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Entrepreneurial leaders honored for contributions to public education

NewSchools Venture Fund announces 2011 honorees for Entrepreneurs of the Year, Organization of the Year, and New Market Maker Award at annual convening of education innovators

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – May 19, 2011 – While more than 800 supporters of entrepreneurial change in public education gathered at its twelfth annual NewSchools Summit in Burlingame, CA on Wednesday, venture philanthropy firm NewSchools Venture Fund announced the recipients of its annual awards, including Entrepreneur of the Year, Organization of the Year, and New Market Maker Award. The awards are designed to recognize and celebrate the achievements of this important class of social innovators, who are making a difference in the lives of students in underserved communities across the country and changing the national conversation about what’s possible in public education.

The NewSchools Summit is the leading national event on innovation and entrepreneurship that improves public education for low-income children.

The 2011 award winners are:

Entrepreneur of the Year:

Alex Grodd, BetterLesson
Boston, MA

Alex Grodd, a former Teach For America corps member, founded BetterLesson in 2008 to equip educators with the tools to create and deliver the highest quality instruction. He believed that high-performing school systems need easy ways to organize, disseminate, and continuously improve their curricula, and that teachers need easy ways to access, share, organize and store materials. Over the last two years, BetterLesson has grown from an idea to a site with 9,000 teachers registered as users, and partnerships with some of the best-known school networks, including KIPP, Achievement First, and Rocketship. Betterlesson not only provides access to materials, but also enables teachers to find and share the highest-quality materials – at least one ingredient schools need to drive student achievement.

“Alex has worked like a dog, dug into his own savings, and yet always maintained a sense of optimism that motivates those around him,” said NewSchools partner Jordan Meranus when presenting this award. “For aspiring entrepreneurs who want to create companies that make a real difference for students in underserved communities, the impact of Alex’s vision, hard work and persistence shows that it is possible.”

Entrepreneur of the Year:

Alexandra Bernadotte, Beyond 12

San Francisco, CA

Two years ago, as an entrepreneur-in-residence at NewSchools, Alexandra Bernadotte began building Beyond 12, an organization rooted in the belief that all students are capable of graduating from college. By pairing students with college “coaches” – themselves recent college graduates – Beyond 12 acts as a bridge between K-12 and higher education, while giving both systems access to data about how best to prepare and support low-income students of color. In the coming academic year, Beyond 12 will coach over 500 students and will track the progress of 4000 college students. Alexandra’s team launched an alumni tracker last year that high schools are already using to track data about their students’ postsecondary progress. The team recently launched a Facebook application for students, and is developing an “early warning system” that will help universities maximize the impact of their student support services to prevent dropout. In addition, working with several charter schools and charter management organizations, Alexandra and her team recently signed contracts with the San Francisco Unified School District, San Francisco State University and City College of San Francisco.

“These are the first steps toward the realization of Alexandra’s goal to shift the national paradigm from college access to college success,” noted NewSchools Partner Deborah McGriff when presenting this award.

Organization of the Year:

The Achievement Network

The Achievement Network (ANet) builds school level capacity to use real-time data to improve instruction and close the achievement gap. The organization provides and scores standards-aligned assessments, holds timely data analysis meetings with instructional leaders, and helps schools develop the internal structures and practices necessary for effective data use. ANet team members help educators acquire, review, understand, discuss, and make concrete and measurable plans based on data.

Beyond impact, ANet has demonstrated the role that entrepreneurs can play in driving change. The organization was started by John Maycock in 2005, and initially served approximately 10 schools in its first few years. Ted Preston joined as CEO in 2008. This year ANet served 160 schools touching the lives of nearly 45,000 students. Next year, as an i3 winner, ANet will serve over 260 schools in 8 states. Revenue has grown by over 400% in 3 years, and earned revenue covers over 70% of costs, a level of discipline that will ensure sustainability of this important nonprofit organization.

New Market Maker:

John Danner, Rocketship Education

Palo Alto, CA

In the summer of 2006, NewSchools’ CEO Ted Mitchell recruited John Danner to become an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at NewSchools. John and his co-founder Preston Smith established Rocketship Education, a network of free, public K-5 college prep elementary charter schools. Rocketship opened the nation’s first hybrid elementary school in 2007. By fall 2010, Rocketship operated three schools in San Jose and was the leading hybrid charter school management organization in the nation dedicated to disrupting the current system.

Today, it is nearly impossible to search literature on hybrids and come across an article that does not feature Rocketship’s pioneering Learning Lab, exceptional classroom teaching, personal growth and gap-closing outcomes for low-income English language learners as well as other underserved children.

“Rocketship’s unique hybrid model is transforming elementary education, scaling a 21st century education market, and earning John the title of founder of the hybrid school movement,” said NewSchools Partner Deborah McGriff when presenting this award.

About NewSchools Venture Fund

NewSchools Venture Fund seeks to transform public education through powerful ideas and passionate entrepreneurs so that all children – especially those in underserved communities – have the opportunity to succeed. As a national nonprofit venture philanthropy firm, NewSchools supports education entrepreneurs, a special breed of innovators who create new nonprofit and for-profit organizations that redefine our sense of what is possible in public education. Founded in 1998, NewSchools has invested in more than 40 nonprofit and for-profit organizations and raised nearly $180 million. NewSchools takes an active role with each venture in our portfolio to help them create sustainable organizations that generate breakthrough results at scale for the students they serve. In addition to this direct support to entrepreneurs, NewSchools also connects their work to the broader public education reform movement to catalyze systems change. For more information, visit http://www.newschools.org/.

Media Contact

Joe Ventura, Senior Communications Manager
NewSchools Venture Fund
415-615-6862
jventura@newschools.org