Monday, September 14, 2015

A Positive View of School Choice

            The school choice and charter school movements have taken it on the nose in recent discussions related to reformation efforts in the Charleston County School District.  A great many conversations have been generated following the publication of the Post and Courier’s recent series on school choice.  While most of the attention has focused on the unintended consequences to some area schools, we need to balance the conversation and not lose sight of the positive impact that school choice has had across Charleston County.
            The need for greater diversity in the downtown schools is a common thread heard at each Charleston County Board of Trustees Meeting.   While everyone embraces the concept, little headway has been made to ensure that district schools reflect their surrounding neighborhoods.   While a principal in a traditional public school, I came to view public charter schools as somewhat an enemy of public education.  Today, as I begin my second year at the helm of a successful charter school, I have come to recognize that charters are not the problem, but rather an important part of the solution to fixing what is troubling the public schools.  Can they help address the issues facing downtown schools in CCSD?  We believe they can.  Our charter is successfully making inroads to help reknit the social fabric in this city we so proudly call home.
             Carolina Voyager Charter School, located downtown at 30 Race Street, is offering school choice to a diverse group of 130 children and their families, many of whom have had few choices in the past for their children’s education.  Located in the same downtown zip code as the district’s schools with the highest percentage of minority students, Voyager’s student body is one of only nine CCSD schools (out of a total of 84 schools) that come close to mirroring the demographics of the school district.  Our current student population is 48% White, 40% African American, and 6% Hispanic.  Over 40% of our children qualify for free or reduced lunches.  While our students come from all over Charleston County, nearly half reside in downtown or in North Charleston neighborhoods.  Our parents come from all walks of life; single parents struggling on public assistance, doctors and nurses, street sweepers and sanitation workers, law enforcement and firefighters, account executives, and restaurant and hospitality workers.  Our children are learning to participate and contribute effectively in an environment that reflects the society in which they will need to grow and prosper in their future lives.    
            In our first year of operation, significant growth in student achievement was recorded in both and reading and math.  The overwhelming majority of our students exceeded one year’s growth in their reading skills as measured by the Fountas and Pinnell Reading Benchmark Assessment.  Students reading on or above grade level in Kindergarten increased from 25% in the fall to 71% in the spring.  In First Grade, students meeting or exceeding expectations for reading increased from 16% to 74% over the course of the year.  The percentage of second graders reading on or above grade level increased from 64% to 85% from the fall to the spring.  In Math, Student Growth Percentile Scores on the STAR assessments exceeded expectations in all three grades.
            In addition to the pride we feel about our students’ achievements, we are proud of our diversity and our sense of community.  They provide me with daily reminders of the feelings of unity and togetherness that followed the tragedy at Mother Emmanuel.  Unraveling segregation in our schools is no simple task.  No one single approach will work.  There are islands of hope and promise right in the midst of our community.  Our charter school is one such place.  Readers can learn more about Carolina Voyager by visiting our website at or our Facebook Page at  I also invite interested readers to call the school at (843) 203-3891 to arrange a tour.

Harry Walker, Ed.D
Founding School Leader
Carolina Voyager Charter School

Monday, September 7, 2015

Still reading? I'm still trying to change the world...

I suck at blogging.  Seriously suck.  So sorry.  I certainly don't deserve 52,300 page views. Nine months since my last post? 

Life continues to get in the way of sharing news with the world. We continue to change the world, one small corner of it at a time. Current project - changing the social fabric of Charleston, SC.  Can one school really alter the face of public education in a city school system that after years of good intentions, remains pretty much segregated and under performing?  Margaret Mead said it best - Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.  We are small, but we are thoughtful, and at times think we should be committed.  You can catch up on the latest happenings at our sweet little school in Charleston - Carolina Voyager Charter School at:

Thanks for reading and for the umpteenth time, I'll try to do a better job of posting.  Promise...  Yeah, right.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Got Code? Carolina Voyager in the News (Again)

Great news for anyone still reading my blog.  I am not dead.  Just dead tired from trying to change the world...

