School & District Management

Founder of Green Dot Charter School Network Steps Down

November 23, 2009 2 min read
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UPDATE: I just got off the phone with Steve Barr, who told me a little bit more about his plans for Green Dot America. First, he wanted to make it clear that he’s not leaving Green Dot entirely, since he will stay on its executive board. Though he’s still hammering out the details for Green Dot America, Barr said he envisions helping states and cities “set the right conditions” for improving schools that could lead to something like a “turnaround organization.” He also told me that he wants to keep working with AFT President Randi Weingarten on opportunities (they opened a charter school together in the Bronx) for the national teachers’ union and his organization to be partners. He mentioned Detroit as a possibility. Barr, who wants to keep his family in Los Angeles for now, says he also sees a big opportunity in California, where a governor’s race and a campaign for state superintendent next year could allow him a chance to influence the “conditions” there.

What conditions? “All public schools should have charter-like funding and we should eliminate the middle man,” he answered, referring to local school districts. “I want to put a vision out there that centralization hasn’t really worked for a lot of kids and parents.” Interesting and provocative as always. Barr said to look for an announcement on Green Dot America some time in January.

EARLIER: Steve Barr, the brash founder of a network of charter high schools in Los Angeles, has left his post as chairman of the board of Green Dot Public Schools to work on “national education issues,” according to this report from Southern California Public Radio station, KPCC.

With one Green Dot charter in the Bronx, and his interest in operating some of the troubled high schools here in Washington, Barr’s “national education issues” are apparently code for Green Dot America. Read Alexander Russo’s post here. He’s actually spoken to Barr, who confirms that Green Dot America could launch early next year.

Barr, who recently led Green Dot’s takeover of Locke High School in the Watts area of Los Angeles, is one of the most colorful leaders in the charter school movement. He’s viewed by many of his charter brethren as heretical for his willingness to work with teachers’ unions in his schools. He’s also always been emphatic that he never wanted to just keep opening charter schools everywhere--he’s wanted to take over big, failing public high schools in Los Angeles (and now, apparently, in other cities) and turn them around.

We wrote about him back in 2006, after he opened up a series of five charter high schools around Los Angeles Unified’s Jefferson High. He’d tried, and failed, to talk the district’s leadership into letting him take over Jefferson, so he opened up new schools to offer an alternative for Jefferson kids and parents.

Given all his success with Green Dot in Los Angeles, and the increasing need for expertise at “turning around” high schools because of the billions of dollars in education stimulus funds, a guy with Barr’s experience would be in great demand from many corners.

Here is one writer’s reflection on Barr and his contributions.

As for Barr’s replacement? It will be Shane Martin, a member of Green Dot’s board and the dean of the school of education at Loyola Marymount University.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.

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