New Schools for New Orleans 2008
Stacey Childress, Scott Benson, Sarah Tudryn
On December 13, 2007, Sarah Usdin and Matt Candler celebrated with their staff and fielded countless congratulatory phone calls from education reform leaders around the country. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund, and the Broad Foundation had just announced a joint $17.5 million investment to support public education reform in New Orleans, Louisiana. New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO), the organization that Usdin had founded in March 2006 and now co-led as president with CEO Candler, received $10 million of the total.
In its August 2005 devastation, Hurricane Katrina had created the opportunity to entirely redesign New Orleans’ low-performing public school system from scratch. In the wake of the disaster, the state of Louisiana took control of the vast majority of city schools from the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) through an organization called the Recovery School District (RSD). With the state in control, charter schools proliferated in New Orleans to a degree that no other large urban school system had yet experienced. By 2007, over half of the city’s public schools were charter schools. The remainder had been opened as schools run directly by a much smaller OPSB or the RSD.
NSNO emerged as a recognized supporter of charter schools, based on Usdin and Candler’s belief that New Orleans would benefit more from a network of autonomous schools than a centralized school system. They also believed that, although charter schools were independent, the schools and the other parts of the reform movement needed a support structure. NSNO aimed to meet this need by focusing on three pillars: starting new schools, developing human capital for schools, and engaging in advocacy on behalf of the charter movement at the city and state levels.
The $10 million gift was premised on NSNO’s 2008 Operational Plan, which relied on spring 2007 forecasts of families with children returning to New Orleans. Based on these forecasts, 24 additional charter schools would be needed by 2010. NSNO planned to incubate, launch, and support up to 16 of these schools and partner with other organizations to recruit and train the necessary principals and teachers.
However, by the time the grant was awarded, the context had changed. Families were returning more slowly than expected, and the RSD claimed that its noncharter schools already had more than enough seats to meet demand. Usdin and Candler wondered whether there was still a need for NSNO to direct the bulk of its energy and resources toward creating and staffing new charter schools.
Sarah Usdin: An Accidental Entrepreneur
As Sarah Usdin explained it, “I didn’t intend to start an organization. It just happened.” By supporting others who were working to reopen schools after Hurricane Katrina, Usdin said she founded NSNO “almost by accident.”
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina had made landfall in south Louisiana. The storm’s powerful winds and rain caused significant damage in and around New Orleans, but the majority of the devastation in the city resulted from three major levee breaches that poured millions of gallons of water into the city. Parts of the city sat beneath as much as 20 feet of water, and approximately 450,000 New Orleans residents were forced to seek refuge throughout the United States. All schools were closed indefinitely.
The New Orleans Public School District (NOPS) was considered a disaster by many education experts prior to Hurricane Katrina. In 2004, the state academic ranking system categorized 47% of NOPS schools as “academically unacceptable” and another 27% as under “academic warning.” Nearly half of New Orleans’ 125 schools failed to meet their annual progress targets as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act (Exhibits 2 and 3).
In response, the Louisiana Department of Education (LADOE) created the RSD, through which the state could take control of any school labeled as “academically unacceptable” for four consecutive years. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, LADOE had used the RSD to transfer control of the five worst- performing schools to independent operators such as nonprofits and universities.
On top of the performance challenges the district faced, it was struggling with a crippling debt burden. An independent study showed that the district was nearly bankrupt, with $270 million in bond debt, $30 million in annual debt service obligation, and only $40 million of cash on hand when Hurricane Katrina hit.
When Usdin and her family evacuated ahead of Katrina, she could not have predicted that the storm would create an opportunity for her to play an integral role in completely rebuilding a school system that she had already devoted much of her career to improving. After graduating from Colgate University in 1991, she taught for a year in Germany on a Fulbright Scholarship and then was a Teach For America (TFA) corps member in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Appalled that some of her fifth graders could not read or write, Usdin abandoned her plans for law school to remain in education. She said, “I needed to focus on changing public education. For me, there was no other choice.”
