2017 NACSA Leadership Conference: Message from Our CEO


2017 NACSA Leadership Conference: Message from Our CEO

On October 28, 2017, NACSA President and CEO Greg Richmond delivered these remarks as part of the 2017 NACSA Leadership Conference.

On behalf of NACSA’s Board of Directors and staff, welcome to the second full day of our conference. I hope you are enjoying your time here so far and we have a lot in store for you today.

We could not put on a conference like this without the support of our sponsors. We are grateful to our lead sponsor, the Walton Family Foundation, for their ongoing partnership with NACSA, and, in particular, for their support to help us make this conference our best ever.

We’re also grateful to Highmark School Development, the National Charter Schools Institute, the Ziegler company, and the Duane Morris law firm. Each of these firms is active in the charter school community and when you see their representatives today and tomorrow, I encourage you to ask them about their work. Thanks to their support, we’ve all been able to enjoy Monday evening’s reception, unlimited conference Wi-Fi, our wellness breaks, and more.

For all of us at NACSA, this is our favorite week of the year. I am so pleased that you are here with your colleagues from across the nation and I thank you for making time in your busy schedule to join us.

I am feeling very good about our profession of charter school authorizing and I hope you are too. I think we are on the right track and we are making a difference in the lives of children.

Yesterday, at the beginning of our opening session, you heard Karega Rausch, NACSA’s Vice President of Research and Evaluation, share a remarkable data point: over the past five years, because authorizers have implemented quality processes for opening new schools and have been willing to close schools that persistently fail, we estimate that more than one million children were able to attend better schools. One million children. That’s remarkable.

Wherever you hail from, and whatever the priorities you’re facing this school year, we know that our work matters to children.

The theme of this year’s conference is “Our Choices Matter.” As authorizers, we have the power—you have the power­—to make choices that lead to more children attending good schools.

Let me ask you to reflect on this simple question: Are you making choices that lead to more children attending good schools?

Every one of us has stories to tell about the choices we make as authorizers. Let me share three stories with you about authorizers who have taken actions that lead to better schools and a better future for children.

STORY 1 is about starting a school and starting a revolution.

Don McLaurin, Elliot Smalley, and others from the South Carolina Public Charter School District are with us this week. Don is the chairman of their board and Elliot is the Superintendent. They and their team authorize 39 schools that serve 24,000 students in South Carolina, and growing.

Earlier this year, they made a choice that no other authorizer has ever made: they launched a charter school incubation program to spur the creation of new, high-quality charter schools that serve communities with the greatest need. The year-long program provides participants with one quarter-million dollars to cover expenses to launch a new school.

I encourage you to read more about the incubator on their web site, which encourages educators to, and I quote:

START A SCHOOL. START A REVOLUTION.

Starting a charter school is not for the faint of heart. It requires passion, perseverance, and a relentless belief in the potential of every child. For those who take on the challenge comes the opportunity to change history.

For far too long, students and families in South Carolina have been shortchanged by the educational system. Income and race remain major predictors of achievement. We can and must change this by authorizing incredible charter schools, ensuring access and equity for all students.

The South Carolina Public Charter School District does not just want more schools, it wants more good schools. They noticed that they were getting educators coming to them with great passion, but often without strong support to be successful. The incubator provides that support.

Now, this work to create a new pipeline of quality schools is not easy. But Elliot and his staff understand that this is where they have an important role to play because it’s what their communities need them to do.

The incubator is in its infancy. This year, there is one fellow working on a plan for a new school. That’s how these kinds of innovative, revolutionary efforts start: with one success story that generates the next. They hope to raise more funds, and structure the incubator as a cohort model as it grows.

By launching an incubator to support the development of great new schools, the South Carolina Public Charter School District is making a choice that matters.

STORY 2 is about how to say “Yes” in Mandarin, French, or Spanish.

Once new schools are open and humming, good authorizers look for opportunities to serve more students, as almost every community across the country has a need for more good options.

Good authorizers figure out where and how to best meet their community’s particular needs. This means building on current successes and growing what’s working. That’s what Washington DC’s Public Charter School Board has done.

DC has five high-demand bilingual elementary schools, providing full immersion in Mandarin, French, or Spanish. They have each been in operation for 10-20 years and they are standouts and models for other cities. For the 10th consecutive year, DC’s charter school students have shown steady improvement on statewide assessments. As she prepared for a trip to China as First Lady, even Michelle Obama leaned on the Mandarin students at Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School for guidance.

In past years, as these bilingual kids reached the end of 5th grade, they didn’t have any full-immersion options for junior high and high school. What a loss!

So, the DC Public Charter School Board decided to do something about this. They asked these independent, stand-alone operators if they could work together to create a new school that capitalizes on their bilingualism and catapults students successfully toward college.

The schools said a resounding “YES.” So, the authorizer worked with these 5 elementary schools to create an International Baccalaureate high school called District of Columbia International School, or DCI, where graduates of the 5 elementary schools could continue their full immersion education.

Their beautiful new school now serves 800 students in grades 6-10, with more to come.

Less than a month ago, the Mayor and city officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open the school. This school not only accepts students from the feeder schools but also through the city’s common lottery. The school plans to add a grade at a time until it reaches capacity at 1,450 middle and high schoolers in 2019.

DCI’s founder and executive director Mary Shaffner said it well: “Our students and their families are thrilled. Our bright, state-of-the-art facility allows us to give our diverse student body the innovative, international education that all of us have worked so hard to ensure they receive.”

This new school exists today because the authorizer chose to ask five schools to work together to help more children get a good education.

The DC Public Charter School Board made a choice that matters.

STORY 3 is about closing one door and opening a better one.

Sometimes even the schools that open with high promise and solid intentions don’t come through. They don’t end up doing the job they need to—the job they must do—to educate our kids.

That’s the hardest part of authorizing: deciding when and how to close a low-performing school. But once an authorizer makes that decision, the really important work comes next: ensuring that those students can then enroll in a good school.

That’s where New Orleans has a story to tell. They’ve been on the cutting edge of chartering for years—building a first-of-its-kind system of charters that can continually open new schools and sustain quality school options for their families.

Part of creating a sustainable system means that the authorizer has to be committed to closing low-performing schools, AND committed to figuring out how to get those kids into better schools. As recent research out of Stanford, and common sense, make clear: for students at a closing school to get a better education, they must go to a better school.

That’s why New Orleans has also been a national model of how to introduce and manage effective universal enrollment systems.

In New Orleans, when a charter school closes, the students at that closed school usually receive a priority within the city’s universal enrollment system, called OneApp. Small lottery preferences like these can help students land at better schools. It was the authorizer in New Orleans that created that system and then managed it in a way to help students in great need. The authorizer made a choice to actively help those students get a better education.

Your choices matter too. Your choice to do this work matters and your choices about how you do this work matter.

By being an authorizer, you have chosen to work in a field that has tremendous responsibility to the public and tremendous power to help more children receive a good education.

Are you making choices that matter, that help more children attend a good school?

Like South Carolina’s courage to incubate new schools…

Like DC’s vision to grow the next level of full-immersion education for high schoolers…

Like New Orleans’ commitment to equity for all students and families…

It’s these kinds of choices that lead to better schools for more children. Over the past five years, one million children attended better schools because of the choices of authorizers.

Thank you for your vision. Thank you for your commitment.

Thank you for making choices that matter.