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This is our 17th installment in the What is a DSQ?” blog series.
 
Charlena Hunt, director of school quality (DSQ) at National Heritage Academies (NHA), developed a passion for education working at a science center in 2001. This experience paired with growing up in an urban environment, set her pathway to expanding opportunities for children via education.
 

“It’s about understanding the needs of the community and the background and struggles that our kids have just to get to school every day,” Hunt said of her leadership style. “That’s where my work in education and passion lies because there are teachers that saved me, and they didn’t even know it. The urban experience is one that is just as good as any other experience.”
 
Hunt explains that in urban education, you have to understand where people are and what’s important to them so we can provide them a better educational experience. She explains the best way to improve your life circumstances is through education, and helping students see that and develop a passion for education is how we're empowering students to do better.
 
Emphasizing the importance of having compassion and looking through the window into students’ lives, Hunt shares it’s up to educators to make sure a plan is in place for students’ social and emotional well-being.
 
While leading in an urban environment, Hunt’s ability to leverage data is a key factor in what has gotten her to where she is today. In her first full year as principal at Pinnacle Academy, Hunt initiated change after noticing areas for growth. “I went back to my roots and that’s to make the urban education experience better,” she said. “I self-reflected and began to establish systems and promote accountability.”
 
She embedded herself in classrooms and did more teaching and learning than leading. “I acted with urgency and used data to drive instruction,” said Hunt. “Everything my teachers did had a piece of data behind it. We came together to do what was best for the kids and got parents, students, and community partners involved.”
 
In just one year, Hunt improved Pinnacle’s kindergarten through third grade literacy grade on the Ohio School Report Card from a 23.3% F to a 58.3% B and improved their Gap Closing grade from a 19.6% F to an 89.9% B.
 

While it was a year full of new approaches and practices, the culture kept the building intact. “I didn't have any teacher turnover that year,” she said. “It was the culture, and I was able to bring everybody with me while we did what was best for the students.”
 
Hunt shares she is able to have a greater impact on students and support their success in thanks to the support mechanisms in place at NHA. Being with the organization for nearly 15 years, she’s seen tremendous growth. From a sense of community, to professional development, to leadership opportunities, NHA cares about their people. NHA has always had a vision that is well-known to everyone, and they share the why behind it.
 
As she continues in her role as DSQ, Hunt is most looking forward to immersing herself into the community and learning from fellow DSQs. “I’m excited to build relationships within the school building and with community partners, who can help to serve the students. I'm also looking forward to learning best practices from other DSQs that have been successful in their roles, and to learn what's worked for them and also what hasn’t.”
 

Hunt hopes that after hearing her story, people would realize that if they aspire to grow within NHA, it can be done. She explained that if you continue to do right by students and do right by your community, the dreams and aspirations you have are not far beyond your reach.
 
Her portfolio of schools includes Apex Academy, Bennett Venture Academy, Emerson Academy, Pathway School of Discovery, Pinnacle Academy, Stambaugh Charter Academy, Winterfield Venture Academy.