After three years in the classroom, Usdin became executive director of TFA’s Louisiana region, managing teacher placement and development in New Orleans and 20 other communities throughout the state. In 2000, she left TFA to become a partner of The New Teacher Project (TNTP), a TFA spinoff that consulted to school districts and states in recruiting, selecting, training, and hiring “exceptional teachers.” During her five years with TNTP, she worked to recruit hundreds of certified teachers for school districts in the southeastern United States, including New Orleans.
After the chaos that initially followed the storm subsided, Usdin and others in New Orleans’s education community began to realize the enormity of the challenge to rebuild the public school system. All but 8 of the 125 school buildings had been damaged, and principals and teachers were
displaced throughout the country. The school district paid all employee salaries for work done up until the storm, but then was out of money and laid off everyone.
The Rebuilding Begins
Frustrated with years of poor performance and ineffective governance, the state of Louisiana seized the opportunity to take control of the majority of schools from the local school board. On November 23, 2005, the Louisiana state legislature passed a law that gave the state-controlled RSD every New Orleans public school with performance below the state average. In total, 107 of 125 public schools in New Orleans came under the jurisdiction of the RSD. This legislation also named the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) as the sole chartering authority, effectively stripping the local school board of its ability to issue additional charters (Exhibit 4).
When Usdin and her family returned to New Orleans from Louisville, Kentucky, in January 2006, only 17 schools had reopened, all in neighborhoods that had experienced minimal flood damage. Fifteen of these had organized themselves as charter schools in order to reopen quickly, given the disarray of the local district. Usdin was a board member at a public high school trying to reopen, and she urged the school leader to apply for charter status. Although her experience with charter schools was limited, Usdin “was adamantly for chartering” because she was convinced that an independent governance model would not only allow schools to reopen quickly, but would also enable them to rise above the political rancor and operational dysfunction of the pre-Katrina school system.
Many other NOPS schools expressed interest in taking advantage of the chartering process, but for many it seemed a bold leap to transition from a district school to an independent charter school. Usdin knew many of these school leaders from her past work with TFA and TNTP and was eager to help them on a range of issues, from the application itself to teacher and board member recruitment. As she continued to invest more energy into the charter movement, she became convinced that a system of independent charter schools could dramatically improve school performance in New Orleans, and she joined the broader movement to redesign public education in the city.
As she attended conferences around the country and spoke with people in the education sector, Usdin discovered that many people wanted to help New Orleans but did not know how. “There were many national players trying to figure out what to do, but there was not a logical place for them to go,” Usdin said. Because she had been immersed in New Orleans’s complex local politics for years, Usdin emerged as a respected authority from whom nonprofits and foundations sought guidance.
The formal launch of NSNO grew out of Usdin’s informal involvement with local and national education reformers. By April 2006, just three months after Usdin returned to New Orleans, she had incorporated NSNO as a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization and raised $500,000 of seed capital from the Greater New Orleans Foundation. When asked why the foundation gave NSNO the money to get started, Usdin shrugged, “I didn’t even have a business plan, but they must have believed in our ideas.”
The Birth of New Schools for New Orleans
With the money she needed to get started, Usdin turned her attention to recruiting a core team. One of her first hires was Neerav Kingsland, a Yale law student who had arrived in New Orleans as a volunteer right after the storm. He helped file NSNO’s incorporation papers and offered to work for Usdin while finishing his third year of law school. In order to draw educational leaders from outside
of New Orleans, Usdin positioned NSNO as an incubator for talent. With this philosophy, Usdin hired John Alford (HBS 2001) from the KIPP Foundation and Ben Kleban (HBS 2005) from the Building Excellent Schools (BES) program. BES recruited high-potential leaders into a one-year residency program that prepared them to open their own charter schools in 15 communities around the country, from Massachusetts to California. Even though Alford and Kleban both intended to start their own schools in New Orleans the following year, Usdin knew that in the meantime NSNO could leverage their talent in support of others who were launching charters.
By July 2006, NSNO had a team of six people. NSNO was committed to supporting open- enrollment charter schools from the beginning, but had not determined what services it would offer. Usdin decided to start with what she knew best—human capital. To provide schools with qualified teachers, NSNO partnered with The New Teacher Project to create a recruiting organization called teachNOLA. A few months later, NSNO successfully convinced New Leaders for New Schools to consider New Orleans as a placement city for its school leaders. Charter schools eagerly embraced these services and requested many more as they struggled to meet the needs of returning students.
Hiring a CEO
Although Usdin had worked in education reform for over a decade, her entire experience was in recruiting teachers for traditional school systems. Though human capital was a vital component of NSNO’s strategy, Usdin believed she needed a partner with significant experience in the charter movement. She admitted, “I didn’t know charter schools, and because there were only a few charters in New Orleans before Katrina, there wasn’t really anyone in the city who was an expert.”
Usdin and the NSNO board began actively searching for a candidate with significant charter experience. Matt Candler, cofounder and chief operating officer of the New York Center for Charter School Excellence, attended a meeting of national charter school experts convened by Louisiana’s state superintendent in January 2006. Usdin was impressed with his background and insights, and asked him to become NSNO’s CEO after visiting him in New York and seeing his operation. Candler had been active in the charter movement since 1996 and, before his current role, had spent several years at KIPP. The New York Center for Charter School Excellence supported charter schools throughout New York City and had many attributes that Usdin hoped NSNO could emulate.
Although Candler enjoyed his position in New York, the opportunity excited him. He explained, “The offer to become CEO of NSNO was ultimately too hard to pass up. Given my work with KIPP and in New York, I believed that charter schools had enormous potential to transform urban education in New Orleans and that the city could become a national model for how to turn around a failing school system.” He accepted the job and eventually relocated his family to New Orleans in October 2006.
To accommodate Candler’s arrival and Usdin’s ongoing role, NSNO’s board created a dual- leadership arrangement, naming Candler as CEO and Usdin as president, with both reporting directly to the board. Both were satisfied that the reporting structure supported Usdin’s desire to remain an integral part of the organization, while acknowledging Candler’s role as chief executive. (See Exhibit 5 for biographical information.)
Adding Value in the First Post-Katrina School Year
At the start of the 2006–2007 school year, 54 schools had been reopened, of which 31 were charters. In fact, at 57% of the total, New Orleans charter schools had a larger share of the local public school
market than in any other major school district in the country. Washington, DC, came closest, with charters representing approximately 25% of total schools. The proliferation of independent school models throughout New Orleans did not go unnoticed. Local residents had a range of reactions toward the new environment. Some were cautiously optimistic, while others were opposed to the reform movement because of their sense that “outsiders” were trying to take over the school system. Nationally, the system received an enormous amount of publicity, not only from education reformers but also from mainstream media. New Orleans had become what Time magazine described as the nation’s “greatest education lab.”1
Given this environment, NSNO was in a position to accelerate the effectiveness of charter schools in New Orleans. At his former organization in New York, Candler had provided a robust set of services to charter schools and was eager to replicate these activities in New Orleans. These services included: leadership development; student performance evaluation, assessment and data management support; services and systems to ensure successful operations; start-up technical assistance and financial grants; and advocacy for systemic education reform.
Because of the lack of infrastructure in the reemerging public school system, NSNO received requests for these services and many more from all types of schools, not just charter schools. Candler was clear that they “could not be everything to everyone,” at least not initially. It took discipline to deny services when schools urgently needed them, but Candler and Usdin were adamant that they did not want NSNO to “become a surrogate district office” for all the schools in New Orleans. Instead, they believed that NSNO would be most effective if it focused on independent charter schools and offered a defined set of services to help those target schools improve and expand.
Even for the target schools, Candler acknowledged that NSNO’s services “came at a price.” Principals and their boards had to feel comfortable letting NSNO be intimately involved in many aspects of their schools in order to receive support. For this reason, some school leaders were hesitant to work with NSNO in the early days. To strengthen ties to these schools, Candler outlined a plan for an investment fund through which NSNO would offer targeted grants to individual schools. This investment-centric model would require a large source of external funding that only a small number of national foundations could provide. Candler knew that convincing these foundations to entrust their money to NSNO as an intermediary investor would be difficult, but he believed that this feature was necessary to ensure that NSNO remained relevant to schools once they were stable.
