CONCORD — Since taking a job as the Head of School at Carolina International School in August, Joseph Canty has not seen a single class take place on campus. That’s just the nature of schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But despite a remote start to the year and no definitive return date to campus yet set for students and teachers, Canty can hardly contain his excitement for what CIS has to offer both for the present and future.
“There’s passion (here),” Canty said. “There’s a long history even though we’re a young school — school that’s almost 20 years old — there’s so much to be celebrated and to be thought about and think about where our founders really wanted the school to go and what their vision is.”
Carolina International School first opened its doors in 2004 in Harrisburg as Cabarrus County’s first charter school serving kindergarten through seventh grade.
Since then it has grown to reach all grade levels with the first high school class graduating in 2016. More than 870 students from seven counties are currently enrolled at CIS and Canty — who hasn’t quite served as Head of School for three months yet — is excited about the potential for growth he sees for his students on CIS’s 82-acre campus.
“We are a school that helps children to embrace the joys of learning,” he said. “That’s kind of why I took this job, it’s a big part of it to be honest.
“You think about the last time you heard somebody say they enjoyed education right? You as an adult. So when you hear that there’s a school — and there’s many schools, there’s many amazing schools and institutions across the country and the world — but when you have a school’s mission that states that directly, you have an opportunity, and that’s what I see this as.”
He is also excited about the physical growth of the campus which sits off of Poplar Tent in Western Cabarrus County.
“We’re re-beautifying our school as well,” he said. “We’re working on our entrance, we’re working on the landscaping as a whole, we are redefining and repurposing some of our spaces internally as well.”
CIS’s campus features a unique blueprint with local wildlife spread throughout. A Monarch garden and a fish pond create a type of local preserve where students get a chance to connect to the environment both through textbooks and on the physical campus.
Part of Canty’s vision includes an emphasis on global studies as well as a focus on the environment. CIS’s campus gives its students a chance to do just that.
“We think about the ecosystem we’re actually in and how what we’re doing can impact the world,” he said.
Mr. Joseph Canty
Canty comes from a very unique family with a history both in this particular area as well as the public eye.
His parents grew up in South Carolina while his father was a professional basketball player and his mother was an elder and minister in the United Methodist Church.
One of his brothers Chris is former Giants, Cowboys and Ravens defensive lineman who currently hosts a radio show in New York. He also has another older brother who is a chef.
Joseph has spent time as a football coach while also working as a dean and a director of inclusion and diversity. He has also worked in fundraising and with charities and local boards.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in Instructional Technology from North Carolina A&T, his MBA from Texas Southern, and recently his Educational Leadership Certification from Harvard.
He will start his Ph.D in the spring.
Growing up Joseph’s family always emphasized serving others. If he wasn’t playing sports he was required to get a job and do what he could to help his community while growing up in The Bronx, New York.
He wants to impart some of that passion for service to his students.
“Our family’s charity says that our mantra is sewing seeds in good soil and that is something I think about every day,” he said. “How do you build relationships?
“You’re not going to always be perfect, but how do you model that to the young people that we support at this school is critical.”
Carolina International School has a serious focus on global studies and looking at things from a worldwide outlook. They ask how they can build global partnerships so their students can grow to not only understand our own society, but our world as a whole.
Understanding the big picture is a key component to what Canty hopes to do with this school and that doesn’t just help the world but also the community these students are in every single day.
“I call it ‘Glocal,’” he said. “Because you have a global approach but you’re really having a local impact on those who have a global mindset that come from other countries around the world, and that’s critical.
“Because there’s so many people that live in our communities that we don’t really know their backgrounds and we have to take time to listen.”
Mr. Canty’s vision
When Carolina International School began in 2004 in Harrisburg the institution had big goals and a clear mission statement: The World is Our Family.
In that the goal is to embrace the world we live in and understand our relationship to it. “To call the world our family expresses our self-understanding, and we hope our school to be a microcosm of much of the wider world we live in.”
Mr. Canty hopes CIS’s global footprint continues to grow as he wants his students to get the chance to learn about other cultures both through conversations with them and physical travel to them.
Experiences had in school impact the lives we live down the line and Canty hopes his students’ time at CIS will help them learn more about others and also themselves.
“With over 800 students we have an incredible opportunity for a charter school to do some really impactful stuff for our kids here that we serve, but also in our families in the broader community in Cabarrus County and beyond,” he said.
