One of the U.S. Senate’s leading promoters of public charter schools is Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.
“Despite the transformational impact of public charter schools, they are not a silver bullet,” Landrieu, a Democrat, nevertheless warned in The Times-Picayune. “To be successful, public charters must have strong oversight and talented, visionary leadership.”
That is, we believe, a key point as the state Department of Education seeks to create a New Orleans-style “Achievement Zone” that will take over and improve failing schools in north Baton Rouge.
As Landrieu noted, oversight by both the state and by the board of the charter school — typically, community volunteers — is vital to making sure schools are run well.
The state department has tightened oversight of charters, as some charter schools in New Orleans and elsewhere in the state have had management problems. Some have failed to meet academic improvement goals, or both problems have occurred.
With the state department promising transformation through charters in north Baton Rouge, expectations will be high. The burdens of managing and expanding schools will be shared between the schools’ educational leadership and volunteers on each charter school’s board.
In a recent edition of the Louisiana Progress Journal, the organization’s director, Melissa Flournoy, noted the start-up of charter schools isn’t necessarily an easy task.
“Based on the experience in New Orleans, starting successful new charter schools can take up to two years of planning, leadership recruitment and faculty selection, resource development, site selection, and student recruitment,” she wrote. “Most of the successful charter schools in New Orleans needed plenty of help from national organizations, charter management organizations and foundations to get a successful start.”
One of the New Orleans charter groups is the nationally known KIPP schools.
“The Knowledge is Power Program has demonstrated results in helping disadvantaged children learn and succeed. Their model of extended days, Saturday school, summer school and parent engagement works,” Flournoy said. “Unfortunately, there are only 100-plus KIPP schools in the country. The real issue is how to scale innovation.”
We believe Landrieu and Flournoy have identified questions people in Baton Rouge will have about the Achievement Zone.
Flournoy was the founder of the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations, so she is aware of the importance — and work involved — in finding the qualified volunteers to be effective board members for each school.
That is just one example of the task awaiting not only RSD officials but the larger community in Baton Rouge if the Achievement Zone is to be the success everyone wants it to be.