In 2002, Brooke Charter Schools opened its doors to 88 fifth graders in Roslindale. In August 2006, they ushered their first class of kindergarteners and first graders into their new Mattapan elementary school. And just this past week, they welcomed students in kindergarten, first and fifth grade over to East Boston.
By 2019, Brooke plans to host 10 schools, intending to serve 4,400 students. To help them reach that goal, the Charter School Growth Fund (CSGF) is announcing a $1.5 million investment today that will help Brooke expand from at least three schools to five by 2015.
The CSGF is a nonprofit philanthropic fund that invests in the country’s highest performing charter school operators. Brooke is the first Massachusetts-based charter organization to receive an investment from CSGF, largely because of their proven track record of academic success.
The charter organization was named after Senator Edward W. Brooke, the first African-American elected to the U.S. Senate and the first and only black senator from Massachusetts. With a focus on underserved children, more than 75 percent of Brooke students come from low-income families. Last year, however, Brooke’s seventh and eighth graders earned the highest score in the state of Massachusetts on the English Language Arts assessment.
“First and foremost, we were very impressed with their record of academic achievement,” says CSGF’s Vice President of Finance and Investor Relations Julie Maier. Across all grade levels, Maier admits Brooke has been able to excel. “We’ve been really impressed with their focus on teacher quality. They know that having a strong teacher in the classroom is going to have a strong effect on the students.”
Built into the charter organization’s mission is the statement, “From day one, Brooke leaders have been dedicated to great teaching.” Brooke Founder and Network Co-Director Jon Clark echoes the sentiment, saying, “A big part of what we do is really developing great teachers.” Although he admits they don’t expect individuals to be great as soon as they walk into Brooke, they do expect those individuals to be committed and hardworking.
Every Wednesday afternoon, Brooke teachers spend three hours in development, critiquing themselves in groups. “Teaching is complicated,” Clark admits. “It’s a leadership challenge. You’re trying to inspire a group of people.” To Clark, being a great teacher is like being a great parent. “Those students are our kids,” Clark says, claiming every teacher needs to focus on how they can provide their kids with the kind of individualized attention they need to close the achievement gap.
“First of all, though, we need to make sure there’s a safe and orderly learning environment,” Clark says. “If we don’t get that right, then nearly everything else is impossible.”
Alex Finkelstein, a general partner at Spark Capital, would admit Brooke is doing things right, however, which is why he’s now joining the charter organization’s board. “Just five minutes being in the school, and I was completely blown away,” Finklestein says, claiming it comes from the passion of the teachers all the way down to the students. “It makes you want to help in any way possible.”
Beyond assisting on the fundraising side, Finkelstein would also like to create some sort of speaker series for the students. “Some of these students are the best in the state,” he says. Now, it’s time to discover whether these schools can scale and perform at this high level across all of the institutes.
“We like to see schools who are such high performers expand their model,” Maier says, when asked why invest in Brooke. “Brooke’s program really emphasizes life success, and getting the students to and through to college. … What Brooke has been able to do is close the achievement gap.”
And now, with this funding, they’ll be able to close the achievement gap even more. “It’s an incredibly exciting opportunity,” Clark admits. “The more you spend time in the public education sector, the more you realize we need to make a change, and we need to do it one school at a time.”
Photo Courtesy of CSGF