Photo by Jeannie Frey Rhodes

Women with a Cause 2018: Donna Saurage

Cause: New Schools for Baton Rouge

When it comes to public education in Baton Rouge, Donna Saurage believes it is time to change the conversation. “We’re always talking about the problems with the system,” she says. “Let’s talk about solutions.”

In 2012, Saurage helped to found New Schools for Baton Rouge (NSBR), a community partnership that coordinates and invests in initiatives designed to foster educational excellence in Baton Rouge’s schools. Saurage served as chair of the NSBR board for five years before becoming an emeritus board member in 2017.

Under her leadership, NSBR has recruited many of the nation’s most successful school operators and brought them to Baton Rouge. “What really sold so many of the operators we ended up with was that they saw the need. And they saw the community support.”

Once charter operators are here, they function in a variety of ways. “Many go into a school, evaluate the existing operation, and work to get those kids on track,” Saurage explains. “Others work on a smaller scale, working in just one class and trying specific teaching methods to help those kids progress. Some establish themselves in entirely new buildings.”

In only six years, the organization has managed to secure over $10 million in national gifts, initiated the development of three school facilities, and launched a set of schools demonstrating record rates of growth in Baton Rouge.

“Every child deserves a good education,” says Saurage. “And every student can learn. The challenge is, can the educator reach them? Motivate them?”

The ultimate goal, she says, is that parents have options—and all good ones—to determine which environment would be best for their child. Even beyond the obvious improvements that NSBR has initiated in Baton Rouge’s educational system, Saurage says that the work they’ve done has raised community awareness of the possibility for every child in this city to have access to an exemplary public education. “I think the whole level of education in this parish is better than it was six years ago,” she says.

Saurage maintains that a lot of her passion is anticipatory of the long-term effects of investing in education in Baton Rouge. “An educated populace—think of the economic impact on Baton Rouge,” she says. “My goodness, this could change the world!”


What do you love about the volunteer efforts that you do?
Working with others who have the same passion for the mission. It’s so heartwarming that there are hundreds like me in this community who truly care and are willing to invest in this.
How is your cause making a difference?
We are increasing equity in the way families are able to choose their children’s schools.
What do you hope to achieve?
Quality, life-transforming education for every single student in our community.
What is something we don’t know about your cause?
This year, we are sponsoring the first comprehensive guide to every school in our city as a resource for Baton Rouge families.