By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
As more and more public charter schools are forming in Alabama, a new organization is taking the charge in making sure they succeed at the mission of improving education outcomes.
New Schools for Alabama is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that is focused on the support and growth of excellent charter schools in Alabama so that all kids in the state have access to quality public education.
Originally known as the Alabama Coalition for Public Charter Schools, New Schools for Alabama was founded in 2018 under executive director Tyler Barnett.
Barnett explained to Alabama Daily News that every state that has charter schools has a support organization like theirs in it, but since the law passed in 2015 to officially allow charter schools in Alabama, there has not been an organization solely dedicated to growing charter schools.
“Once folks in the state started to see that there was no organization that was proactively cultivating, supporting and guiding the charter school market in Alabama, I think the folks involved in that work started to see that charter growth was stagnant, in part because there was no sort of activating organization,” Barnett explained.
“We needed something that was much more of a robust resource center for charter schools.”
In working in a state like Alabama that has limited resources, Barnett explained that New Schools sticks to four tailored strategic pillars that they believe will help create better educational opportunities in Alabama.
Those pillars are new school development, technical assistance, community engagement and policy advancement.
A way that they accomplish new school development is through a fellowship program they have created called the School Founders program which incubates local and regional talent who show a passion for developing a new school or better education system in their area.
New Schools provides the fellow with hands-on technical assistance throughout the charter development process, including building a quality application, and then assists in the startup activities involved with creating a new charter school.
The fellow then gets to participate in a full-time administrative residency program for a year with a high performing charter management organization in the country.
“We supply all of this so they can take those best practices, identify them and adapt them to Alabama’s unique context,” Barnett said.
Alabama ranks near the bottom nationwide in K-12 standardized testing. The National Assessment for Education Progress test put Alabama as 49th in the country for fourth and eighth-grade math and reading scores.
Barnett said score line shows it’s time to make a change in Alabama.
“I think that we as a state need to step up and take more proactive measures,” he said. “Unfortunately, what we’ve seen in terms of the data is that there is a disproportionate impact on educational shortcomings on low-income minority kids, and so that’s really why I do what I do and that’s really why New Schools for Alabama was built,” Barnett said.
On their website, New Schools says that 72 of the 76 schools on the state’s failing schools list had a poverty rate of at least 90%, and those schools are the ones that Barnett hopes to help with his organization.
In order for a charter school to be successful, Barnett believes there are two important factors that he looks for when deciding who to spend their resources on.
They first look at who the leader is or what community organization is behind the application, because if it is not rooted in quality leadership, then it probably won’t succeed as well. The second is ensuring that the academic model is rooted in what the kids need in that community.
Currently, New Schools isn’t working directly with any school districts in building new charter schools or conversion charter schools, but Barnett said he has gotten some inquiries from districts that would fall under the significant need category.
New Schools has also been working with the state Department of Education by applying for the federal Charter Schools Program grant, which would award around $25 million to the state for cultivating and growing charter schools.
Barnett said that if Alabama won the grant then it is their goal to grow 15 new charter schools into high needs areas over the next five years.
The U.S. Department of Education has not yet announced the winners of the CSP grants for 2019.