5 questions with Rika Lee of the Betty Shabazz International Charter Schools

rika lee
Photo courtesy of Betty Shabazz International Charter School

Established in 1998, Betty Shabazz International Charter School is a network of three African-centered charter schools serving K-12 students residing in Chicago:  Betty Shabazz Academy (grades K-8), Barbara A. Sizemore Academy (grades K-8) and DuSable Leadership Academy (grades 9-12).  Since its inception, Shabazz School has consistently produced exemplary, high achieving students who have a strong sense of cultural identity and a commitment to make positive contributions to the community and the world.

Rolling out recently sat down with Rika Lee, chief operating officer of BSICS, to learn more about the network of schools, how they work alongside Chicago Public Schools, and their upcoming first annual benefit show featuring Grammy-nominated group The Foreign Exchange.

Tell us about the Betty Shabazz International Charter Schools.
Betty Shabazz International Charter School Network, founded in 1998, is one of the first charter schools established in the city of Chicago.  Currently, we have two K – 8 elementary campuses and a high school. Our school motto is, “Knowledge without purpose is blind.” So to that end we implement an African-centered curriculum and school culture and use the Virtues of Ma’at, an ancient African value system, to prepare our students to be leaders, working to make life better for themselves, their families, our communities and the world. These principles stress the importance of order, truth, justice, harmony, propriety, and reciprocity and emphasize the possibilities of achieving perfection in all human endeavors. Our elementary schools send graduates to the most competitive high schools in the city. One hundred percent of our high school graduates are accepted into four-year colleges and universities. As an intergenerational institution of 17 years, we have graduates of our program now who are both parents and staff members.

What do your duties entail as COO of the Betty Shabazz International Charter Schools?
Since 2005, I have worked in many facets of the organization. As the COO, I provide leadership, management, and a vision to ensure the success of BSICS operations; it is my duty to make sure the right people are in place to effectively grow the organization and to ensure fiscal strength and operating efficiency. As a product of this institution, I am proud to have watched the organization grow from a small store-front, private school, to the network of charter schools it has become today.

Do you think charter schools are the future of education for children?
I don’t know what the future holds; however, Charter Schools and Chicago Public schools must continue to work in tandem. I believe we need to provide our students and families with a plethora of options for educational resources. Charter Schools offer alternatives. Those alternatives can be specialized curricula, like ours, or a safer environment, or a space for teachers to try innovative instruction that may not be allowable in a more traditional setting. Charter Schools should not exist as an excuse to disinvest in neighborhood schools. We should exist alongside, partners in identifying promising practices and developing a diverse and successful educational landscape.

Are there any big misconceptions regarding charter schools that you wish people were better informed about?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that Charter Schools are not public schools. Charter Schools are in fact public schools and held to the same standards as all other public schools. In addition, charter schools receive less funding than other public schools, thus requiring intense efforts to raise additional funds to support the many needs of our students and families. This is why we diligently work so hard to close the funding gap. This week, BSICS is hosting its very first annual benefit concert to which we have had, tremendous support. The support of our community is critical to our success because we rely on additional funding to keep our institution thriving.

What can attendees look forward to at the upcoming benefit concert?
Attendees can look forward to a fun night of music, networking and a sold-out live show from the Grammy nominated, The Foreign Exchange.  The Foreign Exchange is known for their neo soul sound with insightful lyrics accompanied by a feel-good sound. To sum it up, a great time!

For more information on the Betty Shabazz International Charter Schools, please visit www.bsics.org

Betty Shabazz International Charter Schools will host its first annual benefit concert featuring Grammy-nominated group The Foreign Exchange on Thursday, July 9 at The Promontory in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood.

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