Opening this new charter school is more work than I could have ever imagined.  But, more importantly, the most important work I have never done.  Ah, the world of charters.  The stories I could tell, and I will, once I don't have  to play nicely with folks who say they stand for children and clearly do not.  But, I'm in the South and one of the first rules of Southern civility is to be nice even to people who are not nice to you or the charter movement.  I wish they followed the same rules. There's a book in here.  Just not now.

Now, it's about my amazing staff and students and the work we are all doing down here in South Carolina.  Here's the most recent piece from the Charlestown Post and Courier.  Check it out below:

I won't promise again that I will post more often as I barely have time to come up for air (and Cabernet).

Public education is in trouble.  Charters so want to help. We are not the enemy...

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Updated Contact Information

     A number of people have reached out requesting updated contact information.  I am now the Proud Principal of Carolina Voyager Charter School in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. You can reach me at or by phone at (843) 203-3891.  Please feel free to reach out to collaborate.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Carolina Voyager Charter School in the News

A big thank you goes out to Amanda Kerr, Education Reporter, for the article she penned in Charleston's Post and Courier newspaper.   The article, published yesterday, highlighted the blending learning program we are implementing with our kindergarten, first and second graders.  You can read the article at the following link: 

This will be the first of many articles published highlighting the great work being done by our children, teacher and parents.  Stay tuned..... 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Right Perspective in this Age of Over-Assessment

     Thanks to Jennifer, our Project Director, for sharing this link with me, which of course, allows me to share it with you.  
     In this culture where it seems some schools spend as much time testing as teaching, comes this breath of fresh air from a colleague in England.  All assessments, yes even those Holy Grail Assessments - PARCC and Smarter Balance (always reminds me of the fake butter) are only snapshots of a child, a small slice of what makes up that individual student.  My brother-in-law, a photographer, used to tell me you have to shoot a whole roll of film to get just one good picture that truly captures the subject.  Snapshots may be out of focus, shot at the wrong angle, or at the wrong time.  Snapshots may or may not reflect the image on the other side of the lens.  The same holds true when assessing children.     

Check out this letter from the principal of a school in England.  I got chills.  I know it will have the same effect on you or else you wouldn't be reading my blog.  Pass this along to other like-minded educators...

After receiving their standardized test results, students at the 
Barrowford Primary School in Lancashire, England received a letter from their principal Rachel Tomlinson. The letter, posted below, reminds students of all the things a standardized test doesn’t measure. The letter was inspired by fellow educator Kimberley Hurd, who penned a blog post last October…: 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Up and Running, Like 90 Miles an Hour!

     So much for my New Year's resolution to be a better, or at least more regular blogger.   My latest adventure into the charter school world has monopolized my world as of late.  Moving forward, I pledge to try to do a better job of documenting, through my blog, our school's journey in our first year.

     As an life-long educator, opening a Charter School is a dream come true, it's just that you never get to sleep in order to enjoy the dream.  Having spent all of my career in large public school systems, I have also had at my disposal an equally large network of support personnel to handle the A to Z of school operations.  Got an issue?   Pick up the phone and call one of the offices.  Pick up the phone now?  I reach my own voice mail.  In the past two weeks I've learned more about accounting, budgeting, finances, payroll, purchasing, custodial, infrastructure, compliance, ADA, benefits, human resources, and the list goes on and on.  I am a shining example of an old dog being able to learn new tricks.  While at the time I was not so thrilled to be learning all of these new things, as the School Leader, I have a much better handle on the big picture, all of those things that have to be in place so that when those little guys show up on the first day of school, nothing gets in the way of them having a stellar school experience.
     As building upgrades are being completed, infrastructure is being installed and classroom furniture, technology and materials are being delivered, I am now more focused on the teaching and learning aspects of what will make our school so special for our boys and girls.  The vision, so artfully developed and articulated by our Charter Committee, is becoming a reality right before my eyes.  Stay tuned for additional posts chronicling the experience of building a charter school from the ground up.  In about a month, the kids will be arriving at Carolina Voyager Charter School and we'll be ready for the adventure of a lifetime.