March 2012: Strategic Recruiting of Charter School Board Members

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Strategic Recruiting of Charter School Board Members

Recruiting people to serve on the governing boards of charter schools is a high-stakes challenge. Board members can lend their expertise to give any element of a charter school a boost, whether it is sorting through the details of a complex facilities arrangement, aiding with fundraising, or making connections for a student enrichment program. But it is critical that those taking on the responsibility be the right fit for the job. This month's newsletter of the National Charter School Resource Center focuses on recruiting people for charter school boards, including information about a new charter school board recruiting and training program in Washington, D.C., and Maine's challenges in building charter school board capacity now that the state is implementing its 2011 charter school law. The newsletter also provides resources to further pursue the topic.

The importance of charter school governing boards, their oversight role, and level of independence has gained wider notice. State auditors in Hawaii filed a December 2011 report citing lapses in monitoring that included improper spending and enrollment data reporting in some charter schools, highlighting the value of a system of checks and balances provided by a high-quality board. In Connecticut in 2011, new regulations on the independence of charter school boards were approved, according to a Connecticut Post article. The action came after a state auditor's report and the adoption of a state law prohibiting a "charter school and any affiliated charter management organization operating such charter school from sharing board members with other charter schools and such charter management organizations."

Effective board governance does not come without first finding people who are willing and able to serve. As the number of charter schools has grown, so has the need for people to serve on boards. Linda Brown, chief executive officer of Building Excellent Schools (BES), which has helped open 56 charter schools across the country since 2000 and recruited and trained charter school board members since 1995, said finding, vetting, and connecting people with charter school board service requires thoroughness. Brown said that when those who pass through her charter school leadership program go out to start charter schools, any prospective board member they pursue must pass muster with BES. "In many ways, we are prescriptive," Brown said in an interview with the Resource Center. "When we didn't do it as prescriptively, the boards have imploded; they've regenerated; they've imploded again." She said that the founding board establishes the model. "We spend a lot of money traveling to meet the board prospects, and it has paid off in spades."

Charter schools' needs also change as they evolve and face new challenges and circumstances, a dynamic that emphasizes the ability to connect with people who can help governance boards help charter schools succeed with their students.

New Program in Nation's Capital Focuses on Charter School Board Member Recruiting

Many charter schools beyond the best known and most successful schools can have difficulty developing a strategic approach to building their governing boards and finding people to serve, according to Carrie C. Irvin, cofounder and president of Charter Board Partners (CBP). The nonprofit organization was started in 2010 and is focused on charters schools in Washington, D.C., where there are 53 charter schools on about 100 campuses serving roughly 30,000 students, about 40 percent of the city's public school enrollment. Too often board member recruitment involves "ad hoc beating the bushes, everybody bring the name of two people who might be good," Irvin said in an interview with the Resource Center. CBP's approach is to assess a school's status and needs and find a board member prospect who can best address those needs and work with the culture of the schools and its personalities."All those things feed into strategic recruiting," Irvin said.

CBP has raised about $1 million to support its work, including grants from the NewSchools Venture Fund and the Walton Family Foundation, according to Irvin. The organization also has tapped into other education reform support groups, as well as corporations and law firms for financial support and participation by senior executives in advisory roles and service on charter school boards.

CBP's push is to enlarge not only its pool of potential board members but the boards of individual charter schools as well. "There is a value to broadening sources of new board members in terms of ensuring independence in governance and representing different perspectives," said Irvin, a former consultant for Education Resource Strategies who has worked on school reform targeting underserved students. Those different perspectives include drawing on the practices of National Association of Independent Schools school boards and adapting them for use by charter school boards. Irvin served as the chair of an independent school board and CBP cofounder Simmons Lettre serves as the vice chair of a charter school board in Washington, D.C.

CBP seeks people with financial management and legal skills that frequently inhabit school boards but also fundraisers, marketers, and communications and education specialists, as well as people of color and people from diverse backgrounds. It is the board's responsibility to see that the students receive the best possible education, a role that can be undermined by narrow loyalties of board members, Irvin said. Attracting people to serve on a charter school board is not necessarily difficult, once they are aware of what a charter school is. But Irvin said that "outside of the people who have kids in them, a lot people don't understand what they are."

A key task is making the right match, which takes legwork. "We do a very targeted recommendation," Irvin said. Candidates for board service complete an online application and interview that includes information about their skills, experience, motivation, reasons for their interest, and willingness to eventually take a leadership role. Issues such as the location of meetings can be important. For example, in Washington, D.C., most charter schools are clustered on the east side of the city, and many prospective board members live on the west side. "The schools try to build in flexibility so that it works," Irvin said, noting that board meetings might alternate between the school and a midpoint location downtown. "We want to know what people prefer," Irvin said. "A lot of things don't happen because of logistics, because of convenience."

