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Investing in Students, Shaping the World

Civic Warriors Podcast Episode 13: Foundation Academies

"If we can create citizens and independent thinkers of this world, we can change this world."

Sheria and Graig from Foundation Academies, speak with us as we dive into the classroom, their “why”, and the many ways they believe shaping children’s minds with values such as caring, respect, responsibility and honesty can mold their worlds for the better, and long-term, propel the world in to a better place. We discuss what the norm of education is, should be and how Foundation Academies is raising the bar for schooling across the nation.


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Civic Warriors:
Innovative, dynamic, gritty, determined, warrior.

Hosts:
This podcast is about the innovators, the leaders on the front lines of adversity, the all around good people doing good deeds. They are the civic warriors of the world. Withum’s guests are the leaders in the nonprofit industry affecting change. They try, they fail, they overcome. Through their stories we can join forces to become civic warriors.

Brad:
Hey, warriors, Withum’s guests on Civic Warriors today are Graig Weiss and Sheria McRae. Chief Executive Officer and Chief Academic Officer Foundation Academies. Foundation Academies is a charter school located in Trenton, New Jersey with a mission to ensure that all students secure the academic knowledge and skills to prepare them for the nation’s finest colleges and instill in them the core values of caring, respect, responsibility, and honesty. We raise awareness to what it takes to be a top notch educational institution, as well as talking about the issues facing education and how they have been a driving force in helping students in Trenton Excel. Let’s welcome, Grag and Sheria to the show. We really appreciate your time, Graig and Sheria, you know, we want to talk through a few things that are very important in education and with that we’ll jump right in. So, appreciate your time and, and I guess Graig do you want to talk to us about a little bit about Foundation Academies and kind of how you got there and how you got your start there?

Graig:
Yeah. So thank you. First of all, thanks for having us. And, um, you know, Foundation Academies is, like you said, is, is located in Trenton, New Jersey. It is a K to 12 organization. We serve just under 1100 students, uh, in the city of Trenton. The organization was originally founded in 2007 and we started off as just a small middle school and have since grown to add a high school and then do a reverse expansion to add our lower grades. So we had now been in existence, I guess for about 13 years, we’ve had seven graduating classes so far and, just continuing to do this work. That’s so, so important. Uh, our mission is that, uh, the mission of foundation academies is to ensure that all of our students secure the academic knowledge and skills to prepare them for the nation’s finest colleges and to instill in them the core values of caring, respect, responsibility, and honesty. And so that’s what we’re about day in and day out.

Brad:
That’s awesome. Interesting part about that too. I saw on your website today that for the past six years, you’ve had a hundred percent college acceptance rate.

Graig:
So it’s actually seven years now. We’re, uh, we’re getting ready to graduate our seven class and a hundred percent of our college – our kids have been accepted into four year colleges, um, and that’s really, you know, a core of, of what we do. We want to make sure that we’re, uh, we’re equipping our students with the opportunity to, to attend colleges. Cause we know that that’s what they’re capable of doing. You know it’s just about setting high expectations and, and helping the students reach those expectations, which do year in and year out.

Brad:
And that’s awesome. It’s fulfilling your mission, which is fantastic. Sheria why don’t you talk to us a little bit about, you know, you’ve been, you’ve been with Foundation Academies for several years now and you’re, you’re the chief academic officer, which means you’re the most important person in the building. So maybe talk to us a little about how you worked yourself into that, you know, how you worked into that role and, and kind of why you enjoy being a Foundation Academies.

Sheria:
Yeah. So I love that you said the most important role. Thank you very much. Um, but it’s, you know, it was humble beginnings. Really. I started off, um, through Teach for America as an educator. Uh, I’m from Trenton, and I was born and raised here. And so educating in Newark, New Jersey. I recognize and realize the importance of doing the work in my hometown. And so when I started thinking about coming back, I wanted a place that was in pursuit of quality education for kids. Uh, that was my primary goal and focus and Foundation Academies was one small building back then with only grades five through eight. But I found it. When I read the mission of the school on the website, it definitely caught my eye and it was something that I wanted to be a part of. And so when I started off, I thought I was ready for leadership and really wanted to be a leader. And Graig said, how about you know, come here, be a teacher, knock it out of the ballpark. Um, and we’ll, you know, explore opportunities from there. And of course I’m an educator at heart that was nothing to me to educate kids in Trenton. And so that’s exactly what I did. I came in as a fifth and sixth grade English teacher, and then really started to think about the impact that I could make if I, you know, coached and manage other educators who gave quality education to students. And so, um, at that point I became an instructional Dean to do just that, impacting the lives of students that I didn’t teach, uh, but impacting the lives of those students through other educators. And then quickly I became a principal really. And then it’s been history from there after becoming a principal, becoming a chief academic officer. And really, because I recognized the importance of academics and curriculum and character development and wanting to really have a hand in putting quality materials and rigorous materials in front of students that are also relevant to them, culturally relevant to them. And so I stay at foundation. I love foundation. I wouldn’t go anywhere else, not just because it’s interesting and I’m from Trenton and I live in Trenton, but because of its mission because its values. Yeah, because I feel as if I am a part of a movement of just a group of people in pursuit of this high quality education for all success, for all kids, which is really important to me. And I’m watching how, um, we impact this community. Um, and we still have potential to do so much more. Um, so I’m just grateful and happy to be a part of that.

