December 16, 2012


POSITION: Founder and chief executive officer of New Schools for Baton Rouge.AGE: 30.Chris Meyer took over the nonprofit group in April 2012, soon after it was formed by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. Prior to that, he served as deputy superintendent of the state’s Recovery School District and before that as policy director under Paul Pastorek, then the state education superintendent. Meyer graduated from Tulane University in 2004 and joined Teach For America, working at two high schools in the New Orleans area. He has a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University, and served a year as a White House Fellow with the Defense Department.What brought about the creation of New Schools for Baton Rouge?Baton Rouge is home to the lowest-performing schools in Louisiana. Currently, 26 of 31 schools in the north Baton Rouge area are labeled a ‘D’ or ‘F’ by the state. Some had previously been charters, some were run by the Recovery School District, and the rest were operated by the East Baton Rouge school system. Some claim poverty condemns these schools to failure. Yet across the country, we see examples of schools serving students in low-income neighborhoods and producing remarkable results. NSBR, a community partnership, was formed to recruit and support school operators with track records of success so that 12,000 students in north Baton Rouge will have access to excellent schools within the next five years.How closely should Baton Rouge follow the path of post-Katrina New Orleans, which had its schools placed under RSD control?When I began teaching in New Orleans in the year before Katrina, only a quarter of students were at academic grade level, and there was the notorious story of a high school valedictorian who couldn’t pass the state’s basic exit exams. Today, roughly two-thirds of students meet grade-level standards and the city’s high school graduation rate has eclipsed the state’s average. Baton Rouge will have to create its own catalyst for change by engaging and empowering students, families and communities.How did your organization settle on its $30 million fundraising target?Most of the NSBR Excellence Fund fund will be dedicated to launching new schools. The remainder will support related efforts like teacher and principal training. We have received commitments for one-third of this fund and expect to be complete or near completion by summer 2013.How do you assess potential school leaders or management organizations?Our strategy is not focused exclusively on any one school model — charter, traditional public, or private. Our purpose is to find those schools, school models and school operators that have proven excellence with students facing similar circumstances to those of our own.Why such emphasis on charter schools?The best examples in New Orleans and across the country are showing us that a school can be a transformative unit of change if the principal has the power to make decisions for her/his school and if that school is held accountable to its students, families and community. That said, we believe ‘traditional public schools’ also serve students better when the power to make decisions and allocate resources is closer to kids, and we support policies and efforts to increase this type of autonomy and accountability.Charles Lussier, The Advocate

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