CIS’s global outreach gives students a unique chance to learn about inclusion and diversity.
“Each grade level has adopted a sister country to partner with and think about socioeconomics, academics, agriculture, environment as a whole,” Canty said. “We do research on it, and as students gain a better understanding, we build partnerships and we have Zoom and Skype sessions globally so students get to build relationships.
“In addition to that, our curriculum is such that it’s more inclusive and we continue to evolve in that way.”
Racial equity has been a major topic of conversation in the nation for the last several months with focus being put on not only systemic issues in government which may affect some individuals disproportionately to others, but also how that may factor into schooling.
One way some have seen equity issues includes things such as equity in the text students read. Kannapolis City Schools has been working over the last several months on text equity in the classroom, but it is a challenge for any district to truly make changes quickly in that way.
But because CIS is such a young institution with only five graduating classes coming out of high school so far, it is in a unique spot to where it can emphasize its work in this field.
“Our curriculum is such that it’s more inclusive and we continue to evolve in that way where we look at the teaching tolerance standards, and those are global standards about equity and thinking about inclusive language in your curriculum and topics you can discuss that will represent all cultures and backgrounds,” Canty said. “Not just talking about race, but thought leadership so it’s truly inclusive practice.
“We use that coupled with what we’re doing academically to move things forward so that the teachers are really thinking through a global lens of, ‘Who’s in my classroom? How can I best reach them? How can I be most effective as an educator?’”
CIS is in a different spot than many schools in the area in that it has a smaller population as a whole and has a different emphasis on how it educates its students. But it is in the same spot in that it is still in the middle of a pandemic.
Carolina International School has started its year fully remote in Governor Roy Cooper’s Plan C, but it is in the process of discussing a move to Plan B.
Mr. Canty said the hope is to get students back in the fall, but there is no definitive return date as of yet. The shutdown has given the school a chance to do some work on campus it might not have otherwise had such ease in doing, so that has been a big help. But with no students on campus it has been a challenge to get all the work done it would like to.
Despite the challenges though, teachers and staff continue to work hard to get the most out of their work as they can.
“I think there’s a lot you can do, but you have to push and it takes a lot of time,” Canty said. “It takes a lot of energy, but it’s needed and it’s what we do as educators, we have to.
“We are preparing and helping people that will eventually lead our world and so that’s something I really take a huge responsibility in.”
Teachers have been challenged throughout the start of this year to educate students in ways they never have. Some have been asked to work both in a classroom and remotely while others are now being trained to live stream classes for synchronous learning.
All of this has been done while many have children who are students themselves while their spouses have to continue to go to work to provide for their families.
COVID-19 has been a challenge for almost everyone, but CIS teachers — and teachers throughout the world — have done everything they can to give students the education they deserve.
“I think what’s the coolest thing about teachers is the amount of sacrifice,” Canty said. “I think they’re so awesome for that.
“I think if most people knew what educators did on a daily basis, it is quite an amazing thing. They work 24/7, and they sacrifice a lot with their own families.”
Canty is still waiting to see students on campus, but he and his staff have already done so much work this year which is far from over.
He has big goals for himself but also for his students who have been greatly challenged over the first few months of his tenure at CIS.
But what he hopes for his students doesn’t just encompass months, it looks at decades.
“If we’re to look back 20 years from now and you saw what I have accomplished with the help of my teammates, because this is not a ‘me’ show, it’s a ‘we,’ this is an opportunity for partnership. I would say you would have not only a concrete, highly structured global education program that is doing work tenfold overseas but also here locally,” he said. “We would be able to have, when you look outside, you would see the physical spaces that we need to continue to grow.
“Outdoor learning spaces, covered spaces, thinking about the environment during the winter season, we also need that. What you would also see is additional buildings as the school continues to grow, a science research center, outdoor learning study spaces with covered learning areas where people can do research.”
His vision is big both for the campus but also for his students.
His students have already impressed him and he knows they can make an impact on the future here as well as throughout the world.
“The vision would also be that the students can truly see this as a college preparatory space that is truly preparing them for a global future,” he said. “Because that’s what this is, we are living in a time where you see that becoming more and more a reality.
“So to prepare them for the future, so when someone looks back 20 years from now, someone would say, ‘My daughter or my son went to Carolina International School and they are better off for doing so.’”
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