Brad:
Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. And, and, you know, I think it speaks a lot about, about, but what Foundation Academies is all about, you know, I love talking with people that love the place they work and you can tell you love the place you work. And I think that definitely translates through to the students, you know, people know and people enjoy where they work and when they don’t. I think that that’s a great thing. So you mentioned a few things though that are important. And I think in our initial discussion, we had, you know, we’ve talked a little bit about this, but talk to us a little bit about, you know, what, what does quality education in Trenton look like? You know, what does that look like? What should it look like and how does Foundation Academies work to that, that ideal standard?

Sheria:
Yeah. So teaching, right, when we define what teaching is, it is about not just educating their minds, but teaching them how to be independent thinkers of this world. And so what that means is we have to give students the materials to do just that, to prompt their thinking, because if we can create citizens, independent thinkers of this world, then we can change this world. Um, with the current environment, you know, everyone talks about how the kids today are our future, but they are our present and we must pour into them so that they can lead their communities, they can lead this country, they can lead this world. Um, in just being a better world, a more just world, a world that provides equitable opportunities for all. And so at Foundation, we are in pursuit of putting materials in front of students so that they can think at high levels for themselves develop a, you know, a perspective or worldview of their own. And that is our job.

Brad:
I think that’s very important, you know, giving them the tools to learn, giving them the, uh, objectivity to learn and, and really teaching them to think for themselves and really, really understand how to move forward. You know, and I know, you know, today today’s times are a bit uncertain with respect to COVID-19 and kind of how, uh, how we, how we even provide that education. Right. So how has, how has foundation Academy’s continued to do that amid, uh, amid the, you know, the pandemic going on and amid the fact that we can’t physically be in front of students? How are you continuing to translate that?

Sheria:
Yeah, so, you know, we have said, and coined the term, our students are brilliant and resilient, um, and in order to, you know, for them to be brilliant and resilient, we have to model that as well. And so as an, we have definitely pushed forward in pursuit of quality education, even virtually as students, right. Even right now, as we speak our learning, live with their teachers, um, and really continuing to push mastery of knowledge and skills that they need to be successful, independent thinkers and citizens of this world. And so that may, you know, getting ourselves ready technologically so that we can best support students with things that are, you know, you look utilizing materials and items that are in their house, but also ensuring that we provided students with internet service laptops, that they needed to be able to successfully access information. And so again, it is just really important to us that we model that resiliency for our students, right? Like when there’s a challenge, when there’s an obstacle, how do you go about overcoming that challenge and that obstacle, because it’s going to happen it’s life. This is a major one, right. That has impacted not just all of us in this country, but just across the world. And so this is a prime example of, you know, utilizing this as an example and a model for how you overcome those obstacles in the face of adversity.

Brad:
Yeah. And there’s, there’s no question about that. Um, you know, I think, I think we’re all adapting and I find, uh, just in our company, just, uh, remotely teaching is, is not an easy thing. Especially when, when we’ve all been trained, I know myself, I’ve been trained to be in person and teach people in person. And now we’re transitioning to an environment where we’re not teaching in person. And a lot of those soft cues that, you know, it’s hard behind a computer screen, as opposed to in person, you know, you can, you can see it in someone’s face. Or you can, you can feel, you know, their energy or not. It’s a challenge. You know, how do you, how do you mean, you know, I think one of the great things that I know about foundation Academy, just, just read, reading up and in our initial conversations is, you know, you definitely have, have a family first attitude. You have a, you know, one of your core, I don’t want to say visions, but one of your core purposes is to be family first. How are you maintaining those, those strong relationships even now? How do you continue to do that?

Sheria:
Yeah, that’s a great question. And so in, when we’re in our brick and mortar building, a part of our model is an advisory program. And so the advisory program was set up so that each teacher was connected to a small group of students as an advisor and advisory. And that teacher was responsible for, you know, building with families in order to ensure that no child was left behind, no child falls through the cracks academically, um, or, you know, socially, emotionally. And so we continue that even virtual. So advisors connect with our students and their parents daily, um, there’s tutoring that goes on, we’re constantly communicating with families, asking them for feedback, asking them for any additional assistance that they may need to help then in their house, um, it doesn’t have to be just about academics, anything that they need, they feel comfortable enough because we already had this program in the brick and mortar building, continuing that virtually, which is really important, right. Well relationships. Um, and so with this program, we’ve really been able to build that deeper connection with our families and with our students. And we’re just continuing that exact same thing, virtually connecting, checking in on them, uh, and just continuously providing them with resources.

