A series of recruitment emails from School Board Partners, obtained by Chalkbeat via the Freedom of Information Act, reveals more about the goals of the new non-profit, which hopes to create a “national community” of board members that will be eligible for coaching and consulting services.
The group has thus far targeted board members in Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Memphis, New Orleans, Oakland and Stockton.
While School Board Partners' goal may sound apolitical — professional development for board members — Chalkbeat also points out that the organization is connected to Education Cities, a non-profit that pushes for the "portfolio model," which supports the growth of charter schools.
According to School Board Partners Founder Carrie McPherson Douglass, who says the organization won't favor specific policies, the idea for the organization grew out of her experience as a board member in Bend, Oregon. She thought she was “pretty prepared, pretty knowledgeable,” she told to Chalkbeat, explaining that, in fact, she was faced with “an incredibly unique and difficult challenge.”
This is an experience that has been documented before, with a major cause for concern being inexperienced, ineffective and "rubber-stamp" school board members.
In 2014, for example, the Michigan Association of School Boards published the findings of a survey where nearly 75% of respondents believed formal professional development instruction for school board members was "essential" or at least "very important."
School Board Partners’ connection, however, to an organization that advocates for the growth of school choice does raise some questions about intentions. “School Board Partners’ website says its community will be 'aligned to a common theory of change' — signs that this is a new strategy for portfolio advocates,” Chalkbeat writes.
In the emails Chalkbeat received via the Freedom of Information Act, much of the wooing for School Board Partners in Los Angeles was done by Myrna Castrejón, the head of Great Public Schools Now — a group within the Education Cities network — and was directed at Mónica García and Nick Melvoin, two board members with financial support from charter advocates.
“The records indicate little email communication between Castrejón and L.A.’s other four current board members,” Chalkbeat points out.
As charter schools become more contentious across the country, the School Board Partners plan can be seen as a new route for expanding growth. By tapping into school board members, the organization can come up with ways where traditional public schools are authorizing and supporting charter schools.