“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”- Maya Angelou
Serving as an educational leader in the post-Katrina landscape has been likened to building a plane while it flies. There are no rules to describe how the nation’s only majority charter school district should function. Sure, individual charter schools and charter management organizations have cobbled together best practices on how to operate charter schools within the traditional district landscape, but in New Orleans that landscape looks and feels very different for school leaders—especially leaders of color or women who often lack access to the networks and resources available to their peers.
In many ways, I have been fortunate as a female minority leader in the education space. I lead a school which has operated for over 38 years, so the established reputation and history of the school open doors for me in areas such as enrollment and philanthropic giving that would be more difficult in another setting. In spite of these advantages, I still find myself grappling with issues such as—how do we provide a more rigorous and well-balanced education for students? How do we address concerns related to racial, gender, and socio-economic equality? How do we provide training to ensure a well-qualified workforce? And, finally, how will we pay for it all? At times, these issues can feel overwhelming. When that happens, I remember the words of Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” This reminds me that all of the answers don’t exist and we are all trying to figure out the best way forward. I take solace in the fact that this is a learning process and I have the space to make the best decisions for the students and families I serve, unencumbered by local dictates and policies. That is the beauty and the charge of leading charter schools.
I am indeed fortunate that Audubon Schools has been so invested in my own professional growth and development. I am afforded both the autonomy and the resources to pursue professional learning opportunities, such as participating in national conferences, taking part in educational training programs, visiting schools nationwide, and pursuing additional instruction from formal degree granting or credentialing programs. I have always been supported in my endeavors to become a better leader for this organization. One of the frequent misconceptions about charter schools is that they only focus on providing professional development for school-based educators. In my experience, that is absolutely false. Since I have worked for Audubon in a leadership capacity, I have always been encouraged to take part in professional learning both locally and nationally to build my capacity as a leader. Contrary to many people’s belief that charter schools are ran by business people, Audubon, along with most other charter schools in New Orleans, is operated by educators who understand the complexities of the classroom and work directly with children. Since we do understand this, it helps to shape the decisions we make. This is not always easy, but it helps to ensure that our mission of serving children remains clear in everything we do.
One of the qualities that first attracted me to Audubon was its focus on educating the whole child through Montessori, French, and arts education. Audubon is and has always been crystal clear about what it provides for families—an educational experience that will assist children in growing up to be productive citizens of the world. The curriculums that we utilize set Audubon apart from other schools, however, I believe it is our commitment to honoring each person’s individuality that really makes Audubon unique. This individual approach to learning is also one of the key factors that have ensured that Audubon students succeed, along with a supportive parent base and great faculty/staff who receive continual professional development.
As a leader, I enjoy visiting classrooms more than anything. I enjoy seeing teachers encourage the “spark” for students. In my opinion, seeing a student fall in love with learning is the greatest reward of being an educator.
Latoye A. Brown is the Chief Executive Officer of Audubon Schools. She also has participated in the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools School Leaders of Color convening.
Read more about Women’s History Month celebrations at charter schools across the country!