Brad:
Yeah. And I think that that very important message is, is how do you, you know, continuing what you’ve been doing. And I think you’ve, you know, you’ve set up the foundation to be able to do this, and now you’re just continuing, uh, with those foundations, you know, definitely finding a way to continue to connect with people is a theme that I heard and, and how you, and you are doing that. Which, which is never easy, especially now. Um, I guess what, what challenges are you coming across, I guess, uh, in this transition and, and how, and how are you, you know, you talked about a little bit, but are you overcoming some of those challenges that you’re facing or some of those, you know, obviously there’s a difference in the way that you have to provide the education, you know, what, what are those challenges you’re facing and how are you overcoming them?

Sheria:
I would say the biggest challenge is really, um, continuing to develop our students socially and emotionally. Now that is very difficult to do virtually because, you know, as soon as the students press leave, we don’t know, you know, from their Google classroom, we have no idea as to how the emotions are being processed or how they’re dealing with those emotions on an everyday basis. And so that has been the most difficult part. And just we’ve found, just saying to our students and families were here creating spaces for them, just open spaces for them to, you know, be in a Google meet and talk about whatever they would like to talk about is the best that we’ve been able to do currently. And just providing those open spaces. And students have said, and given feedback that they appreciate being able to have the, um, those open spaces and open forums but that still is the difficult aspect of how do we continue to develop our students’ social and emotional skills virtually and online. And if anyone has any ideas, we would love to hear them.

Brad:
Graig, what do you, what are thoughts on that? I thought He was drinking a coffee mug that I think it said, I am the boss.

Graig:
I need, I need the coffee mug just to make sure that people, people are aware. No, so, uh, yeah, I mean, I would totally agree with that. The socio-emotional learning is a concern of ours. I think we’ve responded well as an organization and we’re proud of what we’re doing, but we also are very clear that there is no replacement for in-person learning. So we’re trying to do the best we can and keep the ball moving along. But the online learning is certainly a challenge. Uh, you know, one of the things we pride ourselves as also being a data driven organization. And so teachers constantly looking over a student’s shoulders and seeing how they’re doing with what we just taught, you know, because that is the data that’s giving us feedback on whether or not, you know, we’re accomplishing our objective. And so in this environment where we’re teaching and learning virtually, it’s very hard to see exactly what the students are grasping and what they’re not grasping. So, so that’s another aspect that I think is a real challenge with the virtual learning.

Brad:
So here’s an odd question, but, but I’m the parent of two children. My kids are going through virtual learning. How to me as a parent, you know, what, what advice do you have for parents to help, you know, their, their kids and in your students, uh, engage better learn, you know, continue to receive quality education. What advice do you have for parents and how can they better position their children to learn?

Sheria:
Yeah, I think one is having an extreme amount of patience. Definitely. Step one is have patients give yourselves grace, uh, because it is very difficult, you know, parenting and trying to help assist, uh, with the learning of, um, of a child, very difficult. And it’s, it’s fine. Everything’s gonna be okay. But to just be able to ensure that your child has a safe space for learning, right? So then when they moved to a brick and mortar or mortar building, they go to the same space. Um, they’re used to that space. They have resources and materials around them. They know how to access those resources and materials. And so having a predictable, consistent space every day provides that consistency that helps children feel safe. So making sure that that space is available to them, that there aren’t a lot of distractions around, that they do have the opportunity to focus, that they had the opportunity to, you know, access you as a parent, if they have questions. Um, so that parents can also, as a parent, you should be able to communicate with your child’s teacher, but then you can communicate some struggles or concerns based on what you are ultimately seeing, and what your child is communicating to you. So I think the most important aspect, like I said is patience, but also just the consistency and communication is really, really key and making this work and just through the whole process, having grace, you know, for yourself in this time, because it’s a major change for us as parents, and having giving your child grease because it’s definitely a major change for your child.

