Learning, Growing and Sustaining For Our Rocketeers
by Preston Smith, Co-Founder and CEO, Rocketship Public Schools
In 2007, Rocketship Education embarked on an ambitious mission: Build a public elementary school network that would scale across the country in order to eliminate the achievement gap in our lifetime.
When we started Rocketship, great things were happening nationally in public education, but the stark realities of the achievement gap were palpable. Today, in schools across the country, in a class of 25 Latino fourth graders, 20 won’t meet proficiency in English. By eighth grade, 90 percent of African American children don’t reach proficiency in math. Fewer than one in ten students who grow up in low-income communities will make it through college.
The kids and families of America, especially in underserved communities, deserve better. Frankly, our democracy needs better. To eliminate the achievement gap, we knew we had to rethink elementary school from the ground up. So we began to shape a school model that focuses on developing and supporting excellent teachers and leaders; a model that personalizes learning for every student by dynamically rethinking how technology, tutoring and more can support educators and cutting edge instructional practices; a model that engages parents to become powerful advocates for their kids and communities.
With 14 million students in 13,000 failing schools across the country, Rocketship knew its model had to grow in order to reach as many kids as possible. Seven years, four regions, eleven schools and six thousand Rocketeers later, we’ve grown, we’ve changed and we’ve constantly improved. We now move into the next phase of Rocketship’s evolution.
One thing I’ve come to appreciate in the midst of my first full year as Rocketship’s CEO is that innovation happens in phases, not all at once. We’ve been in a growth phase and now it’s time for us to solidify that growth with a sustaining phase. Our focus now is to grow deep instead of wide. We will continue working to open schools in our current regions — Northern California, Milwaukee, Washington DC and Tennessee — as community needs arise and our work with local districts demands.
This strategy is an acknowledgement of our overall network success. Rocketeers in every region are making significant academic progress, our schools are performing in the top tier of schools serving low-income and English-language-learning communities, our teaching professionals continue to collaborate in a pursuit of excellence and our Rocketeer parents are engaging in our schools and transforming their communities. Transformational outcomes and change are occurring daily for our growing number of Rocketeers and families, and it is inspiring. I’m convinced that now we must sustain and solidify these gains before expanding them to additional regions.
While conventional wisdom in our space sometimes points to constant growth as a barometer of success, our barometer is, always has been, and always will be focused on rethinking elementary school from the ground up. Growth is not our mantra; eliminating the achievement gap in our lifetime is.
Rocketship has the opportunity now to solidify many successful innovations in our schools and regions and fortify our network for future impact. There is no question we will continue to grow. There is a clear need all over the country and more and more parents everywhere are demanding excellent option for their kids. Most immediately, our current wait list in our existing regions of over 1,200 students and families demands it. We will first make good on the commitments we have made to our current and future Rocketeers in the region in and around Silicon Valley, Milwaukee, Tennessee and Washington DC. As we replicate the quality, sustainability and success we have had in all of the regions we operate, then the Rocketship community will be ready for a new phase of growth.
Innovation, tenacity and an unyielding commitment to our Rocketeers and communities will always drive our work. Together, we can and we will eliminate the achievement gap in our lifetime.
Preston co-founded Rocketship Education in San Jose with John Danner in 2006. Prior to founding 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.
Published on July 21, 2014