Tennessean Profile

Next up: Educator excited about Nashville’s future

By: June Manning, 
For the Tennessean

Name: Charlie Friedman
Age: 28
Job: Founder and head of school, Nashville Classical Charter School
Background: Charlie Friedman earned his bachelor’s degree in English from Yale University and his master’s degree in urban education at the University of Pennsylvania.

Both of his grandmothers were educators, and Friedman says they were the ones who inspired him to have a career in education.

“I feel lucky to be doing this work, and I want to do it well,” Friedman said.

The 28-year-old is leading the efforts to launch Nashville Classical Charter School, a public charter school that will open on July 31 in East Nashville in the old East Head Start Building, at 217 S. 10th St., before looking for a permanent location.

The school, approved by the Metro Nashville Public Schools board last Memorial Day, will enroll only kindergartners in its first year, but it will add a new grade each year to eventually serve students through eighth grade.

Friedman outlined four main tasks that he and his team have set out to accomplish in the past year: enrolling students, assembling a founding staff, working with the community to build support and examining the details of what to teach.

“We believe we are offering an outstanding college preparatory education for every child,” Friedman said. “It’s been absolutely exhilarating to see families light up when they hear about what we’re promising and also what we’re going to ask of their child.”

Originally from New York, Friedman was previously a teacher and program director for Teach for America as well as a seventh-grade teacher in Philadelphia.

He designed the curriculum for Nashville Classical Charter School based on the knowledge he gained from the Building Excellent Schools Fellowship, in which he spent one year studying the best practices of urban public charter schools.

He noted that Nashville Classical, a free, open-enrollment school, will have an extended school day and school year. The model for teaching literacy and math will focus on small classrooms with eight students, two teachers and 10 computers. Friedman also saidd that teaching values to students is a key element of the school’s plan.

“(We will have) a really explicit focus on building a character foundation that will support students for life,” he said.

What personal lessons have you learned while building a charter school?
There’s lots of times where we’ll be getting ready to call a teacher who is still deciding about whether they want to move to Nashville and work in our school. Do we really want to call them again? Do we want to give one more interview? Do we want to go to one more meeting? It’s a lot, but one of the things that I realized is that I am much more afraid of children ending up like the children I taught (in Philadelphia), where they were two years behind in middle school and not on a path to college than I am afraid to attend one more meeting (or) make one more phone call. You have to remind yourself of that sometimes when you’re tired and when you’ve been working too long. The only thing that I have to be afraid of or worried about is our children not getting the education they deserve.

What is the best book you’ve read in the past 12 months?
Actually, I have three: “Death by Meeting” by Patrick Lencioni; “Knowledge Deficit” by E.D. Hirsch Jr.; and ‘The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande.

Why did you pick Nashville to start a charter school?
It’s one of the best places to be in education right now. It’s the Silicon Valley of education reform. I want to make this city not just a great place to open a school but a great place to go to school. Not just a great place to be a teacher and not just a great place to be principal, but a really great place to be a kindergartner.