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The Sundance Of School Reform (or, "What I Learned At The NSVF Summit")

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There was no really big news at the NSVF summit in New Orleans, but I did learn some things, large and small: For example, Internet access at the Ritz costs $275 per person but a secret helper helped me out (thanks!).

There was lots of talk about engaging with the public side, but there were few public-sector (SEA, LEA, school-level) folks there to provide a reality check. There was lots of talk about a "diversified provider" model of school district (ie, district plus charter schools). However, no one can really agree on what a "turnaround" school is yet (they're working on it). I still don't understand the difference between venture philanthropy and the regular kind, except that it is younger, whiter, and has much cooler clothes.

What about the people? Well, everybody knew everybody else, except me (well some nice folks did come up and say hi -- Barbara Bennett, for example, and charter schools guru Nelson Smith). Lots of smarts in the room, that much was clear. So far, at least, Steve Barr from Green Dot won't start charters in the Valley, much less outside LA. Rick Hess changes clothes frequently. Ben Wildavsky is grantmaking up a storm in his newish job at Kauffman. New Leaders' Jon Schnur is living down here, temporarily, and just had a baby girl. Thad Nodine (from ISKME) knows all the best hangouts outside the Quarter. Michael Bennett (from Denver) seems to think out loud -- sometimes at length. Temp Keller is looking for a star to run RISE Chicago. It seems like Andy Rotherham is always thinking a mile a minute. Mike Petrilli wants to "swap" AYP for HQT (why not?). Paul Vallas might be John Lithgow's long-lost brother (credit: GT). Nice to see Lincoln Kaplan and many others.

What else? NSNO's Sarah Usdin throws a great Derby Party. Cochon just won a James Beard award for best restaurant in the South (great drinks, too). Crawfish boils on a cool night are a good thing (thanks, ML). Next year, they're going to be in DC.

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To paraphrase President Kennedy’s characterization of Washington, venture philanthropy – sometimes called “the new philanthropy,” combines the humility of venture capital with the hands on capacity of the “old” philanthropy. The question is: after ten years in the field, does it matter?

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