Growing up in Shreveport, LA, Chris Meyer, WG’19, wasn’t planning on going to college. “My friends weren’t going and no one in my family had gone,” he said. However, when a teacher encouraged him to take an entrance exam for a selective high school, it was life changing. “Getting access to a better education showed me first-hand the difference opportunity makes for students,” said Chris.
He explained, “Where you live often defines the quality of schools that you attend. For me, that entrance exam led to a better high school education, which opened the door to attending Tulane University as an undergraduate and then Harvard University for my master’s in public policy before serving as a White House Fellow. That education and those experiences led to a job as chief of staff to the superintendent of the Louisiana Department of Education and then deputy superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery School District.”
Prior to earning his master’s degree, Chris worked for Teach for America as a social studies high school teacher before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
“I’ve dedicated my career to public service, particularly to solve the challenges of large urban school systems that are not working for kids. I have a passion for education based on my own experiences as well as seeing New Orleans rebuild its entire school system after Hurricane Katrina,” he said.
In 2012, he started the New Schools for Baton Rouge to impact more kids with opportunities for better education. His philanthropically funded organization seeks to attract quality public charter school organizations to launch schools in the Baton Rouge area and provide support for success. “We make sure they have the right legal and policy environments in place as well as appropriate site selection and community relationships to ensure there is demand for the school. We take them through the stages of recruitment to authorization to launch and then ensure they are successful and continue to deliver quality education.”
So far, New Schools has helped launch 30 schools with a dozen more planned to open over the next three years. They also are starting to partner with communities across Louisiana. “We are seeing exponential growth and are working to grow and scale in the state,” Chris said.
However, there aren’t many examples of how to build an education enterprise or best practices to follow, he noted. So, he turned to Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives in San Francisco to get the business education and skills needed.
“I wanted to go to the best of the best to make sure that it was worth my time and effort as well as my organization’s sponsorship. I picked the West Coast campus because I had already gone to school and lived on the East Coast. Commuting to San Francisco provided a different experience,” he said, noting that he took a direct flight from New Orleans and used time on the flights to do schoolwork.
Chris says that coming to Wharton was “incredibly worthwhile” for six reasons:
“We have world-class faculty teaching our classes, who are actual practitioners. They are literally writing the book about best practices by doing the work. For example, Prof. Chris Geczy runs a portfolio for a large hospital system in Baton Rouge, Prof. Jennifer Blouin advises tax policy writers, and Prof. Ezekiel Emanuel has worked for the highest levels of the national government.”
“I built lifelong friendships during the program. I have a group of former classmates who are now trusted advisors both personally and professionally. In addition, many classmates helped provide connections to donors. That is a tangible return on investment.”
“I was in school when we were setting up our facilities support organization that focuses on school facility development. I was able to apply classroom knowledge to topics like owning a school, financing schools, and running a fund that invests in schools. I talked to professors who gave me examples of public-private partnerships and connections to people involved in those partnerships.”
“The so-called ‘soft skill’ classes were valuable too, such as public speaking. I worked on speeches and presentations that I later gave to school boards or the legislature. There were many tangible applications to my job.”
“I became involved in a few funds with classmates that changed my thinking about building long-term security. I’m now business partners with a classmate in an investment property and we hope to grow our portfolio. I’m also talking to other classmates about various opportunities. All of these opportunities stretch me outside of the day-to-day of education reform and help me think differently about my work and how I can make an impact.”
“I came to Wharton with great public leadership experience, but I learned about corporate and organizational leadership as well as corporate governance in classes. I now think differently about attracting and retaining talent, and I have changed how I conduct performance evaluations. In Prof. Cade Massey’s Influence class, I did a project based on influencing a school board election. I created a 24-month plan with different levers to pull for candidate recruitment and development, which is helpful and relevant.”
Throughout the program, Chris made a point to show the board of his organization the value of Wharton’s EMBA program. “I had a sizable sponsorship and I wanted to ensure that the board saw it as an investment in the organization. My board chair attended classes with me on Sponsor’s Day, which was a great way to engage him in how Wharton is adding value for our community.”
Since graduation, he has put his “foot on the pedal” to transform education in Louisiana. “We are 50th in about every measure of well being and I am working specifically in the area of education. All of my experiences and education are helping me to make foundational changes. I’m excited to grow this organization and find opportunities to make an even bigger impact.”
— By Meghan Laska
Posted: November 29, 2021