Brad:
Yeah. I, I can, I can agree with that. Uh, there I say a few more prayers now than I ever probably have. Give me the grace to handle everything. Um, it’s a challenge. I mean, most, most, you know, it’s 2020. I mean, most, most families are, both parents are working, right? Some parents are working from home remotely and trying to balance that with their kids’ education, which I’ve heard is, is a monumental challenge. I know with us, you know, our kids only go to school a few hours a day and it’s, it’s, it’s a monumental challenge to be able to balance both of us working in that. And, you know, not even if it was normal, you know, we have, there’s so many more challenges given, given everything going on in the world that [inaudible], you know, many, many people don’t have jobs right now and are challenged with that. And that creates a lot of stress. And when children are around stress, it creates a difficult environment. So I wholeheartedly agree that the one thing that it’s very beneficial is creating that structure, creating that discipline and trying to recreate the environment that you had while you were in the brick and mortar, recreate that environment at home, you know, having a loving household at home, understanding that, you know, your child’s education. I, I, and I, I hope that I can understand this and I don’t always, cause I sometimes default to work is your child’s education is the most important thing in the day, you know? Yes, you have business. Yes, you have other things to do, but, but that child’s education is, is what’s gonna make or break many lives in the future. And I think, I think that was a very important thing you said before is that we really have to focus on that. Yeah. And I think COVID, I mean, although this is, you know, it’s not an optimal, you know, environment, it has caused us on to pause and put things in perspective as to what is really important. Right. Um, you know, being able to spend time with our family, um, being able to prioritize education, it’s not just a place where you go, you know, all day while I go to work, like it is a place where you learn, you were educated, education is freedom. Um, and that is, um, has really been put into perspective across the, you know, across the country. You know, people are revering educators because they really see what teachers do day in and day out. Um, and the work that they do is extremely important, I often get sad that it takes, you know, such dramatic, um, you know, a change in events occur for, you know, everyone to realize that, but the word that our educators do is really invaluable. Um, and so if we take away anything, hopefully we take away that

Brad:
I can definitely say that. Yeah. I could definitely say that, that, uh, you know, and, and I hope this isn’t a bad thing to say, but my appreciation for my, my kids’ teachers and their educated educational, you know, they go to a daycare center and, and my appreciation for what they do, even, even in the fact that they pivoted right away. And, um, and, and, and it sounds like foundation academies did as well, is as soon as they knew they couldn’t be open, they were ready to pivot and they did, and they just made a decision. They said, okay, here’s how it’s going to be going forward tomorrow. And the amount of appreciation I had for that, because I realized how much I, we waited a little bit to put our kids into school. And so I realized that, you know, the level of structure, discipline and, and quality that went into their education, as opposed to me doing it myself, I’ll consider myself a terrible educator and zero formal training, you know, and, and, you know, I’m sitting here, I’m like, man, I can’t even teach my kid that to draw a circle, but you put that in perspective. And it, unfortunately you’re right. It does take, it does take, you know, a big, a big event, especially a worldly event like this to, to actually understand because it needs to, it needs to hit you at home. You need to, you need to see it and say, Oh, this is what, this is what he was doing. Eight hours a day. This is what he, or she was doing eight hours a day. And, you know, it’s so important. Uh, you can’t stress that enough. So I think one of the one, you know, to, to be able to be a, um, a highly ranked, highly respected and, and, and high powered, you know, educational institution, obviously you have to, you have to attract the best and the brightest, and you have to foster them with your mission, foster them with your vision and, and really get them to get, get several individuals to, to be able to provide that, you know, how do you, how do you attract and retain, you know, your teachers and educators? What, what programs do you have in place and how do you go about that?

Graig:
So we’re always looking for great educators, but when we, when we look for educators, we’re looking for it, doesn’t matter as much, you know, what institution you went to, uh, your GPA, things of that nature. We look for people who are hungry, humble, and people smart, and we really focus on those things. So when we talk about hunger, you know, this has to be, you know, we’re, we’re looking for a lot around your belief system, your passion, your mission in life. We talk a lot in our organization about purpose because the bottom line is, is as much as educators do. It’s not the highest paying profession. And it’s, you know, you can’t do this for a paycheck. You have to have it in your heart. Um, that this is really why you’re here. This is, this is the mission and why you were put on this earth to, uh, to educate our kids. Um, and so that, that hunger goes into that. Do you, that desire to, to do this work and the desire to consistently get better over time because, um, that’s what our kids deserve. Then we look for people who are humble, people that are going to come at this, knowing that no matter, you know, yeah, you have your degree and you have this and you have that. But like, we, we know that we have not, we don’t have all this figured out and we’re working relentlessly every single day to improve, to get better. Um, and that’s what for, for me, and I can speak for Shiria, that’s what makes us work fun. Um, you know, we’re proud of a lot of the accomplishments, but we don’t pretend to ha like have, have it all figured out in any way, shape or form. We’re constantly figuring out how do we do this better. Uh, each and every day and each year I can say, as the school has gone along, uh, you know, in the last 13 years, every year, the school gets a little bit better. And then we look for people who are people smarter, kind of goes along with our, our core belief of being family first. Um, but we want people who are really good at developing relationships, developing relationships with families, developing relationships with students and developing relationships with, with our colleagues and, you know, that that’s really important to us. So ultimately that’s who we’re, we’re looking to attract, and it takes a special, a special person. Um, that’s going to come in and, um, you know, really love doing what we’re doing because, you know, we already have a long school day and a long school year. Um, but we, we do really well with people who have those same core beliefs that we do. And, you know, believe that it’s every child’s right to have a quality education, and who’s going to work relentlessly to ensure that that happened.