The organization's board member network meets socially every other month. "We get to know our recruits well. We get to know our schools well," Irvin said, calling the approach a "high-touch, high-intensity model."

About 120 people have gone through CBP training for board service, 14 have officially become part of a school's board, including some in leadership positions, more than 20 people were interviewing in March for board seats, and none has dropped off a board, according to Irvin. It is up to the individual school board whether to elect a new member recommended by CBP. The organization has worked with 14 charter schools so far and follows up to determine the effectiveness of the board member. CBP has been refining its model and plans to expand in the coming year.

Charter schools in Washington, D.C., typically have seven to 11 people serving on their boards, according to Irvin. The maximum number of board members allowed is 15, and two must be parents of students attending the school. CBP recommends that boards have close to the maximum number of members to support the formation of effective committees. CBP typically recommends two to four candidates for a charter school board. "We think it is much harder to effect change as a solo practitioner," Irvin said. But Irvin said candidates are urged to bring their knowledge and skills to bear in "a collaborative way and not a gotcha way."

Irvin said board prospects and schools are encouraged to "suss out whether it's a good fit." She said, "You are not adding a résumé to your board. You are adding a person."

Maine Seeks Capacity for Charter School Board Governance

When Maine adopted its first charter school law in September 2011, it didn't come with built-in capacity for charter school governance. "We're excited to be where we are, but we've got a long way to go," Roger Brainerd, executive director of the Maine Association for Charter Schools, said in an interview with the Resource Center. According to Brainerd, more than 30 groups have expressed interest in starting charter schools in the state, and a Portland, Maine, forum for potential charter school founders in September 2011 drew about 70 people. He said he expects a high standard for competence and diversity in governance will be required for any charter school to gain approval to open. "If we want excellent charter schools, they have to have excellent governance," said Brainerd. "It's something we certainly want to encourage and facilitate."

Judith D. Jones, chair of the board of the Maine Association for Charter Schools, said in an interview with the Resource Center that organizers are seeking assistance with finding suitable people to serve on charter school boards. A great many nonprofit organizations operate in the state, and Jones said the association seeks to tap into groups focused on leadership development. "It's not going to be easy for us to find caring people who are not already committed to other things," Jones said. "We really need to beef up our own board. We need to model this for the charter schools themselves."

Jones said the state's new Charter School Commission has been raising awareness of charter schools by holding meetings across Maine on community needs. Although the commission is empowered to approve only 10 charter schools in the next 10 years, the number of charter schools that school districts can start is unlimited. The law leaves it up to a district to initiate the process with a request for proposal, but Jones said wide opportunities exist for starting charter schools, and a demand for charter school board members accompanies each startup.

"We think there will be a lot less controversy over charter schools that local groups decide for themselves that they want to form," said Jones, a sociologist who helped start Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS), which has backed the development of charter schools in Washington, D.C.

Brainerd said many small towns in Maine face dwindling populations and loss of their schools, which has posed both challenges and opportunities. "A lot of parents and community members are trying to see if the charter school model will help them reopen schools or prevent them from closing," Brainerd said. "It's a very steep climb."

In some cases, communities are coalescing around establishing their own schools. "They are wrapping around their children, and this is the thing that's going to keep the lights on in the town," Brainerd said. "If the local school closes, parents aren't going to move in, businesses will suffer, and eventually the town will fade."

In the central Maine town of Cornville, Justin Belanger, 34, is leading a group pursuing a charter school for the community after a regional school board consolidation decision that closed the town's 100-student K-6 school. The elementary school students scattered to four or five schools, which typically require a long bus ride each way to attend, Belanger said in an interview with the Resource Center. The town, a community of 1,300 taxpayers, a few businesses, and dairy farms, controls the school building and voted to spend $25,000 per year for the next two years to maintain it, with the idea that it will house another school. Meanwhile, the school building is accommodating yoga classes, a library, and semiprofessional wrestling events. Belanger said a seven-member board to organize the charter school is in place and the group seeks to establish itself with the Internal Revenue Service as a nonprofit organization. "The only thing we're missing is a lawyer," said Belanger.

Brainerd said the Maine Association for Charter Schools, an organization of volunteers, is collecting the names of people who are interested in charter schools and board service and adding them to a database to be tapped to support charter schools. "When they get to the authorizer stage, they are going to need to prove that they have a board that is capable of running a school," Brainerd said. "The group that can go into the required interview and speak well about what they are doing is going to have a leg up."

News

$150 Million Third Round of Investing in Innovation (i3) Grants Competition Announced

School districts and nonprofit organizations in partnership with school districts or schools are eligible to compete for nearly $150 million as part of the U.S. Department of Education's 2012 Investing in Innovation (i3) grants program.

The program focuses on proposals for "expanding promising or effective educational practices to improve learning for high-need students," according to a department announcement.

