CharterFolk Chat #3 – Nina Rees on the Importance of Having a Clear North Star

Good morning, CharterFolk.

Today I’m delighted to be able to share our third CharterFolk Chat, this one with Nina Rees, CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Here is how I introduced Nina in the interview:

I am a very big fan of Nina Rees …. I was on the Board of the National Alliance for seven years …. Nina came into the organization at a key moment of vulnerability. There was a question about whether the Alliance should even exist as an organization. And I will let CharterFolk know that … Nina brought a gravitas, a smarts, a commitment, and a quiet resolve that answered that question in a matter of just a few months. And then, in the years after that, Nina assembled a team and built strength which has resulted in a number of very important wins for charter schools at a federal level. Also in the last … four years, Nina has … managed this balance of having a relationship with this administration, while at the same time letting the administration know on many occasions that what it was standing for are things counter to what many CharterFolk think acceptable. It has been a very difficult balance to strike, and I don’t know anyone who could have struck it as well as Nina has. So for all sorts of reasons, I have nothing but respect and affection for Nina Reese and total gratitude that you are here with us for our third CharterFolk chat.

Nina shared smart observations throughout the interview. I hope you will have a chance to listen to it in its entirety, but for those who would like to know where to dive in, I provide a summary of some of the highlights below:

  • At the 3:50 mark, Nina starts with the good news, providing the latest information about charter school enrollment and highlighting places like DC where charter school growth has resulted in public education improving for all students.
  • At the 8:00 point, Nina acknowledges the great blowback we are facing but she reminds us all that “the reason that things are getting tougher … is because we are having an impact.”
  • At the 10:45 mark, Nina agrees that discussions about racial justice happening in our country after the death of George Floyd will ultimately affect policy discussion about public education, but she shares her dismay that this has not happened already at the level of urgency she thinks appropriate.
  • At 14:45, Nina recounts her entry point to the work in the 1990’s and shares her belief that “the coalition that brought us to this place, will not take us to the next level.”
  • At the 20:00 mark, Nina describes how charter schools’ innovative nature has allowed us to pivot more quickly to do what kids and families need during the COVID crisis.
  • At the 27:00 point, Nina agrees with me that we need to be working to achieve a new narrative for charter schools, but rather than seeing a different policy agenda to be the key driver of the narrative, she sees the need for more robust communications channels. She also advises against any approach that would identify school districts as the enemy.
  • At 36:45, Nina observes that some advocacy and communications efforts will resonate more with policy makers than parents. For parents, she recommends that we continue to highlight that charter schools are able to make programs suited to the unique needs of individual students.
  • At 39:28, in response to my prod that the Alliance should become a membership organization in order to better anchor our national advocacy and political infrastructure, Nina shares that this is something the organization is currently considering, but she thinks it is not a good idea to make decisions about infrastructure before identifying the long-term goal toward which we are working.
  • At 41:40, Nina underscores how important it is for advocacy organizations to have C4s and PACs and to be building political infrastructure proactively so that we have it when the need arises.
  • At 45:20, Nina identifies one of the National Alliance’s biggest value-adds to be the information sharing and communication support the organization provides to state associations across the country.
  • At 49:15, Nina says she is “not a fan of pitting one sector against another, but I do think you need to articulate what you are trying to do, and to the extent that that vision is grander and better than what we have, people are going to start following you in that direction.”
  • It culminates with Nina at 50:10 underscoring how we have to be “clearer about our North Star and painting that image of what we are trying to achieve.”

Amen. I couldn’t agree more. Without a clear North Star, my sense is that our movement is in grave peril, and I am greatly heartened to know that Nina is doing all she can to help our movement define that overarching goal toward which we are all aspiring.

It’s yet another reason I thank Nina for her strong leadership of the Alliance. I also thank her for appearing with us here at CharterFolk.