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Rocketship Pulls Back Throttle on Multistate Expansion

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Rocketship, the charter management organization that has been grabbing headlines for its explosive national growth strategy, has been reevaluating those goals recently.

The San Jose, Calif.-based nonprofit charter management organization has tabled plans to open schools in Texas as well as talks to open shop in Indianapolis and New Orleans. Instead, Rocketship will focus on growing its network in the states where it already has opened or is close to opening schools: California, Wisconsin, Tennessee, and the District of Columbia.

Rocketship hit snags as it tried to establish a multistate network among a smorgasbord of different state charter school laws.

"In Wisconsin there were some issues on the funding side that we didn't understand early enough," says Katy Venskus, Rocketship vice president of policy. "Same thing in Tennessee, there were a few regulatory issues that we didn't understand before we went in there. Now we're trying to fix those things as we go."

Venskus says it's more efficient to focus on growing in areas where the organization has already untangled the knot of community expectations and state regulations.

"We need to put systems in place in how to identify those policy challenges and how to address them before we start opening schools," says Venskus. "And a lot of that does have to do with the authorizing structure," basically who in a state approves charter applications and oversees the schools once they open.

Author and journalist Richard Whitmire recently wrote a book about Rocketship's ambitious growth model. He had this to say about the network's expansion in a June interview with Charters & Choice:

"They had a lot to learn about building a charter school network. Rocketship went through a period that a lot of charter school groups go through: You start off killing it on test scores, you conclude you've pretty much got this figured out, and then you reach a certain number of schools (10 or so) and it catches up with you." 

In the meantime, Rocketship is opening its first school in Nashville, Tenn., this fall and is on track to open its first campus in the District of Columbia the following year. Venskus emphasizes that Rocketship is still expanding its fleet of about 10 campuses. 

"We've got four markets. We're going to continue to open schools in all of those markets, to work with parents and multiple authorizer structures, and really start to iron those things out that set us up to be successful when we resume that geographic expansion in a couple of years," she says.

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