupting status quo outcomes in situations where children simply do not have access to sufficiently high-quality, public education. Public charter schools remain a pathway for change in an education ecosystem that is often stagnant and overly accepting of results that aren’t good enough for our young people. I am eager to continue working alongside of parents and community leaders to create new schools that simply expect and deliver more. And, I am excited by the possibility of creating bright spots and proof points that demonstrate all children from all backgrounds have limitless potential to achieve given the resources, environment, and beliefs necessary for them to do so.