by Georgia Charter Schools Association
By Allen Mueller
In a recent AJC article about Governor Deal’s proposed Opportunity School District, Eric Wearne emphasizes the importance of establishing an incubator in Georgia, “whose purpose is to recruit talent and to produce leadership for schools in the OSD.” He goes on to further define this incubator as, “an entity that is specifically set up to train charter school leaders from within Georgia,” that, “could help attract potential school founders from the areas of the state housing our lowest-performing schools, and could also attract talent to those areas from around the country (talent that is currently heading to cities like New Orleans, Memphis, and Nashville).”
As the Executive Director of New Schools for Georgia, the state’s recently-established charter-school incubator, I thank Dr. Wearne for opening the door for this discussion and providing extra impetus for sharing a few concrete details about the need for, and structure of, Georgia’s first charter school incubator.
As Dr. Wearne indicates, incubators are not a new phenomenon and can generally be found in areas where school choice has evolved to the point where demand for high-quality and highly-trained individuals has outstripped supply. School districts also face this challenge, of course, but they have greater internal resources at their command. Charter school leaders require additional intensive training as they must not only run a high-performing school, they must establish it first. To be clear, the intensive training an incubator can provide would be helpful for all school leaders, but is essential for charter school leaders.
Incubators are not homogenous: they vary greatly in mission, vision and programming and are generally tailored to fit the context and needs of the populations they serve. New Schools for Georgia’s Incubator builds upon, and complements, the work of the Georgia Charter Schools Association (GCSA), which houses it and is initially funding its work. GCSA continues to offer essential training and services to those who seek to establish and operate high-quality charter schools, but the incubator offers a more intense, richer, one-year program focused on developing boards and school leaders on parallel, but occasionally intersecting, paths. In the incubator program, boards and school leaders participate actively in training, coaching, exposure to subject experts, and fellowships at high-performing schools in Georgia and nationally. Additionally, our incubator will provide Year-Zero support and pre- and post-opening back-office support. More detail can be provided upon request, but this overview addresses the greatest and most prevalent gaps I have noted in over twelve years working with charter schools in Georgia and across the country.
As some of you may know, I spent the past seven years at Atlanta Public Schools as the head of the district’s charter school office. While there, I worked closely with the Superintendent and other staff members to dismantle the “us and them” mentality that seems to inevitably accompany the introduction of new ideas. We made considerable headway, particularly in the past year, wherein all district schools, regardless of their structure, met regularly, shared best practices, applied for (and received) federal and state grants for joint programs, attended trainings, and accessed vital resources together, as partners with shared goals.
Hearing about the prospect of an incubator, I suspect that many fear we are building a factory to mass-produce new schools to undermine and replace the old schools. To the contrary. I see our goal as one of increasing the capacity of dreamers who wish to make a difference in the lives of young people. In other words, our job is to improve and build, not to destroy or replace. To that end, I approach my current work as I approached my previous work: by focusing on quality, on consistency, on talent and, most of all, on students, rather than on “us” and “them.” Although it is important to acknowledge and respect difference, there is simply no time to waste letting these differences get in the way of the important work that has yet to be done.
Allen Mueller is Executive Director of New Schools for Georgia, the Georgia Charter School Incubator.
The views and opinions expressed on CharterConfidential are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency.