We’ve made it!
Today, we mark the end of our school year as well as the graduation of the Class of 2020. The 2019-20 school year was unquestionably one of the most challenging and unique years that I can remember, and I am grateful to all of you who have continued “walking the walk,” by supporting our students and their families amidst so many unprecedented challenges. While many other schools in our country “gave up,” our FAmily locked arms and dug deep to ensure that our students were able to successfully complete what turned out to be an unforgettable academic year.
Although we were forced to forego many of the in-person ceremonies – moving-up, recommitment, and graduation – all events that publicly honor the grit, determination, brilliance, and resilience of our students, their incredible achievements stand on their own merits. Despite a pandemic and a complete disruption of what we would call “normal life,” our FAmily persevered, and my deepest thanks and congratulations go out to all of our students, families, teachers, and staff.
If you weren’t able to enjoy all of our Graduation Week 2020 videos on social media this week, I encourage you to check them out on our YouTube page here. Special thanks to the graduation planning committee as well as 2019 FCA Alum Julio Delgado (currently attending Tufts University) for creating the wonderful celebratory videos for our graduates.
Looking ahead, I anticipate that the 2020-21 school year will continue to have its obstacles. However, these obstacles also come with opportunities to be leaders that bring about unprecedented positive change. Here are just some of the issues and questions we will continue to face in the months ahead:
- COVID-19 Pandemic Response – What will instruction look like next year? Will we all return together to our school buildings in August, or will we have a hybrid model that combines in-person and remote instruction? Will there be a second wave of the Coronavirus? How will we “operationalize” our school buildings to ensure the safety of all?
- Systemic Racism & Oppression – How, as a school and a pillar in our community, can we best be part of the solution? We ALL must dedicate time this summer to read books, participate in webinars, and educate ourselves on better-equipping ourselves to be ANTI-RACIST. Foundation Academies is currently developing a larger, organizational plan, however, history shows that with any lasting change, the work always begins at the individual level. I encourage you to dive into our schoolwide summer reading, “The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity” by Nadine Burke Harris, because now, more than ever, our students, our families, and our colleagues need us to do the hard and uncomfortable work so that we can best “be the change” we all wish to see.
- Charter Renewal – Every five years, New Jersey charter schools must renew their charter, and this fall, it is Foundation Academies’ turn. While I am not at all concerned about our renewal, the application process can be time-consuming. We will be calling on some of you to contribute to the application process in order to ensure that we incorporate all of the wonderful things that are happening in our organization. More details will come this fall.
- Strategic Plan – Thank you for all of your feedback and responses to the strategic planning survey. Please know that we have heard you! The FA Board of Trustees and Senior Leadership Team are in the final stages of developing a new strategic plan to guide us through the next five years. The ultimate goal is to put us in a position to grow by starting another K-8 feeder school by the fall of 2024. This long-term goal will be a concerted effort to reach some of the 1,000+ students that currently remain on our wait list. We recognize that we are not ready to expand today, but through this plan will have mapped out a path to be ready, four years from now. We will be rolling out the full plan in August.
That said, with one of our three strategic imperatives being to improve the leadership capacity within our organization, I am excited to announce the addition of three new Senior Leadership Team members that will help lead us toward our goal of expansion.
- Artemus Werts is joining our FAmily as our new Principal-in-Residence, working alongside our senior and school leadership teams to learn, plan, and prepare to become one of our schools’ principal in the future. Artemus has a Bachelor of Arts in History and African Studies and a Master of Science in Education from Johns Hopkins University. He is coming to us from Maryland after four years with Teach For America, where he has worked in Teacher and Leader Development and most recently as their Data and School Impact Director. We know that his tenacity and grit will be a great addition to our team. Welcome, Artemus!
- Atiya Harmon is joining our FAmily as our new Director of Special Services, responsible for the day-to-day oversight of our Special Education, 504, and ELL programs. She will also work alongside our principals in supporting and coaching our Special Education Teachers. Atiya has a master’s degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania and has previously worked in charter schools as a Dean of Curriculum and Instruction as well as a School Principal. Her expertise in leadership, coaching, development, and program management will be an invaluable asset to our organization. Welcome, Atiya!
- Shanesia Davis is joining our FAmily as our new Director of Training and Development, and will be leading teacher and leadership development as well as driving innovation for our academic and character curriculum. Shanesia will work to create a comprehensive onboarding and training plan for our staff to truly grow and develop at Foundation Academies. Shanesia has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and an Ed.D in both Education Administration and Organizational Leadership. She comes to us with many years of experience working in charter schools, advancing from a Science Teacher to a School Principal and most recently, a Director of Curriculum and Instruction. We know that Shanesia’s drive and vision for innovation will be a great fit for our organization. Welcome, Shanesia!
In closing, I am incredibly proud of how our organization has continued to forge ahead, seeking the opportunities contained within the challenges we have faced in recent months. These opportunities allow us to shape the future of our organization, our community, and our country, now and in the years to come.
Thank you all for your hard work this year! Take some time this summer to rest, reflect, learn, and grow, and we’ll see you in August!
Yours in community,
P.S. If you’d like to help support our students as they face the many unforeseen challenges of the pandemic, please consider making a donation online today.
Graig Weiss has served as the Chief Executive Officer of Foundation Academies since 2014. He began there 5 years before as Middle School Principal. A 2003 Teach for America corps member, Mr. Weiss taught Math and Science in the Bronx and the Dominican Republic prior to becoming an administrator and was selected as Teacher of the Year in 2007.
Prior to entering the education field, Mr. Weiss worked in the financial services sector with Cambridge Associates, LLC in Boston, MA. He holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science in Finance and Accounting from the University of Pittsburgh, a Master of Science in Teaching from Fordham University, and a Master of Science in Educational Leadership from the University of Scranton.