Blog Post

How Charter Schools can Enhance Educational Equity and Systemize Inquiry-based Learning

by | May 5, 2021 | Educator Interviews

Scott Barksdale, Harpswell Coastal AcademyScott Barksdale is the Head of School for the Harpswell Coastal Academy.  Scott began his career as a musician but found that friends who were teachers seemed the happiest in their career choices.  That change in career trajectory developed into an 11-year career teaching at a district school in the middle school and upper elementary levels.

Scott and a few other teachers became interested in “Inquiry-based” learning and found it to have huge impact on developing a child’s curiosity.  How to systematize this approach well and bring it to scale became his focus.   Scott was unaware of the charter school movement but moved to the Harpswell Coastal Academy where he found a place that shared the same lens on imbedding personalized learning into the school culture.   He has been with Harpswell for four years and inquiry-based learning is the hallmark of this school.

Harpswell Academy is an alternative example of public-school governance stemming from the local community.  The school began when the district elementary school in Harpswell closed due to consolidation.  Two groups of community members responded.  One group wanted an elementary school, and another was seeking a curriculum with a focus on expeditionary learning practices.  Taking advantage of the new laws, Harpswell Coastal Academy with a board of local community members became one of the ten charter schools in Maine.

Harpswell began with 60 students and has grown to 200 serving grades 5-12.  The academic program focuses on social change, entrepreneurship, and environmental stewardship.   The school provides an option for students who have a specific interest they wish to pursue, need for a smaller school than what is offered in their district or just want to get a fresh start.   Asked what makes the school unique, Scott referred to the mission statement.

Our mission is to create an engaged community of creative thinkers, compassionate leaders, and effective problem solvers. Learning at HCA is project-based and place-based, grounding students in a purposeful exploration of the natural and human worlds.

Mr. Barksdale makes a compelling case for how and why charter schools enhance educational equity for families. District schools are attached to a town and reflect the political and historic landscape of that town.  Districts are typically long established and by custom, change comes slowly.  Districts are also funded based in large measure on property taxes so, the higher the property values of homes, the greater the income.  Poorer and more rural areas in lack the resources of wealthier districts.  Charter schools draw from a variety of towns and are funded differently.

His message to legislators: stop making education a zero-sum game.  We do not need to think of charter schools “taking money away” from districts.  Instead, think of charter schools as using resources differently to add value to the portfolio of education.  We need to stop thinking of funding “schools” and restructure the conversation around funding students.