Spring 2017

What drives you?

Aaliyah Hodge as a 6-year-old schoolgirl in New York
Photo courtesy of Aaliyah Hodge

Aaliyah Hodge started out attending her neighborhood school in Brooklyn, New York—a school in a disadvantaged district. “When I was 5 years old, my mom started making me do placement tests to get into another district,” she says. “As a result, I changed schools five times by third grade.” That was the year her family moved to Minnesota. 

Hodge became an academic star in St. Louis Park, earning two years’ worth of University of Minnesota credits by the time she graduated. A recipient of multiple scholarships, she finished her undergraduate degree in political science at age 19 debt-free. She went on to the Humphrey School to earn a master’s in public policy, where she became one of the first three students to do a fellowship in the new field of charter school oversight. She now works with sixth graders at Best Academy in Minneapolis.

Minnesota has seen significant growth in charter school enrollment. Why?

Charter schools offer opportunities to families they otherwise wouldn’t have—and they’re more community-based. We have charters that have a Hmong language focus, a Latino culture focus, an African culture focus, an arts focus, an environmental education focus, and a STEM focus, to name a few. I see them as hubs of innovation. If things don’t work, the authorizer [the state’s administrative arm] can quickly fix them.

Why do the fellowship?

Education is something I’m passionate about. I used to volunteer at a transitional home for homeless families. I did after-school homework help and tutoring. I kept thinking: What are we doing to support kids who aren’t working at grade level? This isn’t right.

What does charter school oversight involve?

A little of everything. I would go to board meetings and ask questions; visit the classroom and talk to students; review and evaluate a school’s operational, financial, and academic performance; help with renewal decisions about whether schools would be open or closed the following year; and make sure teachers are licensed and teaching the correct subjects to the correct students.

How has your own experience influenced your views?

Education is all I’ve ever had. It’s an equalizer. All kids, regardless of where they come from, have a chance with education.