Profession: Executive director, Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools
Hometown: Baton Rouge
Family: Has a son, Owen (10)
Years with company: 11
Within five minutes of meeting Caroline Roemer, it’s clear that she is not only someone you would want in your corner, but someone you would want creating your corner.
Roemer is the executive director of Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, a nonprofit based in Metairie. Dressed in a pink blazer, a navy T-shirt, blue jeans and red, almost retro sneakers, she is easily approachable.
She is also politically savvy, passionate about education reform and incredibly smart.
These skills helped her to grow charter schools across the state. When she started 11 years ago, there were about 20 charter schools, now there are 165.
“She works really well with people,” says Leslie Jacobs, an educational reformer and founder of Education Now!. “She can talk to people from both sides of the aisle, and is always accessible and incredibly effective. She fights for quality and passionately believes every child deserves a quality education. Under her leadership, charter schools have increased exponentially.”
Roemer is the daughter of former Louisiana Governor and U.S. Representative Buddy Roemer. She has two younger brothers, Chas and Dakota.
While her parents divorced when she was young, both were passionate about education. Her father and brother, Chas, attended Harvard University, but Roemer was not always the best student and often questioned authority.
“I had this idea that I was often wrong, but never in doubt,” says Roemer. “And my mom thought that maybe in a more structured environment, I would excel academically and socially.”
She attended both public and private schools in Bossier City, and during her junior year of high school she and her mom decided it would be best for her to live with her dad, stepmom and Dakota. Roemer moved up north to Washington, D.C., which allowed her immediate access into the political arena.
“I was spending time in the congressional office and I knew I wanted to do politics,” she says. “I wanted to be behind the scenes, problem solving and working through tough issues. And I loved trying to convince other people I was right about issues.”
She spent the next two decades traveling across the country, working on different campaigns, including locally, her father’s and nationally, the George H.W. Bush and Dan Quayle campaign.
“I loved traveling and going to other places and getting a taste of what it was all like,” says Roemer. “But I learned that not all politicians were created alike.”
But some, like late First Lady Barbara Bush, were memorable.
“She was hilarious and fun to work with,” says Roemer. “I loved her.”
She also dabbled in public relations, formed her own company, worked with Fortune 500 companies and learned she liked politics and education, but didn’t like tort reform and banking. She married twice, divorced twice, went to LSU for a little bit, took a long break, and then went back and finished her degree. In 2005, she ended up in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.
“After Katrina I thought there would be a job opportunity to help,” she says. “I had read about charter schools and they needed someone to navigate all of the politics that are associated with a K-12 classroom, unfortunately. So I showed up to New Schools for New Orleans, they gave me a desk, I wrote a grant and was awarded $50,000, and that’s how it all started.”
She secured another grant, hired a staff and “fast forward,” she says, “here we are.”
She has a staff of six, a budget of $1 million and a passion to make a difference.
“Caroline is smart and politically astute, and she believes strongly in what we are doing for kids,” says Ken Campbell executive director for IDEA Public Schools. “She has found a way to blend her deep passion for education and politics.”
Her days of traveling the United States on campaign trails are behind her. She is now a mom and happy to be working on education reform.
“I feel like it’s a perfect fit,” she says. “I am passionate about education. I know how to work the process. We have let down students from economically disadvantaged areas in our state, and while charters are not the silver bullet, they disrupt. And part of disrupting is igniting the debate. I’m proud to ignite the debate.”
• Securing a victory at the Louisiana Supreme Court on the Type 2 Charter schools issue
• Louisiana Charter School Law consistently ranking as one of the best in the country
• Growing the charter school community to over 155 charters statewide
• Mentoring and supporting staff that have gone on to do great work in other areas of education
• Being recognized by Tulane School of Business as its Social Entrepreneur of the Year
• Being a Pahara Institute Fellow
Becoming a mom changed me as an education advocate. It didn’t change my passion or my beliefs, but it did make me better by bringing a parent perspective that I had been missing. I think I’m more sensitive and mindful of how truly important my responsibilities are to ensure my son gets the education he needs.
First leadership experience
It’s not a single experience. It’s years of experience that has taught me that leading isn’t glamorous, it isn’t always fun and it can be scary. My best lessons have come from bad decisions. It’s by messing up that I’ve gotten better.
Best advice received
All you can take with you in the end is your reputation. And always make sure your skirt isn’t tucked into your underwear before you leave the restroom.