Hats off to Minnesota:
The Itasca Panel

In 1988, visionaries in education, politics, and labor met at the headwaters of the Mississippi River to try to turn a nascent idea, ‘chartered schools’ into reality. Out of that historic meeting in Minnesota came the nation’s first charter legislation and, four years later, the country’s first charter school, in St. Paul. Twenty-nine years after that historic meeting, Ember, Sy, Ted and Joe will share their thoughts in a conversation moderated by John Merrow.


John Merrow is the former Education Correspondent for PBS NewsHour and former President of Learning Matters. He began his career as a reporter with NPR over 40 years ago. In 2012, he became the first journalist to receive the prestigious McGraw Prize in Education. John’s work has taken him from community colleges to kindergarten classrooms, from the front lines of teacher protests to policy debates on Capitol Hill. John Merrow is a contributor to USA Today, the NY Times, the Washington Post, the LA Times and Education Week. He has received The Horace Dutton Taft Medal in 2010 and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy Of Education Arts And Sciences in 2012 as well as honorary doctorates from Richard Stockton College (NJ) and Paul Smith’s College (NY). John publishes the educational blog, The Merrow Report. He is author of Addicted to Reform: A 12-Step Program to Rescue Public Education.


Joe Nathan is an author, and has been an inner city public school aide, teacher, and administrator. He has helped write several major laws, including Post Secondary Options and the nation’s first charter public school law. Joe appeared on more than 400 television and radio programs including “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” McNeil/Lehrer News Hour” and “All Things Considered,” and has had guest columns published in over 20 newspapers, including WSJ, USA Today, Atlanta Constitution, and Detroit News. He served as a local PTA president in St. Paul. Joe writes a biweekly column carried by 20 suburban and rural Minnesota newspapers. 

Ember Reichgott Junge is the board vice chair of Maryland-based Charter Schools Development Corporation (CSDC). As President of Ember Communications, Inc., Reichgott Junge is a national speaker and trainer on leadership, strategic communications, and public services redesign for leaders in business, nonprofit and government sectors. She is an international education policy leader and spokesperson for charter public schools, having presented in 31 states, Guam, Canada and India and draws on over twenty-five years of experience in business and nonprofit law. She consults with K-12 education, chartering, business and philanthropy entities around the U.S. She is past founding board member of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Reichgott Junge wrote Minnesota’s 1991 first-in-nation charter school law and the memoir Zero Chance of Passage: The Pioneering Charter School Story.

Sy Fliegel has a long and prestigious history in public education. He started his career as a teacher and then became a school leader. In 1975, he became the director of alternative education for NYC’s Community School District 4 and began the transformation of the district’s schools described in his book, Miracle in East Harlem. In 1989, having served 5 years as deputy superintendent of District 4, he became the superintendent of District 28 in Queens. Outside of his CEI work, Sy serves on the advisory boards of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the Greater Opportunities Board, Donna Hanover’s Cool Schools, Harlem’s Center for Education and The Young Women’s Leadership School. In 2012, Sy received the Brooke Russell Astor Award for “his tireless dedication to making a fundamental difference in the lives of New Yorkers.”

Ted Kolderie has worked on system questions and with legislative policy in urban and metropolitan affairs and public finance through the 1960s and ‘70s. He began working in the 1970s with questions about the redesign of the operating side of the public sector; with the Public Service Options project. He was involved nationally on these questions with the Rand Corporation, SRI International, the Urban Institute and others. During the 1980s he ran the Public Services Redesign Project while at the University of Minnesota School of Public Affairs. By the mid-1980s the work had come to focus on the redesign of K-12 public education; system and schools. Since 2009 he has again been closely involved with the broader questions about the redesign of major public systems; governmental and non-governmental.