In addition to the policy and advocacy work that we do at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, our sister organization the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation sponsors eight charter schools in Ohio. In August Fordham will sponsor three new start-ups (one each in Dayton, Columbus and Cleveland). Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA) opened in 2008, and it has now launched the newly-formed United Schools Network, a nonprofit charter management organization (CMO). United Schools Network will consolidate the operations of CCA and launch the new 6-8 Columbus Collegiate Academy- West Campus.

To learn more about all this we sat down with CCA founder Andrew Boy to hear first-hand what he hopes to achieve through the United Schools Network. 

Q. Why did you decide to form the United Schools Network (USN)?

A. While launching a high-performing, high-need, school in Columbus is challenging and satisfying, we want to do more. We recognize that we have a unique opportunity to do so. If CCA can create excellence in our flagship school, then there is no reason we cannot similarly create excellent schools in other areas of Columbus and in other parts of the Midwest. It is in pursuit of this goal that we have created an organization to support the growth and replication of schools based on the United Schools Network model. 

Q. What will be the main function of USN?

A.  A “home office,” which will house the Chief Executive and other key senior leaders of the organization, will centrally direct USN operations. At its core, the “home office” will be charged with the following responsibilities:

  • Providing resources to USN schools: Teacher recruitment support; external fundraising; alumni services; marketing and branding.
  • Providing services to USN schools: Vendor contract administration; financial management and budgeting; human resources management; professional development and leadership development.
  • Defining the core framework of a USN school: Curriculum development, assessment determination and analysis; school culture planning and execution.
  • Providing accountability to USN schools: Student performance benchmarking; leader selection; leader evaluations and professional development plans; stakeholder surveys, annual reporting; school improvement initiatives.
  • Determining the strategy of USN schools: New school development; strategic partnership creation and maintenance; central board governance training and support.

USN is designed to be a strong home office that will have strict control over many school design elements and school functions that are managed primarily at school sites in other CMO structures. We believe that by clearly defining key elements of the USN school design and of the manner in which USN schools will operate, we can reduce the variability between schools and ensure the high-quality implementation of the USN model and brand in each USN building. We believe that within this clearly defined structure, highly-talented and capable school leaders will be able innovate and improve upon the extant model to ensure the highest level of performance for our schools. 

Q. When deciding what USN should look like and how it should operate, did you study other successful CMO’s around the country?

A. Yes, we most closely align with Uncommon Schools. However, we used research from several national reports to compile all of the best practices from those who have come before us. 

Q. Where do you get your teachers, and what does the recruitment process look like?

A. We cast a very wide net to find the best and the brightest teachers. We have received more than 500 applications for a handful of available positions this year. Many of our teachers are Ohio natives that have left the state for one or another reason and are now looking to return. Our human capital search begins with the job post. It is vitally important that we get exposure to the right talent and that these folks are able to locate our job posts easily. The goal is to make USN schools the spot for educators to apply for those already living in the Columbus area and for those looking to return to Ohio. Emphasis will be placed on candidates from local and national organizations, such as Teach For America, that have a demonstrated track record of success. After posting positions, we follow a very specific process.

Q. Will USN set up a leadership pipeline, and how are you going to provide training?

A. We are considering several different options. Some include an internal training program and others include a close partnership with Building Excellent Schools that will support the development of our rising leaders.

Q. What are your future growth plans for USN?

A. Over the next five years, USN will work aggressively to deliver the value and opportunity presented by the CCA educational model to over 1,000 additional students by founding two additional K-5 “No-Excuses” charter schools. We also plan to evaluate and identify other “opportunity” locations for replication throughout the Midwest. 

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