"If You Could Build Any School"

By Dr. Deborah Sawch

In 1999, achievement gaps based on race and socioeconomic status were large and persistent, and there were few examples of schools, much less school systems, that defied this trend. Confronted by the dominant attitude that demographics were destiny, a group of committed educators, led by Dacia Toll and Doug McCurry, set out on a mission to provide equal education access to all America’s children and conceived of a school in which high expectations and strong student outcomes were the norm — where access to four-year college for low-income students and those of color was a right, not a privilege. That year, the group established their first school, Amistad Academy, in what would eventually grow into Achievement First (AF), a network of 32 high-performing public charter schools in five cities serving nearly 12,000 students.

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