Valor Collegiate Academies: Charter Schools Intentionally Designed to Serve Diverse Students and Families

15 Dec, 2016

As public schools of choice, charter schools can implement a school model that aims to recruit, enroll, serve, and maintain a diverse student body while being held accountable for student achievement. A small but growing number of charter schools have been founded with the explicit purpose and intentional design to serve an all-encompassing variety of backgrounds, including, but not limited to, racially, culturally, linguistically, and socioeconomically diverse student body (hereafter referred to as “intentionally diverse” schools).

Research finds that intentionally diverse schools benefit both students from low-income families and their more affluent peers in building academic and cultural competency. All students in diverse settings benefit from cross-racial and cross-cultural understanding, breaking down stereotypes, and decreasing bias and prejudice.[i] Students from low-income families see improvements from working with children from middle-income families where parents are likely to have larger vocabularies, have time and resources to be more involved in school, and set greater expectations for their children to attend college.[ii] Students from middle-income families who are educated with less affluent peers are able to work with more diverse people throughout adulthood.[iii]

This case study features Valor Collegiate Academies, an intentionally diverse charter management organization (CMO) that operates two high-performing charter schools in Nashville, Tennessee. Valor opened its first school in 2014-15 with a mission to serve a diverse student body and has made many decisions through its founding and operation to achieve that mission. Valor Flagship Academy, the first Valor school, produced outstanding academic results, including the highest standardized test scores in the city, in its first year of operation. This case study presents voices of many participants in Valor’s work. This case study features interviews with (in alphabetical order):

  • Kasar Abdulla, Director of Community Outreach, CMO Team
  • Daren Dickson,* Chief Culture Officer, CMO Team
  • Todd Dickson,* CEO, CMO Team
  • Knick Dixon, Assistant Principal, Valor Voyager Academy
  • Mariah Green, Lead Teacher: 5th and 6th Grade Writing, Valor Flagship Academy
  • Leslie Mitchell, Parent
  • Lauren Smith, Chief of Staff & External Affairs, CMO Team

* Todd and Daren Dickson are identical twin brothers.

1. Introduction: Diverse by Design: Charter Schools with Missions to Serve a Racially, Culturally, Linguistically, and Socioeconomically Diverse Student Body

This segment introduces Valor schools’ student body, mission, and community. It discusses key decisions and metrics that Valor leadership and school staff use to design and maintain schools that enable all students to thrive and learn from each other’s diverse backgrounds. CMO and school staff members also discuss the benefits of having a diverse student body and the challenges that their diverse charter schools have faced.

2. Foundations of a Diverse School: How to Attract Families from Different Backgrounds and Enroll a Diverse Student Body

In this segment, Valor CMO and school leaders discuss the context and decision-making process for implementing their school diversity policies and practices. For example, the selection of facilities, transportation, and instructional model are all tools that charter schools can use to appeal to families from different racial, cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Valor CMO leaders talk about the school’s community outreach and enrollment strategies, and how these processes have impacted their schools’ diversity.

3. Serve Diverse Students Well: How to Support Staff to Serve Students and Families with Diverse Needs and Experiences 

Serving students and families from diverse backgrounds requires commitment from everyone in the school. This segment explores the programing and structures that Valor schools use to serve students, engage parents, and support staff to ensure that diversity is a meaningful, daily experience. For students, this includes supports for English Learner students and students with disabilities, as well as strategies for minimizing tracking in the classroom. Parents have opportunities to volunteer, join cultural associations, and share their culture and stories with the school community. Dedicated staff members are tasked with attracting and hiring diverse staff members, and all staff receive ongoing training on cultural humility as part of the staff and student culture that values and celebrates diversity. Network staff survey students, parents, and staff throughout the year to learn more about their experiences at the school and to adjust school practices and offerings to accommodate community needs.

4. Conclusion: The Future of Charter School Student and Staff Diversity

Continuous improvement is important for all areas of charter school operations, including student and staff diversity. This segment looks at Valor schools’ academic results, ways that parents and staff experience diversity at the school, and why diverse educational settings are impactful for students. Importantly, school leaders give advice, based on their experiences, to other charter schools that are working to serve diverse students.

The content of this case study does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Education (ED), nor does any mention of curricula, trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsements by the U.S. government. This case study does not constitute a formal statement of federal law, legal requirements, or ED policy and should not be construed as creating or articulating the legal requirements or policy from ED.


[i] U.S. Departments of Justice and Education (2011). “Guidance on the Voluntary Use of Race to Achieve Diversity and Avoid Racial Isolation in Elementary and Secondary Schools.” Available at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/guidance-ese-201111.pdf.

[ii] Kahlenberg, R. (2012). “From All Walks of Life: New Hope for School Integration.” American Educator, Winter 2012-13. Available at https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Kahlenberg.pdf.

[iii] Wells, A.S. et al. (2009). “Boundary Crossing for Diversity, Equity and Achievement.” Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice. Available at http://www.school-diversity.org/pdf/Wells_BoundaryCrossing.pdf.