Risk Taking, World Changing, and The End of Our First CSP Grant Period

Very often, rhetoric and slogans are devoid of actual meaning. But at Democracy Prep, we truly mean it when we say that we will change the world. It’s bold, it’s aggressive, and it is necessary. Even the smallest of changes can be painful and difficult to achieve. But, as John F. Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard . . . because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

No thoughtful change can be accomplished without trudging through setbacks, which is why a growth mindset is so essential for everyone to embrace. We encourage our scholars to take risks in our classrooms, to embark on academic adventures, to push beyond their comfort zones, and to understand failure as one temporary step in the pursuit of a larger goal. World changing requires persistence.

I get my energy and resolve from our scholars, our alumni, our families, and our staff. I am constantly inspired by their deep commitment to Democracy Prep and to changing the world. Our staff has forcefully stood against policies that promote exclusion and disenfranchisement. They have advocated in favor of proposals that would reform outdated policies that no longer work to the benefit of our scholars. They have embraced new ideas and challenged old assumptions. We live our mission in a way that makes clear to our scholars that world-changing is not only an abstract possibility but a current imperative.

In 2012, Democracy Prep received a $9.1 million Charter Schools Program grant from the U.S. Department of Education. In implementing this grant, we understood that honoring our commitment to educate the children most urgently in need of access to a great school would present acute challenges. We would make missteps and encounter resistance. We would have to listen carefully, learn quickly, think boldly, and act humbly. As an organization, we would need to approach each day with the same growth mindset that our scholars and staff exemplify.

We are closing out that 2012 grant tomorrow. It is worth taking a moment and reflecting on just how much we have grown. Five years ago, it was nearly impossible to imagine a Democracy Prep that not only spans the Northeast Corridor but which extends into the Bayou and out to the Desert. Now, it is equally impossible to imagine a Democracy Prep that does not.

Each of our neighborhoods, each of our schools, each of our classrooms adds vibrancy and character to the Democracy Prep community. Every stakeholder has brought energy, innovation, and hunger. By listening, we have become truer to our mission; our schools have become both more inclusive and more effective. I like to say that everyone’s fingerprints have left Democracy Prep changed for the better.

We know how hard this work can be. But our scholars are no longer beating the odds; they are changing the world. Given the difficulties of world changing, some likely consider our motto naïve. Given what our scholars and alumni are accomplishing, expecting anything less would be an insult. They are the change. They embody the promise we all make: Work Hard, Go to College, Change the World.

– Katie Duffy

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