Strengthening the Base in Houston

By Maria Moser, Midwest Regional Director, Education, NCLR

Charter school boards have a unique responsibility as guardians of the public trust that created the charter itself. Yet many small independent charter schools do not have access to training and support for this critical work. Through Strengthening the Base, a project funded by the Walton Family Foundation and launched in 2014, NCLR has trained board members from nine participating schools that collectively serve more than 7,000 students through meetings, webinars, and on-site trainings across the country.

Last month, NCLR and AAMA, an NCLR Affiliate, hosted the Strengthening the Base spring meeting at George I. Sanchez Charter School. Board members and directors from NCLR Affiliate schools across the country gathered for NCLR’s personalized, hands-on training. Participants also had an opportunity to tour the school facility and learn about its work from Principal John De La Cruz.

We have learned a few key lessons from this work so far:

  • Charter school boards want support and connection. Our board members are passionate about their schools and the responsibility that accompanies board leadership, but they are often isolated, particularly those in smaller communities with few charter schools. Our cohort meetings provide a chance to share best practices and strategize about common challenges.
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Our board members coming together to share updates.

“The presentations from other schools on best practices were excellent. It was great having an opportunity to see where other schools were in their respective development and growth.” –Participant evaluation

  • Charter school boards are busy and need dedicated time for critical reflection and planning. Charter school boards meet more often than other nonprofit boards—usually monthly. With a constantly revolving academic calendar, meetings can be overwhelmed by small details and immediate concerns. Strengthening the Base provides on-site, full-day retreats for each board to reflect on its priorities and progress. In the second year of this work, each school’s board will revise its self-evaluation and begin self-evaluations for individual board members.

“Meeting as a cohort allows us to step away from the day-to-day work and refocus on the importance of the project.” –Participant evaluation

MAAC Community Charter School’s Education Advisory Committee gathered in October to create goals for the year.

MAAC Community Charter School’s Education Advisory Committee gathered in October to create goals for the year.

  • Charter school boards need help translating education jargon into “real world” meaning. Our board members often bring a great deal of experience from their fields, including law, higher education, nonprofit management, and business, but they may be unsure of how to translate this expertise into the K–12 world, which has its own set of jargon and rules. Orientations for new members and regular updates for everyone on the changing world of K–12 policy are essential. At the Strengthening the Base meeting, NCLR’s Leticia de la Vara provided updates on national education policy issues, including reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the Common Core State Standards.
  • Boards need tools. Small charter schools are often unaware of the resources available to help them work more effectively. Through webinars and meetings, Strengthening the Base has given board members the opportunity to share best practices and apply them to their work. At our March meeting, we compared several examples of leadership evaluation policies and standards, and we worked in small groups to create models of how these standards could be used in our own communities. By the end of the school year, all participant schools will have a revised leadership evaluation that reflects their unique situation while using best practices from across the country.
Two board members analyze the Education Leadership Policy Standards established by the Council of Chief State School Officers and compare them to school leadership indicators.

Two board members analyze the Education Leadership Policy Standards established by the Council of Chief State School Officers and compare them to school leadership indicators.

Strengthening the Base has given cohort schools a sense of camaraderie and a set of valuable tools and skills to improve their governance. NCLR will expand this work to the larger NCLR School Network at our Good Governance Summit on July 9–10 in Kansas City, Mo. Register for the summit today!