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Co-Founder and CEO of Rocketship Education Looks Back on Lessons Learned

Along with John Danner, Preston Smith co-founded Rocketship Education in 2006. They opened up their first school in a church in San Jose California. Rocketship Education is a nonprofit network of charter public elementary schools. Based in Redwood California, they operate charter schools in California, Nashville Tennessee, Washington D.C. and Milwaukee Wisconsin. They have integrated technology in ways never seen before, creating personalized education. Rocketship Education achieved a lot of publicity when the low income students at their flagship school in California proved competitive with kids in the Palo Alto School District based on California’s state assessment. Smith wrote up an article about the lessons he has learned from running Rocketship Education.

One of the most important lessons was about the integration of schools. He says there’s nothing wrong with parents wanting their children to attend the best schools available. And students of color should have not have to leave their communities to attend good schools. But creating culturally responsive schools was not about integrating the students, although Rocketship Educations accepts students from all races, background, ethnic groups and classes. It’s about integrating the teachers. Teacher diversity is the best way to influence students of color in a positive way. He cites research Malcolm Gladwell turned up regarding the historic Supreme Court decision Brown vs The Board of Education of Topeka in 1954. Gladwell uncovered an interview with an African-American teacher who said the schools should have first integrated the teachers and the administration. That is what Rocketship Education has learned, and what they strive to apply.

One lesson Smith writes about is powerful, and something everybody knows instinctively, although most people try to ignore the implications. Actions speak louder than words. Smith points out that he had no children of his own when he started Rocketship Education. He had spent time as a teacher and a principal, but not yet a parent. Now he has two children, and they both attend Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep. He says the main reason is he wants his children to go to a great school. And he wants everybody to know Rocketship schools are good enough for all children because they’re good enough for his kids.

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