In the meantime, NSNO built strong relationships with a number of charter schools, including eight newly launched schools, by providing critical services such as operations, IT, and financial training, board member orientation, and free office and meeting space. In addition, NSNO successfully recruited four leaders, who otherwise would not have come to New Orleans, to incubate new schools for the 2007–2008 academic year.
NSNO also played a critical role in attracting national education organizations such as TFA and New Leaders for New Schools to join the New Orleans rebuilding effort. The relationships with NSNO were instrumental in the willingness of these organizations to commit resources not only to charter schools, but also to the schools run by the RSD. The staffing challenges were significant, but the city made great strides in recruiting teachers for all of its schools through teachNOLA, and TFA committed to dramatically expand its New Orleans corps to serve both charter and district schools.
NSNO initially made a strategic decision not to pursue advocacy on behalf of the charter movement in Louisiana, but rather to focus on more concrete support for schools. Yet, by the end of its first full year, NSNO was clearly perceived as a “voice for charters” at the city and state levels.
Usdin and Candler were able to build and maintain relationships with key leaders in the Louisiana State Legislature, the state BESE, and the RSD. NSNO had a fundamental role with other partners in creating the first-ever parents’ guide for all New Orleans schools, distributing more than 35,000 copies, and had implemented an outreach campaign to more than 500 families who had asked the RSD about school openings for their children. Usdin said, “To be an independent voice that is constant over time—that is very important to who we are.”
“We must focus on what we do best and say no to what is beyond the scope of our mission,” explained Usdin. This meant doing a better job in the recruitment and selection process of school leaders, as well as accelerating the entire timeline for starting new schools. Usdin and Candler also believed that going forward they should improve the understanding of and support for charter schools, strengthen ties with key politicians, and continue outreach to parents.
At the end of the 2006–2007 academic year, the enrollment of all New Orleans public schools was 26,156, approximately 45% of enrollment prior to Katrina. To support the continued repopulation and rebuilding of New Orleans, 10 additional charter schools were scheduled to open for the 2007–2008 academic year. Reflecting on NSNO’s first full year of operation, Candler noted, “We realized that the education environment had shifted from one of crisis to greater stability and that we needed to better understand NSNO’s evolving role in the changing context, even as we quickly transition from a start- up into a more mature stage of development.”
Due to the shifting context, NSNO recognized it needed to formalize its strategic partnerships and support other organizations’ expansion efforts to ensure better quality and consistency of programs throughout the city. In particular, it saw the potential for greater collaboration and coordination with the RSD.
After a rocky first year under the direction of a staff member from the Louisiana Department of Education, the state had hired Paul Vallas away from the School District of Philadelphia to be the new superintendent of the RSD. His early impressions of Usdin and Candler were positive, and as he saw it, “NSNO has been the principal organization responsible for creating the nonprofit and charter movement that characterizes the rebuilding efforts in New Orleans.” Now that he was in place as the chief executive of the state-run traditional and charter schools in the city, it was unclear what the nature of the relationship between the entrepreneurial reform organizations and the school district would be and what role NSNO might play in that relationship.
The 2008 Operational Plan
In preparation for their second year of operation, Usdin and Candler launched an intensive, two- month strategic planning process. Usdin commented, “Matt and I agreed early on that staff involvement was critical. Everyone invested an incredible amount of thought, energy, and passion. We were able to build consensus around considerable areas of disagreement, uncertainty, and ambiguity, and create a clear vision for the 2008 school year.”
The result of the team’s effort was the NSNO 2008 Operational Plan—a 30-page playbook designed to guide NSNO, specifically Usdin, Candler, and the board of directors. As Usdin explained, “The plan provided alignment and structure for our team, allowing us to be as responsive, reflective, and effective as we could possibly be. We reaffirmed our three focus areas—launching and supporting charter schools, attracting and preparing talent to teach and lead, and advocating for high-quality public schools—and set clear objectives for each.”
