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A Tested Tool to Better Serve Idaho Students – Flexibility in Charter School Leadership

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At Bluum, we aim to help Idaho’s children reach their fullest potential by cultivating great leaders and growing innovative schools. Through our experience of helping to open or expand 15 high-performing schools throughout the state, and empowering six outstanding educators to design, build, and launch high-performing public charter schools, we have learned some lessons about quality, leadership, and innovation.

This week, we were asked to share our experience as it relates to proposed legislation by the Idaho Charter School Network, advocating for an alternative certification for charter school Administrators. Here are our comments:

“Charter schools by legislative intent are supposed to ‘operate independently from the existing traditional school district structures.’ A key flexibility for charter schools is who they can hire to run their buildings.

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter schools “28 state charter school laws do not require certification of any kind.” This means that public charter schools in most states are able to hire and pay administrators who have been successful in the military, law, business or government to operate and manage schools. In fact, in Idaho we have some outstanding public charter schools that are already being run by non-traditional school leaders, but under current statute these individuals are not funded as school administrators.

Thus, charter schools have to hire a certificated administrator to carry out “legally required” activities. This drives up the cost of doing business for some of our best public charter schools as they hire a certificated administrator purely for compliance purposes. What’s more, it is an additional cost of entry for some outstanding leadership talent that might otherwise work in our schools and serve our students.

Research tells us that, “effective principals are key to strengthening teaching and schools, but there has been an insufficient investment in recruiting, preparing and supporting great principals, particularly in high-poverty schools.” In the $17 million Federal Charter Schools Program grant Bluum received in 2018 on behalf of the state of Idaho we committed ourselves to serving “economically disadvantaged and minority students.”

According to the Federal Every Student Succeeds Act one of the keys to delivering on this commitment is creating charter schools that are “exempt from significant State or local rules that inhibit the flexible operation and management of public schools.” Flexibility in who can lead and be paid to administer a public charter school is one of the most important flexibilities available to a public charter school governing board.

To be clear, no one wants to open up the charter school leadership ranks to just anyone who thinks they can run a school. That would be a mistake. What the Idaho Charter School Network is proposing is a streamlined, but highly rigorous alternative certification process that would allow a public charter school board of directors to hire the administrator they think can best serve their school and children. So long as that person:

  1. Has at least a bachelor’s degree;
  2. Passes a criminal background check;
  3. Completes three credit hours in statewide framework for teacher evaluations; and
  4. Submits a letter from the board of directors stating that the board has carefully considered the administrator, has chosen to hire them, and is committed to overseeing their performance in compliance with an approved charter authorizer performance

In addition to the four points above, to be eligible for the certificate, an individual must have one or more of the following experience criteria:

  1. Five or more years of experience administering a public school;
  2. A post-baccalaureate degree and a minimum of five years of experience in school administration, public administration, business administration or military administration;
  3. Successful competition of a nationally recognized charter school leaders fellowship; or
  4. Five or more years of teaching

We all want the very best leaders we can attract to all of our public schools. Our children deserve nothing less. However, by design and in state statute, public charter schools are supposed to be different and the proposed legislation for an alternative pathway for strong charter school administrators is not only good public policy but a smart way to help get great leaders with nontraditional backgrounds into some of our public charter schools. It is just another tool, tried and tested in other states, to try and better serve Idaho families and students. In a state as rapidly growing as ours it makes sense to seek additional flexibilities for our schools, and charters are the perfect place to test such flexibilities.”