Jamie Crain: Getting to the Heart of School Choice
Twelve years ago, Jamie Crain’s husband Max popped the question…
“So, what do you think about Alabama?”
Her response: “I don’t. I’m from the suburbs of Chicago. This is as far south as I’m going.”
The Crains were living in Illinois at the time, but Max was in discussions with Christ the King Catholic School in Daphne, Alabama, about their principal position. Ultimately Jamie agreed to explore the opportunity, so they planned a visit, fell in love with the community, and decided to make the move south.
While Max settled into his new role at Christ the King, Jamie took a position teaching fifth grade at Most Pure Heart of Mary Catholic School—which has been serving families in Mobile for over 120 years—for a teacher who was on maternity leave.
“When the teacher returned, I talked to the principal (Sr. Nancy Crossen, OSF) about staying on as the school counselor,” said Jamie, who has undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work.
Jamie held the counselor position for five years when, upon Sr. Nancy’s retirement, she was asked to take over the principal role. Jamie initially declined, citing a lack of school leadership experience, but reconsidered after meeting with members of the ACE team during the Mobile visit of the Fighting for Our Children’s Future 20th anniversary bus tour in 2014.
During the visit Jamie was introduced to ACE’s Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program and soon after was accepted into the program’s 13th cohort. Throughout her time in the Remick program, and every year since, Jamie has partnered with the Most Pure Heart of Mary community to provide a safe, faith-based, learning environment for children in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.
Last year, Jamie received a notification that she had been nominated to join another ACE program, the Reform Leaders’ Summit (RLS), an intensive formation experience that aims to equip leaders with the skills and abilities needed to support parental rights and equity in education.
“It just seemed like a great opportunity,” Jamie said. “I’m very interested in school choice, not only because of my role at the school, but also because of the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund—where individuals can donate up to one half of their annual Alabama income tax liability and receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit—and how it has opened up so many opportunities for kids across the state.”
After receiving her admission notification, Jamie was certain that this would be a tremendous learning experience for her and a chance to gain a deeper understanding of the educational policy landscape. As her time in the cohort comes to a close this summer, Jamie reflects fondly on the entire experience.
“It’s really been great,” Jamie said. “Not only the speakers and the trips to New Orleans and Tampa [and Chicago], but meeting other people to learn about what other states are doing to advocate for school choice.”
One component of the RLS is that school choice advocates from different sectors are grouped together and form a professional learning community, where they meet regularly through online conference calls to discuss pertinent issues surrounding parental choice.
“We’re all school administrators,” Jamie said of her group. “It’s nice to have a group that is going through similar situations and talk with them about our everyday responsibilities, in addition to the various topics provided by the RLS team.”
Throughout those ongoing discussions, one thing has been abundantly clear to Jamie: school choice has been a good thing for Most Pure Heart of Mary—which had the second-highest number of enrolled students on a school choice scholarship in the archdiocese—and students in Alabama.
“I’m really glad that we have school choice in Alabama,” Jamie said. “I hope that legislators will work to keep the scholarship in place because many children who come from low-income communities are not being served by the schools where they are zoned. School choice gives families the opportunity to change the outcomes for their children.”
Jamie feels so passionately about the mission of school choice and the RLS that she has even started to nominate some of her colleagues for the next cohort so that they too can develop a stronger understanding of the landscape and help more students in the years to come. She believes this will be especially important as the archdiocese works to form its own scholarship granting organization in the near future.
“Because of my experience at the RLS, I am confident with the literature on educational choice and the knowledge behind it,” Jamie said. “I know that my experience will be helpful for the students at Most Pure Heart of Mary and throughout the Archdiocese of Mobile.”
Jamie has thought a lot about Mobile, the archdiocese, and the families she serves at Most Pure Heart of Mary since that initial conversation with her husband 12 years ago.
Now, when asked what she thinks about Alabama, Jamie’s response is: “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”
Learn more about the Reform Leaders' Summit and complete your application at ace.nd.edu/summit.