Board Member Focus: Albert Christman, Delhi Charter School

AlbertChristman-sqWhy did you choose to serve on your school’s board?
When the charter school law was first passed I was a member of the Richland Parish School Board. Like many in our area, I was frustrated with the quality of our schools but found that as a member of the parish school board I could do very little to change that, considering the reluctance of fellow board members to question the administration of the district. A local businessman came to me with his own concerns about the quality of our public schools, and together we embarked on a plan to establish a charter school in the Delhi area. Our school was one of the first in the state so we did not have a lot of support or guidance, but we eventually got the plan approved, funding established through the efforts of then State Representative Francis Thompson (now Senator Francis Thompson) and moved to establish a temporary facility. I suppose my involvement could be seen as voluntary, but in reality my involvement and that of others was mandatory if we were going to improve the educational opportunities of all children in our area. Prior to the establishment of charter schools in this state, only students whose parents had the financial resources to send their children to a private school actually had a choice as to where their children would attend school. Now, every parent in our area has a viable choice of a public school that requires no tuition to be paid, and for that reason I am glad that I got involved.

How did you become involved with your school?
I really did not want to be a member of the board that managed the school, but when it became clear that someone with school board experience was needed, I reluctantly agreed to serve. I was elected the first Chairman of the Board and have served in that capacity ever since. This has been one of the most rewarding experiences that I have ever had.

What was compelling about the opportunity?
The compelling thought I had about serving on the board was the opportunity I saw for this school to be a place where students could find a strong academic learning environment, classroom teachers could enjoy a disciplined teaching environment and parents could know that everything possible would be done to make the school a safe environment for their children. We have instituted measures that, while not always popular with everyone, have at least established a school where learning, teaching and safety are all accomplished for the benefit of each student.

What leadership roles have you held while serving on the board?
As previously stated, I have served as Chairman of the Board since the beginning of the school. I have chaired the Finance Committee, the Personnel Committee, the Discipline Committee and I continue to chair the Curriculum Committee. Chairing the Curriculum Committee has been exciting due to the opportunity to exchange viewpoints with parents, teachers and administrators concerning what this school should offer that would give our students the best advantage in their future endeavors, whether it be college, technical school or the workforce.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you had know before?
We actually started working on the concept of this school in 1999 or 2000, and opened it only a couple of weeks before the infamous events of 9/11. I can’t remember all the details that far back so, no, I can’t think of anything that I know now that I wish I had known back then. But I will say that I probably did not realize when we started this school just how much work would be involved during the first three to five years. Also, back then the opposition to charters was much stronger than it is today, which did not help matters, either. New charters today have a number of schools that they can call on for assistance, and we have helped several in their efforts to get started.

Finally, the efforts by the Department of Education are much more helpful now than years ago when charter schools were under the direct oversight of BESE, which had a very limited staff assigned to charters. It’s all much better today and the Department of Education staff is a highly skilled group dedicated to the purposes of school choice. Add to that the advocacy that we now have in the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools and one can see that this is a movement that should serve the children of Louisiana for many years to come. I am proud to have had the opportunity to participate in some small way and would strongly encourage others to do the same.