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One Last Launch: Reflections As My Kids Graduate From Rocketship

At the end of this school year, my wife Liz and I will no longer have either of our amazing kiddos at a Rocketship school. When we opened Rocketship, we always planned for our kids to attend, however, neither of us ever fully appreciated what an incredible experience and journey it would be. For six years, we have been fortunate to have one or both of our children at a Rocketship school. It is wild to think about how quickly time has passed. Last year, Zeke moved on to KIPP for middle school and this year Phoenix finishes her last year at Rocketship Fuerza.

From almost day one it was clear how profoundly different – and amazing – it was going to be a part of Rocketship. Six years ago we had our first home visit with the full Kindergarten team at Fuerza. Now, if you know our son Zeke, you know that he is a very quiet, reserved kid. So far he had been exactly that in the class. Not talking, not participating, standing like a statue at launch – that’s Zeke. And yet after dinner, as we were talking with his teachers, Zeke and Phoenix were running around the house, acting like 5 and 4 year olds do – laughing, talking loudly and screaming in joy. And in one moment as Zeke rounded the corner back to our sides, one of his teachers stopped, pointed at him, and said, ‘Now that’s the loud and proud voice I expect in my class!’

The expectations for Zeke as a student shifted dramatically from that day forward. Our teachers now knew what Zeke was truly capable of and they would demand it moving forward. And from that day on the power of home visits was not only something that I knew of as a teacher and principal, but it was something we had now experienced as parents and knew how transformative it already had been for our very own child’s learning experience.

Phoenix and Zeke Smith during a ballet folklorico performance their first year together at Fuerza.

And over the years, we have seen the awesome power of a Rocketship education. A couple of years ago, we were at a museum as a family. We were at the Greek exhibit and there was a clay piece of art that was intended to tell the myth of Athena. Phoenix, beaming with pride, asked us if we wanted to hear the myth. We obliged and she went on flawlessly telling us the story of Athena and how she came to be and thus how Athens received its name. At the end, we realized that a group of visitors with a docent were beside us and as Phoenix finished the myth, he looked at his group and explained, ‘well, I think she nailed that myth so I hope you were paying attention as we are going to move on to the next exhibit.’ We were amazed and asked Phoenix where she had learned the myth and she responded only as Phoenix can – ‘at Rocketship of course.’

From the barbecue gatherings at the beginning of the year with our school community to the parent conferences rooted in data and partnership, to our nightly review of our kid’s homework over the years, to our discussions at dinner as they explain the most exciting thing that they learned in a day, to the celebrations and festivals that we have attended, and more – our children’s learning experience has been so rich, complete, and joyous at Rocketship.

What a blessing it has been for us to deepen our relationships with the incredible staff members within our Rocketship schools – from operations specialists to office managers and assistants, to business operations managers, to teachers, to tutors, and school leaders – and not only witness but to experience the impact of their collective efforts and what it means to us personally as a family. The depth of appreciation and respect that we feel even more towards the quality of people who work at Rocketship and are part of our collective community that makes Rocketship what it is – it is hard to express.

Moreover, to see the Rocketship school experience through our own children’s eyes is so informative and touching. It has pushed me harder as an educator and leader while also pushing us further as parents.

Most importantly, it has given me even greater conviction that we truly operate great public schools.

So although we are in the middle of a pandemic and school looks far different than expected, on Thursday, June 11 at 8:00am we will indeed be present for Phoenix’s – and really our family’s – final Launch. In that moment, so many emotions and memories will be present and most importantly for me and Liz, it will be the pride and deep gratitude for our kids – Zeke and Phoenix – as well as for our family, having the opportunity to directly experience the incredible impact of being Rocketeers and even more intimately a part of our amazing Rocketship community.

Preston Smith co-founded Rocketship in 2006.  He has held numerous roles at Rocketship, including teacher, principal, Director of Schools, and Chief Achievement Officer. He has led Rocketship’s professional development, leadership development, integrated special education, and student and teacher recruitment. In 2013, he was named CEO. Prior to Rocketship, Preston was founder and Principal of L.U.C.H.A. Elementary School, part of the Alum Rock Unified School District in San Jose, CA. After its first three years of operation, L.U.C.H.A. was the fourth highest performing low-income elementary school in California. Preston began his career in education as a Teach for America Corps (TFA) member at Clyde Arbuckle Elementary School (CA). In 2003, Preston was named “Teacher of the Year” at Arbuckle and was also nominated as one of six finalists for TFA’s Sue Lehmann award, given to TFA corps members with the highest classroom academic gains in the nation. Preston is also an Aspen New Schools Fellow. He earned his Master in Educational Leadership from San Jose State University and graduated from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in Latin American Studies, Phi Beta Kappa.

Published on May 27, 2020

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