Back in 1991, I was sitting in a CEO’s office in Los Angeles when a young lady named Wendy Kopp was making a pitch for something called Teach for America. Her idea was to engage some of the nation’s best and brightest college students upon their graduation from undergrad into giving back to society by teaching in some of the nation’s toughest inner city public schools. The Princeton grad was very persuasive, but I didn’t hear too much more after that meeting and I went on to do battle for children wanting choices and access to better schools period.
My battles eventually led me to starting the GEO Foundation in 1998 and in 2001, we started one of Indiana’s first public charter schools. Today, we support four public charter schools (3 in Indiana and 1 in Colorado Springs). We serve more than 1300 students, 85% of whom are qualified for the federal free and reduced price lunch program.
Today, all four schools are experiencing high growth in academics. Our Gary school is ranked number one in the state for academic growth this year. All three of GEO’s Indiana schools are in the state’s top 10 percent when measured for growth. Of course, measuring for growth is important, but we are most proud of the fact that our high school students are not only graduating, but they are graduating with numerous college credits and scholarships.
Helping us help students realize their dreams is Teach For America. This morning, I was pleased to find out that GEO’s two Indianapolis charter schools employ the most TFA members of any charter school in the city, and that GEO Academies are the 2nd largest employer of TFA members in Indianapolis period with Indianapolis Public Schools being the number one employer. GEO Academies in Indianapolis employ more than 10 percent of all Indianapolis TFA members.
We believe TFA is a big reason for the growth in academic achievement at our two Indianapolis schools. TFA shares our belief that longer school days, data driven instruction, and a mission-driven focus on serving students produces successful results.
Our Gary school also employs five TFA members and our Colorado Springs school has seven. In total, TFA members represent about 25% of our entire teaching staff in our four schools combined.
It is a bit amazing to me to think about that brief moment in time when I was sitting in that LA office and listening to Wendy talk about her idea and then realize that she has brought her dream into reality today and that GEO and our schools, and most importantly, our students, are benefiting from her efforts. Congrats to you Wendy. Keep it going!!! And thank you for making your dream come true. Your dream is helping others realize their dreams, too.
By Kevin Teasley, GEO Foundation