Launching and Supporting Open-Enrollment Public Charter Schools
Usdin and Candler created the School Incubation Program, a 12-month residency-based training program that prepared promising educators to open their own charter schools, as the vehicle for starting new schools. As Usdin described it, the incubator was “a major investment—both financial and time-wise. We incorporated into the plan the opening of three to five of these schools each year.”
NSNO also continued its partnership with BES by providing fellowship funding, giving BES Fellows workspace, and assisting with their acclimation to the New Orleans environment. NSNO benefited by integrating parts of BES’s well-established charter school leader training into its own incubator program.
Prioritizing support for schools The 2008 plan took into account what NSNO learned in 2007 about supporting different types of schools and, as a result, prioritized schools based on two variables: the school’s actual or potential academic achievement and its board of director’s level of commitment to academic achievement. By assessing schools along these two dimensions, Usdin and Candler devised four priority levels for schools that determined the types of services NSNO would provide to charter schools . New and existing charter schools that scored high on both variables commanded the most attention and were categorized as Priority 1 schools. Schools with a strong board commitment but weak performance were considered Priority 2 schools. NSNO would provide the boards of schools in
this category an assessment of the school leadership in hopes it would lead to corrective action. NSNO would support the board in replacing school leadership, should it be necessary.
Schools with weak performance and low commitment from their boards to academic performance were considered Priority 3 schools. “If we are to realize our vision of citywide excellence,” explained Candler, “we have to take a more active role to ensure that these lower-performing schools are held accountable for results, and in the case of school closures, that families, teachers and students have the support they need to find another school quickly.”
All other charter schools were categorized as Priority 4 schools. These schools would benefit from NSNO advocacy on behalf of all charter schools, be invited or self-select on a case-by-case basis to attend trainings, and referred to competent partners if they desired, but NSNO would provide no direct services.
NSNO made a conscious decision to work less intensively with noncharter schools. Usdin confessed, “Matt and I agreed on most issues throughout the planning process. The one major issue that we debated was how to interact with noncharter schools. Matt felt we should provide fewer services to these schools than I did. We agreed that our human capital work would extend to non- charters, but had good debate about to what degree noncharters would have access to our other services. In the end, we made the decision not to focus our direct service efforts there.” (See Exhibit 9 for 2008 school launch and support objectives.)
Attracting and Preparing Talent to Teach and Lead
Usdin described how NSNO’s human capital efforts were mapped to the school prioritizations, saying,
We committed to increase the alignment of our human capital efforts with the needs of our Priority 1 and 2 schools. Attracting well-prepared talent is the most important task for new schools or struggling schools. The New Teacher Project and New Leaders for New Schools will continue to be key partners in meeting the demand for teachers and school leaders in these schools.
The operational plan also included support for TFA’s efforts to double the number of New Orleans corps members to approximately 250 annually. This included leveraging their relationships with national contributors to help TFA fund their expansion efforts. Members of the expanded corps would teach in charter schools in all four priority areas, as well as in noncharter RSD schools. Kira Orange-Jones, the executive director for TFA in New Orleans and a graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, estimated that within three years, one in three New Orleans students would be taught by a TFA corps member or alumnus.
In 2008, NSNO committed to exploring the possibility of incubating a new local organization licensed to train teachers. This “teacher training university” would focus on creating a pipeline of teachers for Priority 1 and 2 schools as a collaborative effort with TNTP, TFA, charter management organizations, local universities, and national reformers.
Advocating for Accountability and Sustainability of High-Quality Public Schools
“We finally admitted that we had a role in advocacy for the charter school movement. We had done a lot before, but we wanted to formalize it,” explained Usdin. NSNO advocacy would be implemented in three ways. First, through Candler’s role as vice president of the Louisiana State Charter School Association’s board of directors and in partnership with the national foundations that invested in the organization, NSNO would provide direction to the association to ensure state legislative efforts were responsive to New Orleans’s needs.
Second, at the state and city levels, NSNO would represent charter issues and challenges to the relevant leadership teams. “We meet regularly with Vallas, the new superintendent of the RSD, to build momentum for the charter movement and to align our visions,” explained Usdin. NSNO did not see a need to engage the OPSB with advocacy efforts during 2008, as charters under their purview were not Priority 1 or 2 schools.
