Lagra Newman, founder and head of school at Purpose Preparatory Academy, leads one of the highest performing elementary schools in Tennessee. Purpose Prep, a public, non-selective charter school, educates children predominately within the North Nashville community and focuses on strong literacy acquisition. A staunch advocate for underserved communities, Ms. Newman is deeply committed to ensuring that all children have access to quality education. Lagra began her career as an inner-city teacher for Teach for America (TFA) where she taught fifth grade at 109th Street Elementary School in the Watts community of Los Angeles. She then recruited teachers for TFA in Atlanta and then served as an instructional coach at an elementary school in Washington, D.C. Undergoing a competitive fellowship with Boston-based nonprofit Building Excellent Schools in 2011 led Lagra back to Nashville, Tenn.
Lagra was a participant in the third annual School Leaders of Color cohort at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. She is a great example of how intentional leadership can transform the lives of students. Recently, I sat down with Lagra to discuss the Purpose Preparatory Academy model.
Q: What made you start a charter school?
A: I am less concerned about the type of school but more concerned about the results and the outcomes. The reason why I personally decided to venture into the charter sector was because of the autonomy; to be able to drive a school model in a way that included family feedback and input. Based on family input, we have been able to focus our day to day decisions on addressing the needs of our community and what makes the most sense for our students.
Q: How has family feedback affected Purpose Prep’s School model?
A: I remember knocking on doors and talking with families and hearing about what they wanted to see in a school. We took that feedback and embedded it into in Purpose Prep’s model. We set the standard of high expectations for all students, joyous learning opportunities, and differentiated and personalized instruction. These are all elements that have been incorporated through the feedback of our families and has certainly contributed to our success as a school.
Q: What is an accomplishment that made you feel like all the hard work was worth it?
A: We’re so excited because we were recognized this year as a Reward School in Tennessee. This is an incredible honor because it places us in the top five percent of schools in the state for academic performance. This is especially important because we are the first elementary school in North Nashville to ever receive this recognition. It speaks to the potential that is possible, but also the urgency to make sure that there are more schools that are being able to provide students with the opportunity to be successful in that environment.
Q: What’s next for Purpose Prep?
A: Interestingly enough, we’ve been getting the question around what’s next for Purpose Prep since year two. It’s a scary question, because when you’re founding a school what’s next seems overwhelming. We were focused on achieving and replicating quality. Now in year five, having developed a model K-4, that we’re really proud of, it’s about continuing to increase our impact given the school model that we have. It’s important to quantify our school practices, to make sure that our success is replicable. We are certainly so proud of our first year of testing being honored as a Reward School but we want to make sure that this is something that is consistent year after year.
Briana Gilchrist a press assistant the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Special Note for National Charter Schools Week (May 7-11): As part of our weeklong celebrations, the National Alliance will shine a spotlight on public charter school achievements by honoring the Change Makers of the public charter school movement. Today, our spotlight is School Leaders.