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Group Works With Employers to Help Parents Navigate New Orleans Schools

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David Keeling and some colleagues from TNTP, an organization that deals with teacher quality issues, had worked on education policy throughout the country for years before they had their own kids. When they did, they saw firsthand how difficult it is to figure out where to send their children to school and stay involved after they got in. 

So, they branched out with a new non-profit organization working in New Orleans to help parents navigate the school systems—both in choosing public or charter schools and in assisting children after they are enrolled. 

"We felt, if it's challenging for us to make those choices, how on earth [is it] for parents who are working long hours, not engaged in the system, and [who] might be making $10 an hour?" said Keeling, a founding partner who lives in Chicago. "I think it was a real source of inspiration for us."

The fledgling group is called EdNavigator, and it began its work in New Orleans about six months ago.

It's an unusual take on helping parents: EdNavigator recruits workplaces to give employees help with the school system as part of their benefit packages. EdNavigator then gives support to those parents with challenges families face in the schools—choosing a campus, enrollment, academic issues, getting more challenging lessons or whatever they need.

It's a small operation at this point: Only one employer, International House Hotel, has signed on. Just nine parents are receiving assistance.

Keeling is eager to share how the group has helped so far. One 29-year-old single mother, a hotel housekeeper, had six children in five different schools. EdNavigator helped her consolidate the children, from Head Start to high school, into two schools. Her full story is on EdNavigator's website.

Employers pay for the service. The cost now is $250 per employee and $37 a month. It's a benefit offered by the employer, much like health care, but free to the employee.

Nationwide, parents have increasingly received more help with school choice. There's a growing business of education consultants hired by parents to help select and enroll in public and charter schools, as Arianna Prothero of Education Week wrote about last year. Also, some districts themselves are trying to make it easier to choose and enroll in schools, as New Orleans does with a universal enrollment system.

But the concept of an employer helping its employees with the school system, as EdNavigator does, seems to be rare. 

EdNavigator runs one other program, working with day-care providers and preschools to help parents of incoming kindergartners enroll in schools in the complex New Orleans choice system. (Education Week has extensively covered New Orleans schools, including the 2015 project, "The Re-Education of New Orleans," about the 10 years after Hurricane Katrina.)

The preschool program and other costs are funded through grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Walton Family Foundation, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

(Education Week receives grant funding from the Carnegie Corporation for its coverage of trends in K-12 innovation, and the Walton Family Foundation for its coverage of families' school choice opportunities and other issues, including on this blog. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.)

Keeling and the other two founding partners all came from TNTP, formerly known as The New Teacher Project, and all began working in education policy before having children. Now, all three have children in preschool and elementary grades in public and charter schools.

Keeling reached out to me after seeing my introductory blog post about my experiences as a new mother in the school system. We talked about how it's one thing to have policies about school choice theoretically, but a different thing to deal with the practical concerns, such as drive-time to other schools and lack of seats in coveted campuses. It's something Keeling didn't quite grasp until he, too, was a father.

His group has ambitious plans, hoping for 1,000 families to sign up through more and new employers by the end of the year. Eventually, it hopes to expand to 5,000 families in New Orleans alone and then to other cities.

I'm curious to see how this group develops. Education Week will be touching base from time to time to see how, or if, this concept catches on.

Contact Sarah Tully at [email protected].

Follow @ParentAndPublic for the latest news on schools and parental involvement.

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