Brad:
Yeah, totally agree with that. And I think I love your phrase, hungry, humble, and people smart. I’m going to say, I want to use that for our business, because I think any business, I think that’s what, what people… those are the professionals that make the best at what they do, no matter what their profession is, whether it’s a doctor, whether it’s an accountant, whether it’s, uh, an educator, a teacher. No matter what it is, whether it’s, um, you know, our political leaders, if you will. I think if everyone adopted the hungry, humble, and people smart, I think those are strong values that, that translate, um, you know, all across the board. And I really love that phrase that you used.

Graig:
I can’t take credit for that though. That’s, that’s the work of Patrick Lensioni, um, he has, uh, the ideal team player and, uh, it’s a really great book and we kind of, you know, took a step back after we read that book and said, okay, who are the, a players in our organization? And do they exhibit these three things? And it turns out that a lot of people that we already had in-house checked all three of those boxes. And so we sort of adopted it from a, from a recruiting standpoint. Uh, but, but I, I wish I could take credit for that, but I can’t.

Brad:
That’s okay. Cause he’s a, he’s, uh, He’s a, he’s a business author. Right. I feel like I’ve read a few books from Patrick Lensioni and I feel like our boss, our CEO is a big reader and he, uh, he definitely provided a, uh, you know, several books, I believe of his, I can’t, I can’t remember any of the titles for some reason, but one day I will. Um, so, so, you know, if, you know, getting it, I think, I think, uh, one of the important things I think to talk about a little bit is, you know, so you’re considering teaching, right? We talked a little bit about what makes the ideal teacher, but, but let’s say, you know, someone right now is considering being a teacher, you know, you want to get in to teaching, you know, how do you get there? I know, you know, cause you mentioned it it’s, you know, generally a pay gap. You know, generally, uh, you have to have yeah. Teaching first, Hey second, you know, how do you get there? What, you know, what, what steps would someone take? What is your advice there? Yeah. So I would say, you know, for me it’s like really, you know, and Sheria you can talk more about, this is like, we talk a lot about our why and our purpose, um, you know, but I think that a lot of times there there’s those, those people out there that like maybe they wanted to be teachers, but resisted it for some reason. I know that was the case for me. Um, I, you know, I started off in the finance world and then did a career change because I realized that that, that wasn’t, that wasn’t my purpose in life. And, um, you know, I did the career change and, you know, things sort of take care of themselves. Um, you know, but it’s just about, you know, determining your purpose and then, you know, creating that path. There are a lot of different, um, you know, pathways to becoming a teacher. Uh, I joined through Teach for America. Uh, Sharia was also Teach for America. Um, there’s alternate route, uh, programs that you can do in the state of New Jersey. If this is a, if you determined that this is your purpose in life, um, there’s charter schools, certifications, uh, which, which you can go and pursue, you can go back to school. So there’s a number of different methods, but I would just encourage people to like really whatever your purpose is. It doesn’t have to be education. Like how, like, what is your purpose in life? Uh, make sure you determine that. And then how can you, how can you, you know, pursue that and, and become part of the solution, uh, to, to the things that we’re talking about in our country today.

Sheria:
Yeah. So really identifying, um, again, as you’re on, your in pursuit of your purpose and identifying that, like start with, what’s your passion, right? When you wake up out of bed in the morning, what do you actually enjoy doing? And just jotting those things down. A lot of times, you know, a lot of people talk about, especially at a time like this, um, where racism, right. It has reared its ugly head. Again. Really showing all of us in this country, um, that we have a lot of work to do. Um, and a lot of people have been, you know, specifically talking about like, what can I do? Um, and some people may find out that it is through education, uh, that ultimately we can change and revolutionize decisions that are being made in this country when it comes to black people. Like and so if that is, you know, you out there, um, anyone who really recognizes that as you educating people, kids, um, is ultimately the way to go. And that’s where they feel most fulfilled, you know, just start there, right. Um, the programs are there to help people become educators, um, whether it is in, you know, the primary, intermediate high school or secondary Mmm uh, secondary and post secondary levels. Um, but I think that now is the time for people to really take a look at what they’re passionate about, what their purpose is, um, and really see how they can, you know, hope to change the face of this country through education.

Brad:
I really appreciate that Sheria. Cause I think that that’s such a powerful message and it’s so important. I mean, I think, I think right now more than ever, I think so many people are asking the why, or how not necessarily why, but how, like my why, but how do I, how do I implement it? How do I actually implement change? I think, I think many people are, you know, confused. They’re afraid to, you know, do anything. And so now people are, they, they, they throw their hands up in there and say, ah, you know, not, not my problem, but it is it’s, it’s everybody’s problem. It’s in society. I mean, I think, you know, so many people want racial justice, but very few are willing to act on it. And very few are willing to actually do something substantive to make it happen. And I think, you know, from my perspective, I love what you said there. And I really, really agree that that it’s much of it starts with education, much of it starts with equality of education. Right. And I think we didn’t really talk about it, but maybe we should talk a little bit about, you know, how do we create a more equal education system in this country. What are your thoughts in Sheria?

