When Lindalyn Kakadelis became director of the North Carolina Education Alliance, she had a passion for school choice and a background that made her uniquely qualified for the job. The alliance is dedicated to refocusing the state’s education system on students and publicizing effective solutions to educational problems.
Kakadelis is a former elementary education teacher and a mother of two who has always considered school choice to be important. Her children attended private and public schools, and she knows firsthand that it isn’t always easy for parents to send their children to a school of choice. There was a time when “we were going into debt to pay for [private schools],” she says. “I didn’t understand the plight of people who can’t afford to pay for it until we were in that situation ourselves.”
In 1995, Kakadelis was encouraged to run for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education. She says now that she was willing to run, but she wasn’t sure she was ready to serve. When the election results came in, Kakadelis felt like “a dog who had chased a car and gotten it,” she says with a laugh.
Kakadelis immediately discovered there were problems in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS). As a result of a 1965 desegregation lawsuit filed by parents, students were being bused to different schools in the area in an effort to achieve racial balance and diversity. However, Kakadelis thought the system was actually becoming less diverse by trying to achieve a particular ratio for racial balance.
At that time, she was most concerned about the long bus rides many students had to endure every day. But then, she says, “I realized the horrors someone has attending a school where they really are stuck.”
Kakadelis also was unhappy about some of the procedures the board had adopted, such as having different waiting lists for blacks and non-blacks at certain schools. She wanted change, but she was in the minority on the school board.
Then, in September 1997, a lawsuit was filed against CMS by a parent who felt his daughter’s enrollment in the school of his choice had been denied because of race. The result was the change Kakadelis had been looking for.
She says the courts made it clear race should not be used as the main criteria in determining where students go to school. Parents made it equally clear that if CMS continued to use race as its main criteria, they would sue CMS again.
In response to the lawsuit, CMS launched a new Family Choice Plan at its annual Showcase of Schools in December 2001. Through the new plan, students are assigned to schools near their homes but have the opportunity to apply to other schools or magnet programs.
“We ended up with a choice plan where every school has a home attendance boundary, and on top of that, they layered choice,” Kakadelis says. “This was the culminating event that took me six years on the Board of Education to see!”
During her final year on the CMS board in 2001, Kakadelis was also on the board of a charter school and directing the Children’s Scholarship Fund – Charlotte, a private charity to help give lower-income families better access to school choice. Kakadelis calls that year “an exciting time. I was able to help parents find the best fit for their children because I really knew about all of them.”
Since 2002, she has been the full-time director of the North Carolina Education Alliance. A special project of the John Locke Foundation, the alliance addresses K-12 issues in four main areas:
- student achievement
- teacher quality
Kakadelis is quick to point out that teacher quality doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with teaching certificates or years spent in the classroom. She notes there is a definite correlation between teacher quality and student achievement. On the subject of funding, Kakadelis says, “Money matters, but how you spend money matters more.” And she believes “choice will be the catalyst in forcing effective and efficient schools.”
Her goal is to tear down the wall between public and private education. “A child is more important than any one system or education provider,” she says.
Her hope for the alliance is “to empower parents and educate the public on the importance of school choice.” She believes this will become a reality in the state within the next five to seven years, as the public understands the benefits of school choice. She says, “I have a passion and conviction that everyone should be able to choose schools for their children.”
Sarah Faulkner ([email protected]) is an adjunct fellow with the Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation.