Growing up in North Louisiana, faith and family were two staples of my childhood experience. We were fortunate to have a large family who lived close by (even friends of the family we called “cousins”), and would find any reason at all to gather and celebrate. My faith was instilled in me early on—both through my family and the church congregation my grandmother and her mother attended from a young age. We were connected to church throughout the week, and, of course, twice on Sundays. Sunday dinner was the orbit around which my childhood revolved.
As I grew older, I became fascinated with understanding the different experiences of others—if and where they went to church, the family and cultural traditions that were important to them, etc. In Shreveport, you could find a church on nearly every corner – some large, others small; some swaying charismatically to rock concert-like music, others still and reverent with only an organ to guide its rhythm. The city offered a flavor to fit any taste for those interested in attending church. And through those congregations, community was built, life lessons gained, and purpose determined.
As New Schools for Baton Rouge works to deliver excellent school options for students across the city, I reflect on the lessons of my childhood and how those apply to our mission. The church can be a coalition of individuals choosing to come together to build community and align to common purposes, provide frameworks for understanding and making decisions, and offer support and growth opportunities that meet individual needs. In many ways, the church feels like what most people want in their schools:
- The ability to choose a school that best meets the needs of a child;
- Principals who have the respect of and ability to lead adults to accomplishing clear goals; and
- Evidence that students are growing academically, socially, and emotionally for the better.
Not all our families have this opportunity when it comes to schools. For many of our families, particularly those with fewer means, the school their child attends is the result of an assignment, not a choice; unseen central office bureaucrats call the shots, not teachers or the principal; academic achievement is a hope, not a guarantee.
Like churches, we need schools that change lives. We are working every day to increase the number and type of excellent school options in Baton Rouge by recruiting the highest performing schools from across the country and raising resources to help support the replication of those schools here.