InspireNOLA Executive Director Jamar McKneely Inspires Educators; Leads Schools Towards Success

Jamar mcKneeleyJamar McKneely takes his job as a school administrator very seriously; and the students of New Orleans are better for it.?

McKneely is the co-founder and executive director of InspireNOLA Charter Schools, a charter management organization that manages schools. As executive director, he manages two of the highest performing open-admissions schools in New Orleans. In this role, he focuses on creating a pipeline for leadership, supervising administrative and instructional personnel, establishing a clear vision for the organization’s mission and goals and branding the new CMO.?

Currently, the Alice Harte and Edna Karr schools are his success stories. Under his leadership, at Harte, there is an increase of 25 points in the school?s performance score; improved structure and discipline; matriculation of all 2011-2012 eighth grade students to the top five performing high schools in New Orleans; and fulfillment of 22 out of 24 school-wide assessment goals set from 2010-2012.?

?My educational philosophy is derived from Marian Wright Edelman?s special quote: The question is not whether we can afford to invest in every child; it is whether we can afford not to,? he tells

Launched in 2013, the nonprofit is doing its part in this charge. But it has been no easy task.

?The challenges are that kids are coming in behind grade level and a lack of exposure to success. They don?t know what an expectation of success means so we have to re-shift their belief of what success is. You would never realize what kids go through. Some go home and the lights are off or their parents are not there to deal with them. There are parents who don?t come to parent-teacher conferences,? he explains.?

This is where McKneely and his staff come in.

InspireNOLA educates over 2,400 kids. 95 percent of the kids they work with are African American. And they are defying a lot of odds. ?Our school has a 100 percent graduation rate. We are outpacing our counterparts in education in NOLA. We try to inspire kids in an atmosphere where they see inspiration and they see that we care about them,? McKneely shares.
?Still,” McKneely contends, ?we are not confusing progress with success. We have a long way to go. We want ACT scores to be higher. We want the kids to be able to compete nationally. Holistically, we would like their academic records to be further along. And that can happen. Students of color can make significant gains with the help of wraparound services. That?s what we provide.?

The former budget analyst turned assistant principal, who earned a bachelor?s degree in finance and a master?s degree in educational administration from Southern University in Baton Rouge, speaks from experience.

?My first experience with the educational problems in NOLA includes attending a public school and later teaching in the public school system. My whole evolution has been very interesting. In high school, I did not go to the best school and being in a good school wasn?t my focus. I did not have the opportunity to attend college. My SAT score was low. My academic performance was not there. My passion came from what I did not do. After working in the finance world, I began teaching in 2002. Our mandates were not up to par. I saw what the transition looks like from public schools to charter schools. We were not doing well academically before the storm. I am an advocate of education and great schools, period. But I am a big advocate of charter schools. 93 percent of the schools in NOLA are now charter. There?s no test to be admitted. The doors are open, 100 percent,? he shares.?

Founder of the Alliance for Diversity and Excellence in New Orleans, McKneely says that since [Hurricane] Katrina, social workers and counselors have been working hard. Their goal? ?We live in a city where 39 percent of kids live in poverty and are infused with constant crime. But we want to be the difference maker. We are trying to build citizens to go back into the community – true citizens that will go out and vote. Will they continue to commit crime? Maybe, but we can take control of our situations regardless of the circumstances,? he notes.

For his part, McKneely says, “Every day, I am reminded of our shared purpose of inspiring the lives of children in the city we serve.”

(CLICK HERE for a related article about the educational system in New Orleans.)