Charter leaders making a difference in Columbus

Fordham, which sponsors (a.k.a. authorizes) eleven charter schools across the state, is proud to see two of its Columbus-area schools and their leaders featured in the news recently.

United Preparatory Academy

Columbus Alive, a weekly alternative paper focused on arts, culture, and entertainment, gave credit to United Schools Network for its work in revitalizing Franklinton, one of the city’s most up-and-coming neighborhoods. Even cooler than the artist lofts, tattoo shops, and hipster-filled farmers’ markets (and arguably more critical to the community’s long-term health), United Schools is providing a high-quality educational option for families living there. United Preparatory Academy (UPrep) opened in 2014 and serves students from kindergarten to second grade, one-quarter of whom come directly from the neighborhood. Columbus Collegiate West—a replication of United’s award-winning Columbus Collegiate Academy, located on the city’s east side—opened in the same building in 2012 and serves students from grades six through eight. UPrep will continue adding a grade each year until meeting up with Columbus Collegiate West to create a K–8 building.

United Schools Founder and Chief Executive Officer Andy Boy recognizes United’s role in long-term community transformation, as the Franklinton Development Association recruits homeowners who are looking for high-quality schools. The problem is not unique to Franklinton: Young people flock to rapidly gentrifying areas, but they flee once they have young children because of the dearth of decent schools. Boy hopes for strategic partnerships and collaboration so that United can help reverse this trend. The arts scene that defines Franklinton offers many natural and enriching partnership opportunities between the community and his network of schools.

This past summer, the Dispatch drew attention to Franklinton in the context of a recent analysis by the D.C.-based Urban Institute. The neighborhood ranked second-lowest in the entire country in a “neighborhood advantage score” (which considered the average household income of each Census tract), as well as the share of people with college degrees, homeownership rates, and median home values.

It seems suitable that a neighborhood characterized by grit would be home to a charter school network whose grassroots climb to success embodies exactly that quality.

KIPP: Columbus

Capital Style recently published a lengthy profile of KIPP Columbus Executive Director Hannah Powell. The article outlines Powell’s journey from Wittenberg University to teaching sixth and seventh graders in Philadelphia via Teach For America, before eventually heading back to Ohio. She was recruited to take the helm at Columbus’s first and only KIPP school, where she successfully boosted enrollment, reestablished KIPP philosophy, closed a budget deficit, and brought much-needed leadership and a relentless commitment to success.

Powell’s vision is as expansive and inspiring as the school’s brand-new campus. She remarked, “The children in our country, only one of ten in low-income homes are making it through college, and that’s an injustice. To address this, it’s going to take everyone working together, relentlessly, to serve kids the way they deserve. It’s going to take, quite frankly, us creating a more just world for our kids.” The magazine also quotes KIPP board member Abigail Wexner on Powell’s role in KIPP’s success: “Hannah [proved to be] tenacious and curious and hardworking. And the quickest study I have ever met.” No doubt, she has played an integral role in establishing one of Columbus’ most successful charter schools and growing it into the program it is today. Powell’s leadership style and emphasis on strong community partnerships—as exemplified by the number of community leaders providing quotes in the piece—are worth emulating.  

Jamie Davies O'Leary
Jamie Davies O'Leary is a Senior Ohio Policy Analyst at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. She works with a coalition of high-performing Ohio charter school networks, facilitating their advocacy efforts and providing research and technical assistance.