For good reason, there has been much written in the last few weeks about New Orleans and charter schools. Those schools that were part of the state-run Recovery School District returned to the control of the local Orleans Parish School Board on July 1. That same month, New Orleans schools also made headlines because of their unprecedented growth in student performance.
This has been a time of reflection, and certainly, celebration for us in the city. Many played key roles in making this historic leap forward for New Orleans’ families. In particular, I want to pause and take stock of the critical role that our charter school board members have played in this success. They are devoted members of the public who give their time, energy, and expertise to ensure that all students have access to quality education.
In New Orleans, we have a school system that stands unique in the nation, with more than 98 percent of students attending charter schools—the most of any city. There are 45 charter boards that oversee 85 schools. Every one of these boards requires an engaged group of at least seven people who are committed to serve, and recently, are now required to include at least one parent. It doesn’t take much to do the math: Our schools could not exist without the support from communities across the city.
Charter school board service has become one of the most meaningful and authentic means of civic engagement. Through board service, members of the public are given a direct voice in public education. Democracy has always been more than showing up at an election. It involves active participation in our public institutions. Through board service, the people of New Orleans are keeping our schools accountable. While they deserve credit for the unprecedented transformation that has taken place in the city, they also need support to help them navigate and succeed in their complex duties.
Recognizing the instrumental role of charter boards in New Orleans’ educational system, the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools (LAPCS) has teamed with Charter Board Partners (CBP) to launch the Charter Board Leadership Academy. The goal of the academy is to develop the next generation of charter board leaders.
At this time of transition for New Orleans schools, our charter boards must undergo a transition as well. As the board and committee chairs who have guided schools through their growth and success over the past five to ten years move on from service, new leaders will need to step in. The academy will focus on the recruitment and capacity-building of new leaders to keep our schools on the path forward.
LAPCS and CBP inaugurated the leadership academy earlier this summer to an enthusiastic response from a diverse group of aspiring new leaders— all of whom who stepped forward because they believe in the work of charter boards.
We don’t have strong schools without strong boards and strong leaders. As we think about the past and prepare for our future, we shouldn’t forget to give our boards a shout out—and the tools to help them be successful. Let’s hear it for the boards!
Neil Ranu is the governance director for the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.