Finally, when discussing key success factors for rebuilding the New Orleans public school system, NSNO board member Cathy Pierson voiced the opinion of many, saying, “Success depends on bringing entire families into the system.” In theory, parents had the opportunity to choose which school their children attended. However, there was some evidence that parents were still tied to the old reputations of their neighborhood schools, whether charter or traditional, and did not understand what being a charter school meant. As one parent noted, “Everybody’s a charter now, post-Katrina. Everybody has the word ‘charter’ behind their name.”2
A study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group in spring 2007 found that only half of the city’s parents thought they had a choice about where their children could enroll in school.3 Some longtime residents were suspicious of “outsiders” coming to the city to “fix” education. As a local pastor described, “You just see these new people constantly coming into your neighborhood, coming in to help your kids, and you get a little scared.”4
With these concerns in mind, NSNO developed a partnership with the New Orleans chapter of the Urban League to bring a local perspective and respected brand to the first annual Parents’ Guide for Public Schools. NSNO began incubating the Parent Organizing Network, led by Aesha Rasheed, the editor of the Parents’ Guide, which was focused on building families’ capacity to measure school quality and to share the information publicly. (See Exhibit 11 for 2008 advocacy objectives.)
Creating Value in a Fluid Environment
“The 2008 Operational Plan was an excellent tool because it provided discipline and direction to our work. However, the fluidity of the New Orleans public school system required that New Schools for New Orleans—and Sarah and Matt more specifically—have the ability to shift gears quickly,” explained NSNO board member Tony Recasner. He continued, “With so many constituencies— partner organizations, BESE, the RSD, schools, parents, students, and funders—NSNO must balance putting a stake in the ground with maintaining the flexibility to change with the environment.”
Under the legislation that had established it, the RSD had three years remaining of its original five-year mandate. Afterward, the state would decide which local entity would be responsible for overseeing schools and what form this entity would take. “The role we might play in ensuring that New Orleans public schools achieved our vision of excellence in the long term and how we would remain relevant as an organization are always top of mind for us,” said Usdin.
Ongoing Relationships with Incubated Schools
In the next three years, there could be as many as 15 schools under the NSNO umbrella as a result of their school incubation efforts. A number of charter management organizations (CMOs) had emerged around the country, with the goal of starting and running networks of charter schools under the same management and support structure. Among other things, CMOs aimed to achieve economies of scale in back-office and strategic functions, leverage best practices across groups of schools, and implement a common accountability framework in order to achieve higher performance than individual schools could on their own.
Though NSNO had not explicitly intended to become a CMO, Usdin observed that many of their activities were similar, saying, “We are already a quasi-CMO with an advocacy arm. The hardest strategic question in my mind is to what degree should we become like a CMO, rather than having a more informal relationship with the schools we incubate as they become more mature.”
Given its vision of ensuring excellent public schools for all children in New Orleans, should NSNO commit more of its resources to developing more formal connections and robust support to the charter schools it helped launch?
Evolving Relationship with the Recovery School District
The dynamic nature of the New Orleans environment at times made operational decisions seem more art than science. For instance, in an effort to ensure an adequate supply of seats for students coming back to New Orleans, a number of groups had made a concerted effort to estimate the population inflow and to open new schools accordingly. As New Orleans continued its transition from crisis to stability, the growth in the number of students did not meet projections and now was expected to stagnate. The result was an oversupply of seats. “We already have more schools this year than we had kids to fill them,” explained RSD superintendent Vallas. “NSNO should recognize that its longer-term vision has to adjust to the constraints of the system. They cannot continue opening schools if the market does not support it.”
After taking over the RSD in fall 2007, Vallas developed a five-prong vision for the RSD that he planned to implement over two years. Rather than simply run the noncharter schools it was responsible for, Vallas’s goal for the RSD was to
Vallas shared the NSNO vision of ensuring excellent public schools for all children in New Orleans. Usdin and Candler recognized, however, that the charter movement was only one part of Vallas’s overall reform strategy. As Vallas explained it, “A core strategy for noncharter RSD schools that are failing is to gradually transition them, one grade at a time, to a more independent model. Within a couple of years, all RSD schools should be charter-like.”
