HOUSTON, TX – The Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) today announced that Chris Barbic has joined the Foundation as a senior education fellow and will help to lead LJAF’s efforts to improve K-12 education in the United States. Mr. Barbic is the founding superintendent of the state of Tennessee’s Achievement School District, which was established to dramatically improve student outcomes at the state’s lowest-performing schools. He is also the founder of YES Prep Public Schools, a network of free, open-enrollment public charter schools in Houston.
“For more than a decade-and-a-half, Chris has been at the forefront of the movement to transform K-12 education through the development of innovative school models and governance structures,” said LJAF President Denis Calabrese. “We are pleased that he has chosen to join the Foundation and believe that he will provide important insight as we seek to further our investments and support cities and states that are committed to improving their public education systems.”
As a senior education fellow, Mr. Barbic will work to advance the portfolio model of school governance, an innovative structure that separates school oversight from campus operations. Under the model, educators are empowered to make decisions at the campus level; families are no longer limited to their neighborhood school; and an independent entity evaluates student performance and supports efforts to promote equity throughout the system. The portfolio structure is a critical component of the dramatic school turnaround in New Orleans, Louisiana, and the state of Tennessee has adopted elements of the model as part of its plan to enhance school quality.
Mr. Barbic has been an integral player in Tennessee’s statewide reform efforts since 2011 when he led the launch of the Achievement School District, which was created as part of a comprehensive plan to overhaul Tennessee’s lowest-performing schools. The district currently serves 10,000 students in 29 schools and is considered to be a national model for reform. It outpaced the state in student test score growth in math and science between 2012 and 2015 and made it possible for more students to attend better preforming schools. In fact, in Memphis, there are now close to 5,000 fewer students in Priority Schools today than there were just three years ago. Priority Schools are those schools that rank in the state’s bottom 5 percent.
“Few people in the nation have a deep understanding of what it means to be both a school district leader and a charter school leader, and Chris has excelled at both,” said LJAF Senior Education Fellow Neerav Kingsland. “As more cities implement systems that expand school choice for families, Chris will provide invaluable support and leadership to these communities. We are thrilled to have him join our team.”
Before leading the Achievement School District, Mr. Barbic served as founder and CEO of YES Prep for more than a decade. YES Prep has been recognized as a leader in expanding access to high-quality educational opportunities for students from low-income families since its inception in 1998. The network’s 16 schools rank among the top-performing schools in the country, and more than 70 percent of YES Prep alumni are currently enrolled in college or have earned a college degree.
“I am excited to join the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and to have an opportunity to apply the lessons I learned at YES Prep and the Achievement School District to support high-performing, autonomous, and accountable school systems around the country,” Mr. Barbic said.
In addition to its investments focused on advancing the portfolio model, LJAF funds other associated initiatives to improve transparency on school performance, scale successful schools, and establish policies that emphasize accountability, best practices, school choice, and decentralization.