Christopher Gergen doesn’t just think outside the box; he reinvents it.

Gergen, who is based in Durham, NC, is nationally-renowned for his innovative approach to leadership, entrepreneurship, and learning. He served as a founding board member at the E.L. Haynes Public Charter

School in Washington, D.C. He also served as a Hart Leadership Visiting Lecturer at Duke University.

Gergen has brought his considerable expertise as a successful businessman, nonprofit leader, and educational choice advocate to the Accelerator Program. His work in close collaboration with Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC) staff – researching, developing best practices, and creating a framework for the program – will help more potential school leaders across the state open high-quality, sustainable public charter schools.

He shared his thoughts on the challenges and opportunities of opening a public charter school and why the risk is worth the reward.

 

You’ve been working with the Accelerator Program since the beginning. Why was it so important for you to be involved in this effort?

Gergen: I like the idea of being able to drive innovation across the state in a way that really has not been done in other areas of the country. Some of the things we’re doing right now in North Carolina are really pioneering examples for other states.

How does the Accelerator Program compare with other public charter school incubators throughout the nation?

Gergen: The thing that makes the Accelerator Program different than similar ones across the country is its statewide impact, rural focus, and the ability to bring in national best practices and thought leaders who will have a sustained impact over the course of the program and beyond.

What is the future potential for the Accelerator Program?

Gergen: There is much pent-up demand in North Carolina for public charter schools. But the challenge with that is the quality of applications is mixed. We have to make sure there is a pipeline of high-quality public charter schools. The Accelerator Program does that.

One of the signature components of the Accelerator Program is that it introduces participants to best practices by national experts. Why is that important and how do North Carolina communities benefit?

Gergen: The Accelerator program allows participants to “learn from other people’s mistakes” while getting introduced to best practices that are not yet in North Carolina. Second, it establishes relationships and builds the next generation of top charter school leaders. Finally, the more we can expose local charter school leaders to thought leaders in the state and country, the higher the chances are of having these best practices find their way into the DNA of the schools themselves.

What are some best practices for public charter schools?

Gergen: One best practice technique we’re promoting within North Carolina is strong community engagement strategies, particularly developing solid relationships with local public school districts through a District-Charter Compact.

These compacts help public charter schools and local traditional public schools figure out ways they can work closely together to improve educational delivery in their communities.

What are some challenges to opening a public charter school?

Gergen: Getting a public charter school approved is only the first step in the process. The planning year and the first few operational years are a fragile time. You have a governing board that is getting its feet under itself and faculty who are learning to work together as a team.
Having the right foundation, which includes a good operational plan and sound budget, during those first few years is critical to the long-term success of a school.

How does the NC Accelerator Program help aspiring public charter school leaders overcome these challenges?

Gergen: The Accelerator Program creates a peer network so that charter school leaders can learn from one another and so they don’t feel like they are alone in the process.

What impact does it have on a community to get a public charter school for the very first time?

Gergen: For the families these public charter schools serves, it changes their lives because having access to a world-class education gets them to a place they would have not otherwise gotten.

Bringing families together in a very healthy, vibrant way has a ripple effect in the neighborhoods in which families live. Creating high-quality, innovative schools that are doing interesting things will also serve as a model for the entire school district.