Charter heroes at Charter School Growth Fund

Charter heroes Mike Feinberg, Chris Barbic, and Ref Rodriguez participated on a Kevin Hall moderated kick off panel at a Charter School Growth Fund meeting in Denver.

On the subject of growth:

MF: Growth is a function of people quality not powerpoint quality

CB: We all want a healthy and smart organization. We have lots of consultants helping with strategy but too much of that can damage health. This is hard by not complicated—culture and talent are key. Clarity on non-negotiables is key to saying ‘no’ when temptation is to say ‘yes’ to everything.

RR: Do not chase the money—you can always get more. Be clear about non-negotiables—you can’t always get more quality.

Advice to Duncan on the next wave of charters:

MF: Provide support for expanding high performing operators. Reduce barriers to getting more great people into schools. Push p16; hold higher ed accountable for completion rates.

CB: We need buildings. Competitive collaboration—district partnerships—will be key to scale

RR: Facilities inequity must be addressed. Make the sector sexy to a new generation especially people of color.

5 years ahead:

MF: Key is developing the next generation of leadership. We need to do more sharing—we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Our initiative on Healthy Schools is a systematic way to ensure quality.

CB: The philanthropic buzzword is human capital, meanwhile we’re trying to open schools to serve kids. We need sustained philanthropic support. We’re pushing into the blob and hope it gets better. We need to be much more politically savvy to come out ahead after the next five years of ground wars as penetration grows.

RR: Mobilizing parents will be key to support Yolie’s initiative in LA to ensure that charters get new buildings. We’re excited about turnaround schools and need to partner with community assets (CBO, parents, students)

Where’s the tipping point and how can charters improve district schools?

MF: we don’t hear ‘thank you for making us better’ but we do see more districts marketing and focus on results. We should spend more time on advocacy—especially organizing parents.

CB: I don’t think most district feel the pain yet and won’t pay attention until they do.

How to manage innovation:

CB: Pick your shots. Take advantage of new schools to try things that haven’t been done; build a feedback loop to measure and share what; structured incentives to share success. When an experiment doesn’t work, declare it a failure and move on. Fail fast, move quickly.

When founders leave the original schools

RR: The belief from the start at PUC was that we needed to grow leadership from within. Invest in people and make sure they know they have a place to go.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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