Sheria:
Yeah. I think that it is about recognizing that all key. It is their natural born, right. To have equitable education and a high quality, equitable education. And when we talk about like, there’s a difference between equality and equity, right. And so all kids, we, we have to understand that there’s so much that goes into that, right? Like we have to understand the judicial system, the economic system, you know, how local governments, how all of these things play into providing families, kids with equitable access. Right. And that’s first. And so as, as an educational institution, we have the responsibility to ensure that we provide equitable access to all kids, regardless of, um, the opportunities that are available to them economically, regardless of how society may view them, that those aspects don’t matter. We know that it is their natural born, right. And we’re only doing what is what we should be doing. Right. You know, a lot of people ask us, you know, say, uh, talk about the tremendous work that we’re ultimately doing with virtual learning and being able to provide access technological resources to students. But I mean, we get money so that we can provide them with what they are supposed to have. Right. And so we’re not doing anything that schools across the country should not be doing. Schools in this world should not be doing education. Is it is freedom. I’m just going to say it again. And so we have to ensure that we are utilizing our resources to provide students and families with just that. And so, you know, the, how is always a question, okay, everyone is not going to, you know, jump in to try to apply to be a teacher. But I suggest if you ever thought about it, like now’s the time. Um, if you ever, you know, you’re exploring, again, your passion, your purpose, now’s the time we should see, you know, thousands of applications, uh, for, you know, for positions, different positions in every school, across the country, there should not be a teacher shortage at all right now. Um, because this is your way to, um, provide students and families with the equitable education

Brad:
And, and talking about what you said before too, is, you know, I think what you mentioned at the beginning is how do you do that? You just, you have to take that first step. You don’t, you don’t have to be right. You don’t have to know everything you don’t have to, but if you have that passion and you have that, why you have that, you really want to make a change. I mean, do it wake up tomorrow at wake right now, just do it today.

Sheria:
Schools, schools everywhere have websites that have a job opportunities, you know, icon button. Choose it. Right. And so it’s all about, it’s all a choice. Don’t second guess it, we need you.

Brad:
Yeah. Good to know. And, and I, you know, I think you mentioned something else too, just about, you know, schools have the resources to do, and it’s a matter of, do they make the decisions to do that? You know, can you talk a little bit about that or just, just put a little, a little frame of context on that. I mean, I think, you know, I think the public, a lot of times thinks that either schools are underfunded, uh, and, and a lot of times maybe they are, but I guess the question is, is that, is that a myth or is that a reality that, that the school systems dependent, you know, and I know that it depends on the type of school system. Totally understand that. But do you think that’s a myth or a reality that, that schools are underfunded? Or do you think they’re just under utilized with how they utilize the resources?

Graig:
I would say that it’s, it depends on how you look at it. Right. You know, as a charter school, we, we, you know, we operate in the state of New Jersey. We operate on about 15 or $16,000 a student now that is in contrast to the traditional public schools who are receiving 23 to $24,000 a student. So let’s take a take that, I mean, 23 to $24,000 per student is not what I would consider underfunded. And when we, when we made this transition to online learning, you know, we were really talking about, I mean, there were, there were school districts that took six, eight weeks to come up with a plan for virtual learning. And at times when I hear that as a, as a taxpayer and as a fellow educator, it makes me angry. I mean, we’re really talking about, I mean, Chromebooks are now 225, $250 a piece internet hotspots. You know, we paid, you know, $240 for the year. So you’re talking for less than $500. You can get your students equipped for virtual learning. And so these, these large school districts that took six and eight weeks in order to make that happen, that’s the injustice of what we’re talking about and what people are outraged in, in, in the country about, I mean, that’s just, that’s just a microcosm of, of the, the, the larger picture. Um, you know, even we, we kicked off this show with, with talking about, you know, how it’s amazing that, you know, seven consecutive classes, um, have gained a hundred percent college acceptance, but we’ll internally, we’re looking at that and saying, why is that amazing? That’s what we have been charged with doing, and that’s what our kids deserve and that’s what they’re capable of doing. So it shouldn’t be that that is such, you know, such a surprise. And that’s so amazing. That’s what we are supposed to be doing as educators. And so the question about underfunding, you know, I mean, like relative to the private sector. Yes. But if you can’t figure out how to run an organization, when you’re getting 23, $24,000 a student, you’re doing something wrong.

Brad:
Sure. Yeah. And I think, I think, you know, putting the math to it and really like putting that in perspective, especially that, you know, different schools get different funding, right. As a charter school, you’d be funded differently than as a, as a public or a district school. So I think that that’s very relevant. And I think a lot of the, a lot of the, especially, you know, folks I know, or folks I talk to or come across, I don’t think everyone knows the difference between a charter school and a, in a, in a, you know, you’re, you’re a public school or a district school as you would call it. Do you want to talk a little bit, Graig about like the difference between say a charter school and in a public school?

Graig:
Yeah. So there’s not, there’s not a whole lot of a difference honestly, and there’s a lot of things put out there about, you know, and then there’s, um, you know, the it’s consistent with the divisiveness in our society. We try to pitch charters and traditional public schools, each other. And, you know, we, we say it often and I’ll say it again. We are not pro charter school. We are pro good school. And the bottom line is, is like at the core of what we believe. We believe that every child deserves a quality education and a quality school. And so we are going to operate in places where we don’t think that is happening and charter schools are public schools. We admit anyone who wants to come to, to our school, as long as we have a space. Right now we have a waiting list of a thousand students, which is another injustice. But we are, we are completely public. And the, the difference is, is when a charter school we’re not private. Um, we, you know, we, we still teach to, you know, the, the, um, the state, um, learning standards. We still do state testing. We’re still held to the accountability framework, um, that, that set by the state. We just do things a little differently. And, and the biggest difference that I would say between foundation and the traditional public schools is we have a longer school day and a longer school year. Otherwise it’s, it’s, it’s pretty much, um, the, the same, uh, you know, we have our own board of trustees. And so there, because we’re a smaller organization, they can be more nimble and more, more reactive to, you know, to, to the situation. And there’s benefits in being a little bit of a smaller organization. Um, but that, there’s a lot of myths put out there about charter schools and publics and traditional public schools, but there’s really not a big difference, you know, the biggest difference is in the funding, which we just talked about.

Brad:
Sure. Thanks. Thanks for sharing that. Yeah. Cause that, that, yeah, before this, I probably, I didn’t know a whole lot about that. The difference, and, you know, it’s just, it’s not something that, uh, you know, I’ve really learned in my life, but I appreciate sharing that. And so from your perspective, as, as Foundation Academies, if we were to make a pitch, you know, where would you say that you need, you need assistance, whether it be financial, whether it be volunteering, whatever it may be, where, where do you feel that foundation academies needs assistance from the public?

Graig:
Yeah. So it’s really, I mean, I kind of comes back to what are you passionate about? Because we try to be a pretty comprehensive organization in that, you know, no matter who is listening, you can be a help to our organization. So it, you know, maybe, maybe we struck a chord when you’ve considered teaching for a long time, but, but sort of, you know, resisted that for one reason or another and are interested in, and really passionate about this work and are interested in becoming a teacher. Um, you know, we have home office support positions, which may be your talents is, um, you know, talent recruitment, or, uh, you know, finance or something of those. So even if you don’t want to be an educator, you can still, you can still help do this work. Um, in addition, we have, we try to support our families in as many ways as possible, our families and our alumni. So we have, we have a side 501(c)(3) organization that helps support our alumni. Because as I said earlier, the bar is not gaining college acceptance. The bar is helping our students graduate four, four years later. And many times our students aren’t able to, to persist because of financial resources. And a lot of times they’re small, you know, sometimes we’re talking about an $800 deposit, or we’re talking about, you know, tuition, that’s, you know, $2,000 for a semester. Um, but it it’s preventing our students. Sometimes our students from getting back, maybe they need to help out their family or, uh, you know, they, they don’t have, you know, the, um, they don’t have somebody that can cosign a loan to, to get that deposit or something along those lines. So that’s definitely an area we’ve set up a small, a COVID emergency relief fund. So to help families who are really struggling through this pandemic, maybe they lost a job or, um, you know, there’s a struggling to get by. And so, you know, we’re trying to help our families as much as possible who are going through these emergencies, if you want to volunteer. We, you know, when, when we’re back in the school building, we have plenty of opportunities to, to volunteer or even, you know, share your expertise on, on a virtual webinar, uh, as we provide resources to families. So no matter what, no matter what the case, we’re, we’re pretty good at taking somebody’s passion and utilizing that passion and implementing it in some way, shape or form that can help our students, our families, and our alumni.

Brad:
All very important. And I think what’s, what’s, what’s interesting the, the thought that just ran through my head. So, so we oftentimes have, have a lot of individuals that work for our company that want to get involved and want to help. Um, so let’s say we have someone that, you know, they’re an accountant CPA, they have their, you know, college is great. H how would, how would someone in like a role like that be able to help you? I can think of a few things, but what are your thoughts on that? I mean, really, it would start with a conversation, uh, I would need to get to know that individual and like, you know, so what are you, what are you most passionate about? Uh, what, you know, what skill sets do you have w you know, what is your, the time commitment that you have, and then sort of go from there. So oftentimes, you know, we might not have an opportunity necessarily on our website, that’s all spelled out, but we can take that, that, that information, and just a short, you know, 10, 15 minute conversation and say, oh, actually you have the skill set. We can, we can apply it over here. And, um, and you can be helpful in this area or what have you. Um, so it’s, it’s, it’s not defined, I would say, just, you know, reach out to us and, uh, you know, we’d be happy to just have that conversation and see how you can get involved and how you can help.

Brad:
Yeah. Good, good to know. And I think the reason I asked that is definitely to get, you know, I think there’s a, probably several people in the, in the business community and the professional services world that, uh, tend to have the attitude. I wanna help. I wanna volunteer my time. I want to donate it. I have no idea where to begin. I get requests from employees that have been with us for a few years. Hey, I, I wanna, I want to donate my time to a charitable organization or to, to a community event or whatever it may be, where do I start? And it’s a very hard question to answer. And you know, I think you’ve answered it very plainly, which is great, which is number one, what is your passion, number two, connect with the right person to talk about how you can bring your passion and your skill set that you have to the table, and let’s figure out how we can integrate that. And, and I think that’s, you know, that it’s a great message. And it’s something that is very important for people to hear and understand is that there are so many ways that you can take that first step forward. There are so many ways that you can have a positive impact and, and you just, you need to do something. And, you know, I, I love that message. I think it’s, I think it’s very, uh, not only relevant. I think it’s important. I think it’s, it’s, it’s the way that we move our country forward. I appreciate you sharing that.

Sheria:
You know, as you were speaking, I thought about, we send out a newsletter each week and we had a parent who just, you know, said I’m not an educator, but here is, you know, some resources that I definitely think you should look into as an organization. And that’s even helpful. Just providing us with, um, you know, he had curricular resources, um, things to, that we needed to look into, or we could look into to help, um, with students’ social, emotional development when we’re back in, um, our building. But any way, it’s just about reaching out, um, connecting with us, um, utilizing our website to connect through connect with different people in the organization. But we want to hear from the community, we want to connect with the community. We welcome all, all resources.

Brad:
Perfect. And your website is FoundationAcademies.org.

Sheria:
Yes, it is. Check it out. I love that. Yeah. And I think, you know, your website website has a, has a very strong theme and a good, good message in it. And I, I, you know, as Greg said, he, you know, we’re very data driven organization and, and it definitely translates through over, over, through your, through your website. Uh, actually I totally talked over you most of the time.

Ashley:
No, the conversation that we had today was amazing. So sometimes if I’m a little quiet, I’m just soaking it all in, but really this conversation was wonderful. And I really appreciate hearing everything you guys had to say. And I have to say same thing that Brad said hungry, humble, and people smart. You guys represent that immensely. Just, you know, we’ve spoken a few times now. So it seems like as leaders within that organization, you represent exactly those ideals that you’re trying to recruit and retain, and I’m sure the students, they’re lucky to be a part of a part of your group. Like you said, you, you had really good points. Like I said, humble, just the way that you represent yourselves and your organization. And you talk about all of that, it’s kind of like, this is what we should be doing and you’re doing, and you’re doing it. Um, and that’s a really interesting take from a school perspective. Um, you’re like we, of course you get the recognition, but that’s really what we’re all supposed to be doing. And that’s huge and powerful. So, loved this conversation.

Graig:
Thank you. One thing I just want to, I want to touch on is that you, you had mentioned that our students should, should, you know, feel luckier, you know? Um, but that, that’s something that like, we’re super passionate about. They shouldn’t, you know, unfortunately luck is playing into this and that’s not be the case in this, in this day and age. Um, all students, uh, deserve a great education. Um, and so just wanna make sure that we continue to emphasize that

Ashley:
Definitely. You’re absolutely right. Cause sometimes people and students aren’t, aren’t so lucky depending on their situation. So again, what you guys are doing is exactly your message is, very, very powerful. And how you explained it, you’re doing what you feel like you should be doing and what all students deserve. And that’s the biggest message.

Sheria:
Yeah. If you’re going to do anything in life, whatever you do, right. You do it at the highest level possible. You do it with excellence, you do it with care, you do it with love, um, whatever that is. And like just modeling that behavior and being that in this world really does make a huge impact. It really does make a difference. And so all we’re doing again is just doing right by our students so that they can, you know, be change agents in this world because the world needs change. Right now. Um, and so, yeah, we’re we are, if anything, we are lucky to be able to do this work every single day. So thank you.

Brad:
Yeah. Thanks. Thanks for being a part of a part of the conversation and allowing us to share your message. Um, you know, we appreciate it and appreciate your, uh, your time today. Thanks. Thanks so much.

Graig:
Thank you guys.

Sheria:
Thank you.

Brad:
Hey warriors. Thanks for tuning in. On the next episode of Civic Warriors, we’ll talk with Ashley Vann from Victory Cup Initiative about the power and importance of philanthropy and how Victory Cup is a driving force in raising awareness to, and providing a platform for, charitable organizations to tell their story, build strategies and partner with the business and community leaders to make a difference. Make sure to subscribe to Civic Warriors and thanks for all your support. Have a great day.

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