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Alea M. Cot, Advocates for Academic Excellence in Education, Inc.

What charter school board do you serve on?
Advocates for Academic Excellence in Education, Inc. (Ben Franklin High School)

How did you become involved with your school?
I have always been interested in Benjamin Franklin High School from my years of working at the University of New Orleans. When my daughter, Bella, began her freshman year in 2015, I was asked to serve on the AAEE board. It has been an honor to serve with so many respected community members and I have learned a great deal. I am passionate about education and about Ben Franklin. While I did not go to high school in New Orleans, Ben Franklin reminds me of the seminal moments and amazing teachers I encountered at my school. The high school years are such a formative time for young adults. Education is key to correcting systemic problems in society and achieving equitable outcomes for all citizens. We are preparing the next generation of leaders to be engaged and careful stewards of our civil society and our natural environment.

What makes your school special or unique?
Without a doubt, the students are the special core of Ben Franklin. They are such accomplished, unique young leaders in so many areas. One of my favorite things is hearing from students about their latest achievements or reading about them through briefings from the head of school or social media channels. I feel that our job on the board is to serve them in a way that empowers each student to reach their academic potential and personal goals. I would also add that the alumni community at Franklin is also very strong and very rooted in its history and commitment to the school. This is inspiring and motivates me to work as hard as I can to achieve the promise of Franklin for all students–present and future. Frankly, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the excellent and hard-working faculty, staff and administrators too. A number are also alumni and one faculty member is currently being considered for Louisiana Teacher of the Year!

Why did you choose to serve on your school’s board?
I have been working in higher education at the University of New Orleans for 32 years. As Assistant Provost for International Education, the intersection of education and global understanding has always been my passion. The academic excellence of Franklin and its close relationship to UNO was a combination that intrigued me, particularly as my daughter was beginning her journey at Franklin. I wanted to get involved, learn more, support the school and, hopefully, make a difference for her and her classmates.

What leadership roles have you had while serving on the board?
I served as chair of the Development committee for several years. Two years ago, we formed a separate Foundation, Friends of Franklin, to manage fundraising and development in cooperation with AAEE. In July 2019, I was elected Secretary/Treasurer, which gave me greater access to the inner workings of the school and Board responsibilities. Carlos Zervigon, past president, was a great mentor. As of July 2020, I am the AAEE Board President. It is exciting, invigorating and humbling to have the support of the board and the head of school, Dr. Pat Widhalm, in this important role.

What is your Superpower?
This is such an interesting question. I have always thought that I have a great ability to connect to others from all backgrounds and to empathize with them. My people skills have enabled me to be a very good manager and also to connect others when I find their common interests/abilities can solve problems and improve situations. I lived in five major U.S. cities growing up (my father coached in the NFL) and I believe this gave me the ability to quickly meet new people and adapt to new circumstances. I studied abroad in Thailand and Spain (where I met my husband, Jose, a fellow student on Tulane’s Junior Year Abroad program) and I’ve worked and traveled abroad extensively throughout my career at UNO. My many colleagues and friends in the U.S. and around the world keep me in touch with diverse perspectives and cultures that energize me daily and provide fuel for my superpower.

How can people support your school if they are interested?
Benjamin Franklin is a very diverse high school that draws from almost 90 lower schools each year. Graduates go on to the most prestigious schools in the U.S. in every field imaginable. We are proud to be regarded as one of the top public schools in Louisiana and the nation. Our challenge is to keep up with our dynamic, high-achieving students and provide them with unparalleled opportunities for enrichment and learning. We must continue to provide an outstanding academic curriculum in an environment that celebrates and respects diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as offering extra-curricular activities that amplify their interests and voices. Please visit bfhsla.org to learn more about Ben Franklin and the Friends of Franklin. We are always open to working with volunteers from the community that may have special talents/skills to share with our students.