Earlier this month, Jeremy Kane, the CEO and founder of LEAD Public Schools, announced unexpectedly that he would be leaving his post at the end of the school year.
LEAD is Nashville’s largest charter school operator, with schools on four campuses. Kane will stay on with the organization as a “strategic adviser” until LEAD’s first class of students graduates next year.
His name is often bandied about as a potential candidate for mayor in 2015 (although Kane said he was not behind a recent poll on the race), and the move did nothing to quiet that speculation. Kane answered a few questions by email from The City Paper about his decision to step away from the school he founded, what his new role will consist of, and what we should make about all that mayoral chatter.
What made you decide to make this change now?
After a lot of prayer, conversations with my wife, Tracy, and discussions with the LEAD board, I decided to leave LEAD in May 2014. That will mark 10 years since I first set out on this journey, and after reflecting on all that’s happened and how strong of a position our organization is in, I felt like it was the right time to make this transition. What makes it even more meaningful is that I’ll be able to graduate, in my own way, with our first class.
There is no way I could have contemplated, let alone actually made, the decision to step away if not for our incredible staff and board. I’m lucky to be able to work with the most talented group of leaders, and I couldn’t be prouder that our next CEO, Chris Reynolds, is someone the board and I hired two-and-a-half years ago. He has been an integral part of helping grow our organization, and it’s an amazing feeling to know that someone with his talents will be leading this organization for years to come.
You’re stepping down from your post as CEO, but staying on for the next year as a “strategic adviser.” Can you describe what that role will look like?
Next year LEAD will have more than 1,300 students, almost 200 full- and part-time staff, and manage five schools. I take that responsibility to our students, families and staff seriously and wanted to do this transition logically, give ourselves enough time to do it right, and to show that public charters can get better even after a founder moves on.
With any transition, the real work takes time. Studying other transitions, we saw that those that worked best took more than a year to complete. I decided to step down as CEO this July because I never wanted to take even a second away from our kids, their families, or our staff to fully explore what’s next to me. I never wanted to say to a family or student that I didn’t have time for them because I was looking at what’s next for me.
I will still be employed by LEAD through June 2014 and will work for Chris and the board to continue our commitment to our mission of doing whatever it takes to send 100 percent of our students to a four-year college/university. My main duties for the next year will be supporting Chris and the transition, providing strategic advice to our board and administrative team, and organizing and leading our efforts to graduate our first class of seniors in 2014.
There has been fairly open speculation that you are a potential 2015 mayoral candidate. Are you considering a run?
I’m honored so many people would consider me for that role. I take it to mean that I’ve done something meaningful for the kids and families of Nashville. I think it also says that people respect the way I’ve built partnerships with MNPS at Cameron and Brick Church as well as with other civic, business and nonprofit organizations through our Clinton Global Initiative, Nashville Commits.
Service is in my DNA, and my wife, Tracy, and I are excited about taking the time to explore how else I can serve our families and our city for years to come. We’re committed to Nashville as our home where we want to raise our daughter, Wells, and continue to live and serve.
You mentioned that one of the reasons you decided to step down this July was that you didn’t want to take time away from students to plan your future. Do you think there’s any sense in which a similar dilemma presents itself for the next year during which you’ll continue to take a salary, funded at least in part by taxpayers, while you decide what comes next for you?
No, precisely because of how we’ve structured this transition. Being CEO has required 100% of my time, focus and energy. That’s how it should be in any public position. As we planned this transition, my Board and I were careful to structure it to leverage the benefit of having a full-time CEO with the guidance and support I could continue to provide as the Founder. This structure gives LEAD, our students, and the community the time and focus they deserve while also giving me the flexibility to develop and explore other projects, like Nashville Commits, on my own time and without distraction to LEAD or our students.
One of the projects I look forward to spending more time on is “Nashville Commits”, which I launched earlier this year through President Clinton’s Global Initiative. It’s proven to be a great avenue to leverage the lessons I’ve learned at LEAD, and I’m proud that some of our partners, like Mission Point Health and Belmont, have already made significant new commitments that will have a tremendous impact on our city.