"Scale-up" grants of up to $25 million will be awarded for projects with strong evidence of improving student achievement. "Validation" grants of up to $15 million will be available for to those with moderate evidence.

"Development" grants of up to $3 million will be available to support promising practices to "improve student learning that merit further exploration and research." A preapplication was announced.

U.S. Department of Education Charter Schools Program Seeks Reviewers for Grant Applications

The Charter Schools Program (CSP) at the U.S. Department of Education is seeking peer reviewers to read and evaluate applications for competitive discretionary grants offered by CSP.

The program is seeking reviewers with expertise in a variety of areas, including State Educational Agency (SEA) charter school program grant administration; charter management organizations; charter school planning, program design, and implementation; and high-quality charter school start-up and expansion. Reviewers receive an honorarium.

For more information, contact charterschools@ed.gov.

KIPP Starts Leadership Training Program Backed by Federal Investment in Innovation (i3) Grant

KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Foundation has announced that representatives from 15 school districts, four charter management organizations, and seven educator training programs are participating in the first KIPP Leadership Design Fellowship.

The eight-month program's goal is "not only to share KIPP's best practices and experience, but also to encourage participating organizations to learn from each other," the KIPP Foundation stated in its announcement. KIPP Foundation was awarded a $50 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education and gained $10 million in matching funds to support the leadership program and KIPP's expansion over five years.

Charter School Proposed for Navy Base Approved by Illinois State Board of Education Superintendent

A charter school proposed for a site on Naval Station Great Lakes has been approved by Illinois State Board of Education Superintendent Christopher Koch.

Koch issued an order on March 15, 2012, overturning the North Chicago Community Unit School District 187 Board of Education's rejection of the school proposed by the LEARN Charter School Network of Chicago. The local school board's 4-2 vote against the proposal came on March 1, 2012, after a presentation of the basic terms for authorizing the charter school. Read more.

Federal Charter Schools Program Grants Totaling Nearly $55 million Go to Three States

Grants totaling nearly $55 million have been awarded by the U.S. Department of Education's Charter Schools Program (CSP) to three states to increase public school options, the department announced on March 13, 2012.

Minnesota was awarded a five-year grant totaling $28.2 million, according to the department. New Jersey was awarded a three-year grant totaling $14.5 million, and Massachusetts was awarded a three-year grant totaling $12.1 million.

The grants were awarded through the CSP's state educational agency competition, with funds for creating new high-quality charter schools and disseminating information about existing charter schools.

$13.5 Million Targeted for Federal Charter Schools Program's 2012 Replication and Expansion Grants Competition

Up to $13.5 million has been allocated for the federal Charter Schools Program's 2012 Grants Competition for Replication and Expansion, the U.S. Department of Education announced.

The grants are "designed to assist non-profit charter management organizations, and other entities that are not for-profit entities, in replicating or expanding high-quality charter schools with demonstrated records of success," the department stated, noting that applicants must have experience operating more than one high-quality charter school.

The department estimates there will be between 7 and 11 awards, according to the announcement. Applications are due by May 7, 2012, and must be submitted through Grants.gov.

The department's website includes information about 2010 and 2011 grantees.

National Charter School Resource Center Hosts Three Webinars Focused on Aiding English Language Learner Programs

The National Charter School Resource Center hosted three webinars in March 2012 as part of an ongoing series to help provide the charter school community with the tools and knowledge needed to effectively serve English language learners.

Designing a Structured Immersion Model for English Language Learners: Learning From the Success of Synergy Academies on March 23, 2012, explored the exemplary implementation of the structured immersion model for English language learners (ELLS) at Synergy Academies in California. Meg Palisoc, teacher, cofounder, and chief executive officer of Synergy Academies, described the instructional programs and supports in place for ELLs and her program to recruit, train, and retain effective educators.

Implementing a Dual Language Program: Learning From the Success of Chula Vista Learning Community Charter School on March 20, 2012, showed how Chula Vista Learning Community Charter School in California is implementing an innovative dual language model designed to help all language learners develop strong skills in at least two languages. Presenting were Dr. Jorge Ramirez, Director; Francisco Lopez, Assistant Director; and Christyn Pope, Ambassador of Education, for Chula Vista Learning Community Charter School.

Data-Driven Approaches to Eliminate the Achievement Gap for English Language Learners: Learning From the Success of Community Day Charter Public School on March 16, 2012, featured two educators from Community Day Charter Public School in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Erin Walsh-Hagan, Head of the Community Day Lower School, and Pat Teichman, Head of the Community Day Early Learning Center, described use of student data and instructional supports to close the achievement gap for English language learners.

Register for upcoming webinars. The registration page will be updated throughout 2012 as new webinar topics are posted and others are archived.

Events

June 19-22, 2012: The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools will hold the National Charter Schools Conference 2012 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Resources