With this in mind, Vallas imagined a different role for NSNO than was currently captured in the 2008 Operational Plan. Specifically, he stated, “I would like to see NSNO move beyond charter schools to also support noncharters within the RSD. Similar to the situation I had in Philadelphia with the Public Education Fund, I would like to see NSNO become a contract service agency to the RSD to support schools, charter and non-charter, within the district.”
Usdin knew the sustainability of NSNO was dependent on a healthy collaboration with the RSD, and recognized that Vallas’s leadership presented a great opportunity for New Orleans public schools. But the kind of relationship Vallas described also posed challenges to NSNO’s strategic intent. Usdin explained, “Our commitment to students in New Orleans is long term. Paul is a great, innovative partner, but with urban superintendent tenures somewhere between three and five years, we have to be careful to make decisions for NSNO that will allow us to achieve our vision regardless of who is the superintendent of the RSD.”
The Future of New Schools for New Orleans
The 2008 Operational Plan had proved an effective document for attracting financial commitments to the rebuilding efforts. The support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund, and the Broad Foundation provided the resources NSNO needed to execute the operational plan. As Usdin explained, “We felt we made the right decisions in the development of the operational plan. We were confident about our strategy for prioritizing schools and about working to get new, high-quality schools up and running.”
But Usdin and Candler were more concerned with creating value in the shifting context than hitting all of the marks laid out in the planning document. Contemplating the changes in the environment, they were determined to adapt the organization’s strategy effectively. Specifically, what were the implications for the type of support they should provide to priority schools as they matured? Should they stick to their decision to limit their work with the noncharter RSD schools to human capital, or should they engage more intensively in other direct services to these schools? Ultimately, what was the best course of action for ensuring excellent public schools for all children in New Orleans?
Sarah Newell Usdin, Founder & President
Sarah Newell Usdin has been involved in the education reform movement since 1992. After teaching in Germany on a Fulbright Scholarship, she joined Teach For America (TFA), a national corps of recent college graduates who teach in our nation’s lowest-income communities. Usdin spent the next three years teaching in Baton Rouge before becoming TFA’s executive director in Louisiana. Believing that more needed to be done to have a systemic impact on the quality of teachers in public schools, she became a partner with The New Teacher Project, a national, nonprofit, teacher recruiting and training organization. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Usdin formed New Schools for New Orleans to assist in the recovery and reformation of public education. Because of an early interest in social justice, Usdin majored in religion and German at Colgate University. She also holds a master’s in curriculum and instruction from Louisiana State University. She has two children, Lyle (5) and Cecile (1), and is married to Tommy.
Matt Candler, CEO
Matt Candler has been involved in the charter school movement since 1996 and has taught and coached and at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Candler worked for Paul Vallas in Chicago on the nation’s first large-scale program designed to combat social promotion, cofounded a K–5 charter school in North Carolina, and started a consulting practice specializing in start-up support for charter school founders. In 2001, Candler joined the KIPP Foundation in San Francisco as the vice president of school development. His team established 37 new charter schools across the country and was responsible for recruiting school leaders, securing contractual and charter relationships with school districts, and securing facilities and financing for each school. In 2004, Candler became the chief operating officer of the New York Center for Charter School Excellence, where he comanaged a $40M endowment to help open, operate, and sustain successful charter schools throughout the city. He joined New Schools for New Orleans as the CEO in October 2007. Candler has an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management with a concentration in education management, managerial economics, and decision making.
ur Vision for the Future:
Excellent public schools for every child in New Orleans.
Our Mission Statement:
The mission of New Schools for New Orleans is to achieve excellent public schools for every child in New Orleans by:
Core Values of Everyone on the New Schools for New Orleans team: No Excuses in the Pursuit of Excellence
Humility and Respect
humility when engaging with teachers, principals, and parents
Sense of Possibility
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