Board Member Focus: Ben McLeish
“There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.”
How did you become involved with this charter school?
With four kids myself and intentionally living in an under-resourced neighborhood for the past twelve years, education has been an important issue for me, my family and my neighbors. A few years after the storm a
grassroots effort began to emerge specifically around the Colton school on St. Claude and the future use of the building. Before long I had joined with other parents to champion the effort to create a school in which the hallways reflected the diversity of the sidewalks of the surrounding community, where parental and community involvement was valued and where an environment could be created that would produce well-educated kids through project-based learning who had a deep care for social justice issues. Little did we know that our hundreds of hours of meetings over several years would result in the birth of Homer A. Plessy Community School.
Why did you say 'yes' when asked to serve?
As a Christian, I believe that God is at work redeeming and restoring all things, including people, families and communities and that a major part of the restoration of our community was seeing the education system redeemed. It was also a very personal decision to serve. Beyond having kids myself who needed a school, I was sick of seeing so many young men from my neighborhood, who I had come to love, die in the streets and young women become pregnant and struggle to finish school. With the great academic disparities that existed between youth from my neighborhood and their counterparts at high-performing schools in other neighborhoods, I wanted to be a part of the solution that would help level the academic playing field and provide opportunities to break generational cycles of poverty.
What was compelling about the opportunity?
I love to be a part of start-ups. There are always so many challenges that come up and I really enjoy strategizing and working hard to overcome these roadblocks and see hopes and dreams come to fruition.
What leadership roles have you had while serving on the board?
I initially served as the secretary but this fall was elected the board president. I head up the fundraising committee and serve on the facilities and governance committees.
Is there anything you know now that you wished you had known before?
I knew there would be challenges in helping start a new charter school but I honestly underestimated the work load required to pull it off.
“Launching a locally-based, community-driven charter school in New Orleans' highly dynamic educational landscape has a particular set of demands, tests and rewards. Serving in various roles over the past three years, Ben has helped navigate Homer A. Plessy Community School from concept to a vibrant existence through his visioning, strategic thinking, accessibility and adaptability. Now as chairman of the Citizens Committee for Education, he helps all of us on the board exercise creativity and accountability as we shape the school's future.”
About Homer A. Plessy Community School
Homer A. Plessy Community School (HAPCS) is a Type 1 charter school authorized by the Orleans Parish School Board. The mission of HAPCS is to develop students who think critically and act responsibly as citizens. Drawing inspiration from the school’s namesake and from the resources of this community and under the leadership of Joan Reilly, HAPCS provides a stimulating environment that promotes academic excellence as well as an understanding of our shared history and cultures.
The Top Shelf
The success of a charter school hinges largely on the decisions of its governing board. The Top Shelf enhances the capacity of charter school boards through professional development, board recruitment and community engagement.
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