by Bonnie Holliday, Executive Director, State of Georgia Charter Schools Commission

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in the moments of convenience and
comfort, but where he stands at times of challenges and controversy.”

These are Martin Luther King’s Jr.’s words, from a homily included in his 1963 book Strength to Love.

As a charter school authorizer, these words inspire me to get better at what I do. Sometimes that means celebrating achievements, but sometimes it means taking a hard stand.

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For me, charter schools were not a specific calling. Rather, I was drawn to a career in this field because of my belief that a strong public education system is the cornerstone of American democracy.

Of course—as with any long-standing institution—there are times when customs and traditions are prioritized at the expense of innovation and change, and the field of education is no exception.

When it comes to empowering educators with the freedom to try new things and adapt to the changing needs of students, charter schools play an important role in education reform. They strengthen the education system overall by serving as public schools that operate outside the constraints of the traditional structure.

My work here in Georgia allows me to see the many ways charter schools can bolster entire communities. They provide choice for families, they serve as a complement to existing public schools, they offer innovative programs and services, and—perhaps most importantly—they operate in accordance with high standards of accountability.

Without the simple accountability bargain that epitomizes the charter school model, there would be no meaningful difference between charter schools and traditional schools.

As charter authorizers, this obligation to hold schools accountable looms large, and we inevitably encounter opportunities for both celebration and solemnity when we evaluate the schools we oversee. Ultimately, every time we uphold autonomy and accountability, we increase the likelihood that students have not just more but better educational options.

As charter authorizers, we have a profound opportunity to effect positive change on a daily basis which is why Dr. King’s words are the guiding force for the 2016 NACSA Leadership Conference.  But effecting change does not mean choosing sides or mounting defenses; it simply means standing for and with the kids who need us the most.

And so, with Dr. King’s words inspiring us, we will arrive in Atlanta ready to discuss the dynamic nature of our work with colleagues and friends. While high-quality content will enable in-depth discussions on topical issues, the connections we build with fellow authorizers, advocates, and leaders are what make the conference special.

The 2016 NACSA Leadership conference is where I’ll be standing on October 24 – 27. Please stand with me!