With record high temperatures in sunny Las Vegas, over 4,500 charter school advocates  happily lined the air conditioned halls at Mandalay Bay Convention Center this week. Here’s our recap from day one and two:

Advocating for Public Charters. During the opening keynote, Nina Rees gave a state of the movement speech that shared the current impact of public charter schools. Evidence shows that public charter schools are outperforming schools in their neighborhood. Rees stressed that it’s time to “keep our focus on improving the quality of schools”. Today there are over one million students on the public charter school waitlist and that number will continue to grow year over year. With that data Rees made a call to action for all attendees, encouraging them to sign up as an advocate for public charters and share their story to spotlight the benefits of public charter schools for students, parents, and the community.

Turning up the Heat. Majority Leader Eric Cantor helped kick off day one urging attendees to turn up the heat on education reform and shared success stories of students impacted by the availability of charter schools in their community. “Charter schools aren’t meant to attack other public schools, charter schools are in existence to benefit public schools, to benefit all students” said Cantor. He shared the conference message and passion that education opportunity is foundational to upward mobility and necessary to closing the opportunity gap in our country.

Mission Driven Work. Punam Mathur with the Elaine P Wynn & Family Foundation opened up day two by sharing the story of Las Vegas, the strip, and how despite adversity and objections, developers shared a driven vision to revitalize and reform the desolate desert that we all now know as “sin city” she shared the story of Steve Wynn’s vision and how he was told it would never work and that the terms of the lending needed to develop the Wynn and Encore properties were almost impossible to repay. The overall message was that Wynn had a driven vision and didn’t ever abandon the power of possibility and the depth of commitment. Mathur encouraged attendees to use their time together to plug in and “rejuvenate, reconnect, re-energize.”

The Time is Now. Russlynn Ali stressed the importance of timing and that our country is at a critical crossroads for education reform. “It’s not what we say to who, but how we say it.. as we think about the communities we serve we must remember how the parents of the children we want to help feel” said Ali. She also stated that more than any issue in the U.S., education reform is the most bipartisan and that our unlikely allies are what will help us bring change.

Hey, Hey, What Do Ya Say. As you’ve probably heard before, it’s all about how you message things and it’s not about what you say but what they hear. How we massage education reform, charter schools, innovation, and school choice was the premise of Frank Luntz’s discussion. Luntz, an american political consultant, pollster, and well known strategist is CEO of Luntz Global and brought a lot of helpful messaging tactics to attendees. A great country is driven by great schools and the data shows that parents would like schools to have genuine accountability, be intellectually challenging, and empower students to solve complex problems and think critically. Most of all, parents want opportunities for their children and ensure they’re prepared for adult life in either college or career.

Work Hard. Be Nice. Three years ago The Broad Foundation saw the need to start recognizing public CMO’s that show outstanding student performance, student improvement and achievement gap closure. The requirements for nomination include a minimum of 5 schools operated, open 4 out of the last 5 years, and serving a sizeable percentage of low income and black or latino students. The 3 CMOs up for the prize this year included Achievement First, IDEA Public Schools and KIPP Schools, all of which have a no excuses, student first culture. The winner of the 2014 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools was KIPP Public Schools. Built on the five core principles of believig in all students, working towards the goal of college graduation, a focus on academic and character, and the importance of visionary leadership and excellent teachers- it is no surprise that students at KIPP are showing huge success and growth. As the winner, KIPP received $250,000 to support college readiness in their schools and graciously offered to share it with the other finalists to support scholarships for students as they move into and through college.

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