April 19, 2012 Elaine Guarnieri-Nunn joined the California Charter Schools Association in February as Managing Regional Director, San Francisco Bay Area Region. In her role, she oversees CCSA member relations and advocacy priorities for the Bay Area region, which runs the expanse from San Luis Obispo in the south to the Del Norte County and the Oregon border to the north, and oversees intensive work in the greater Bay Area, such as the Oakland Charter School Collaborative and the San Jose Charter School Consortium.
We sat down with Elaine to learn about her background, how she will approach her work with Bay Area members, and her first impressions of CCSA.
Tell us about your background.
I'm originally from New York, but I lived in Los Angeles for 11 years and taught at Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles Unified. I moved back to the East Coast, but quickly knew I wanted to come back to California. I'd been working in higher education, and was intrigued by the growing charter school movement. I was drawn to the innovation coming out of the Bay Area, so when my family moved back to California, we came here. I've been here in the Bay Area for three years.
So you're not new to the concept of education reform.
I started teaching in New York City and Los Angeles Unified. I saw the best of those districts and some of their shortcomings. Later, I was a faculty member at the Johns Hopkins School of Education, where my students were TFA participants getting their Masters degrees. They were engaged in urban reform, and working with them renewed my interest in getting back to the classroom. When we moved to California, I chose to work at a charter and joined Leadership Public Schools in Hayward.
There, I got to see at the ground level what charter leaders deal with, and I also got to go back and test all the ideas I formed while at Hopkins.
I really enjoyed working with teachers, so I moved to the nonprofit EnCorps Teacher Program, which is an innovative organization that supported STEM professionals going into teaching. And I've been at CCSA for about three months.
How do you make the leap from teacher and nonprofit leader to regional advocate?
I feel confident of my knowledge of education. It's wide and deep. And being a leader of a nonprofit is all about nurturing strategic relationships.
I am excited about being able to advocate for schools that I feel are really doing wonderful things for underserved students. I see my role as an education advocate. I want my role and my work with schools to be seen as all about students, about increasing student achievement everywhere. I want to convey to districts that when they help charters, they help all students.
I'm looking forward to engaging school board members and people in the community, including those who have more negative or unfocused views, to help them learn more about charters. The more people--legislators, board members, members of the community--know about charters, the more they won't think of charters as monolithic entities, taking away resources. It's a matter of finding their interest--maybe it's special education, professional development, or teacher development-- and using that as a way to leverage the beginning of a relationship.
What are your impressions of the charter school movement in general and specifically in the Bay Area?
The mission of charter schools is the mission of all good educators: offering choice and quality education to students and families.
From the larger CMOs like Rocketship to smaller schools like Oakland School of the Arts, Bay Area charters are the most incredibly diverse group of schools I've ever seen. They're really amazing operations, full of committed, experienced leaders who are really passionate about serving their communities and offering places of choice.
Take Oakland School of the Arts as an example. Before the school existed, there was no school like that for the Oakland community. You think of how large the city is, and yet, students weren't offered that type of arts education, especially with recent cuts to funding. This school is filling a need; charters really are enrichments to the community.
What's the response been like from members, as you've started getting to know leaders from across the region?
People are very receptive to my coming by and interested in my background. They've been very open in terms of telling me about their instructional programs and their needs. I've been going on a bit of a listening tour, asking "what would you like to see, how often would you like to meet," etc. As a result of their answers, I want to think very carefully about our spring regional meetings. I want to make sure we're listening to members, make sure the agenda reflects what they need.
Finally, what are your goals as Managing Regional Director?
One of my first goals is to continue to offer leadership to San Francisco charter leaders and their community. Second, I want to continue to work with Kate Nicol (Director, Oakland Charter School Collaborative) and Alicia Gallegos (San Jose Charter School Consortium) to help facilitate the work they're doing. Third, I want to be able to advocate for new schools and communities. In my role, that means keeping my eyes open for areas that might be ripe for the spreading of new charters and paving the way for replication or expansion, in addition to working with CCSA's School Development and Support Team.