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News: League News

Rundown: The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) Annual Leadership Conference

Wednesday, November 14, 2018  
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By Jen Savino, Ph.D., M.Ed.  
New School Development Specialist

The theme of this year’s conference was Expect More. Featured speakers were Sylvia Mendez, Civil Rights Activist & Medal of Freedom recipient, Terrence Roberts, one of the Little Rock Nine who was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal as an adult, and Sekou Andrews, creator of the performing arts genre Poetic Voice, a fusion of spoken word poetry with inspirational speaking. The sessions covered a range of topics, from applicant capacity interviews to tough lessons learned from closing charter schools. Notable presentations included “Rural Authorizing and Charter Schools with Indigenous Constituencies,” “Overcoming Barriers to Equitable Enrollment,” and “Communications Jedi: Master Comms Tips and Tricks to Succeed as an Authorizer.”

Facilitated by authorizers from New York and Illinois, “The Power of Transparent Authorizing: How to Support Schools that are Struggling,” drew a standing-room only crowd, and, using a case study from NY,  engaged the audience in brainstorming around the solutions of transparency, proactive oversight, and using accountability as a formative tool as alternatives to closure, which, they admitted, tends to be the default option.

One session in particular addressed an increasingly relevant topic for charters and authorizers, especially near Denver -- facilities. Entitled, “The Schoolhouse Problem: The Role of the Authorizer in Overcoming Facility Challenges,” the session approached facilities as one of the primary barriers to successful charter school launch and growth. The presenters, from the Center for Reinventing Public Education, EPR Properties, and Highmark School Development, juxtaposed the ideal state of facilities with the current reality and discussed the funding options and best practices that would support authorizers in helping schools bridge that gap.

An additional topic that has arisen as particularly important to growing and sustaining a charter school was addressed by authorizers from Colorado (Aurora, D49, and JeffCo), California, and Florida -- “Legitimate Community Input in the Authorizing Process.” The discussion revolved around conceptions of what “community support” encompasses and what kind of stakeholders have a right to speak for “the community,” whether authorizers should mandate community outreach and engagement to ensure community buy-in and support, and what lenses are most effective (legal, political, market-share) to use in developing solutions around community input issues.

NACSA Updates their Principles & Standards for Quality Authorizing

NACSA also recently released the newest edition of their Principles & Standards for Quality Authorizing; notable adjustments and additions from the 2015 to the 2018 editions include (emphasis added):

  • An increased focus on ensuring students have “equitable access to inclusive services for all students” (2018) rather than equal access for special populations (2015);

  • The addition of reflective practices to the authorizer’s work toward continuous improvement;

  • Asking that authorizers “demonstrate an on-going commitment to developing and retaining staff members” (2018) rather than simply providing “for regular professional development for the agency’s leadership and staff” (2015);

  • A shift from quality authorizers being “open to considering” and “expressing a commitment to serve” students with learning differences (2015) to “requiring applicants to demonstrate capacity to serve students with diverse needs” (2018);

  • Emphasizing that quality authorizers remain “unbiased” in their “treatment of applicants” (2018), rather than just being “fair” (2015);

  • The addition of the following statement in the “Rigorous Decision Making” section: “Approves applications that comprise a detailed plan for school opening, operation, and fiscal stability, with little substantive work left for later development” (2018); and

  • Stronger statements such as: “A quality authorizer ensures authorizing is visible, championed, and adequately resourced, rather than buried in bureaucracy, and the people responsible for day-to-day authorizing functions have influence over decision making.”

NACSA Releases Informational Videos on Authorizing and Quality

NACSA just released informational videos that detail what authorizers do and why they matter! The goal is to spread the work and help influencers understand and appreciate the hard work of creating quality schools that authorizers do. Check out The Basics of Authorizing and Why Authorizing Matters for Quality videos, share them with your colleagues and acquaintances, and help spread the word to support amazing Authorizers!

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