Cameron Curry, Executive Director, The Classical Academies, Discusses his New Book on Charter School Leadership

May 30, 2013

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Cameron Curry is executive director of The Classical Academies in North San Diego County. Cameron had an extensive background in business development prior to helping found The Classical Academy K-8 charter school in 1999. In 2003, he co-founded the K-8 charter school Coastal Academy, and in 2006, the Classical Academy High School. In 2011, he established their first Personalized Learning Center to augment and expand K-12 grade options for The Classical Academies. Cameron is also a strong advocate for school choice and he provides ongoing support to charter school developers with questions, resources, and information on independent study operations and programming.

What inspired you to work in education?

The personal connection - my wife is a credentialed teacher and former administrator. In 1999 we had three young children and we were looking for a local school that really connected with parents. We wanted to have parents active and meaningfully involved in their children's education. So we decided: why don't we create that school. The Classical Academy opened with 200 students and now we have more than 2,600 students, in three schools, on four campuses.

What important lessons have you learned about working in education and for education reform?

Opposition is a really good thing. It reminds you that you are on target and moving in the right direction. It's fun to prove the naysayers who say it is not possible and who are satisfied with the status quo wrong. It's tremendously gratifying to improve and impact education for our children and their lives in a deep and meaningful way and to see the reaction of those who said it wasn't possible.

The primary goal of The Classical Academies is "to see that all students become thinkers, communicators, and achievers." How have you achieved this vision for your students?

The collaboration we share with parents is a major key. We view parents as the primary educators and every decision we make comes back to what parents want for their children. So our visions are totally aligned. Our mission is to partner with families to inspire each student to think critically, communicate effectively, and achieve success by providing academic choice and we diligently work at upholding that mission.

What have been some amazing milestones for The Classical Academies?

Really great milestones have been accomplished as we were the first charter school to receive the Exemplary Independent Study Recognition Award from the California Department of Education (CDE) and the California Consortium for Independent Study, one of our teachers being honored for teacher of the year, being awarded charter school leader of the year by CCSA, our high school being recognized as a 2013 California Distinguished School by the CDE, and the ability to serve as a model and partner for other charter schools to succeed.

What changes have you seen in the education landscape during the past 20 years?

Sadly, the lack of investment we have placed on this critical component of society - educating our children. We are not seeing consistency in what is being said by leaders and the decisions they are making to support all programs in public education. The message that education is a priority does not match how we focus our efforts on improving education across the board. Specifically, for charter schools that offer independent study, we have to prove how we spend our money to state leaders annually. If the level of scrutiny was there for every public school, we would see amazing innovation and changes as a result for all students. It has been good for us because we have had to think outside the box as to what we are going to accomplish. We become innovative with our solutions because we have limited resources.

What motivated you to write your new book, Charter School Leadership: Elements for School Success?

I got excited about the opportunity to help others. I believe it is incumbent upon all seasoned leaders to not only help each other but also to train the next line of leaders that are emerging. We started a leadership institute a few years ago to accomplish this at The Classical Academies and to help take all of our charter schools to the next level of success.

Please share some high-level tips you offer in Charter School Leadership.

It's important to be mission-minded and not to deviate from your purpose. And it's important to review this with your entire team on regular basis. Any new program you start should mirror and advance the mission. If the mission is changing or you are changing programs, you need to openly and clearly communicate this with the community to ensure they are on board.

Also, the difference between good schools and great schools is the leadership. Be clear with your team on setting the expectations of that leadership. This approach helps set the tone for the campus and all students. It's a cohesive approach to academic success for all students by having all charter school team members focused on the result: helping students succeed. Continually ask: What is the goal? How do we achieve it? How are we improving?

How have you evolved as a leader?

There have been incredible challenges over the years and my greatest lessons as a leader have come from focusing on managing the growth of the organization. I am happy that I have had the support of parents and other charter school leaders that has enabled me to grow through adversities such as decreased funding and finding quality facilities. I get excited when there is push back because again it reminds me I am moving in the right direction to effectuate change.

How do you see the charter movement advancing in the next decade?

What I see happening is more and more communities will see successful charter schools thriving. As a result, parents will see that charter schools offer choice and personal approaches to meet the diverse learning needs of children and they will clamor for this diversity in their own communities.

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