2013 NewSchools Venture Fund Portfolio Award Winners

April 30, 2013

While more than 900 supporters of entrepreneurial change in public education gather today at the annual NewSchools Summit in Burlingame, CA, we are proud to announce the recipients of our annual awards. These awards are designed to recognize and celebrate the remarkable 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 2013 award winners are:

Entrepreneur of the Year
Eric Westendorf and Alix Guerrier, LearnZillion

The Entrepreneur of the Year Award recognizes talented leaders who relentlessly pursue their goal of closing the achievement gap while exhibiting creativity and flexibility in finding the path that will get them there.  Alix Guerrier and Eric Westendorf, founders of LearnZillion, have created a powerful learning platform that combines video lessons, assessments, and progress reporting.  LearnZillion has over 125,000 teachers using their site each week—with hundreds of new teachers signing up each day. 

Organization of the Year Award
New Teacher Center

New Teacher Center, led by Ellen Moir, has been helping new teachers make their first year a success for themselves and their students since 1998.  Since its start, NTC has provided critical induction support to over 85,000 first and second year teachers. The team at NTC knows that providing great induction isn’t enough to support and develop strong novice teachers. This is reflected in the thoughtful innovation that is a hallmark of the organization – an organization truly deserving of organization of the year.

Unlocking Potential

Unlocking Potential, a Boston-based school turnaround organization founded by Scott Given, seeks to transform chronically underperforming district schools.  In the 2011-12 school year, Unlocking Potential operated one of the highest-performing schools in Massachusetts, as measured by student growth. In 2013, Unlocking Potential will operate four schools in the greater Boston area, serving over 1,300 students. Unlocking Potential is demonstrating that quality can be scaled rapidly, and in the process, improving educational opportunities for thousands of low-income students.

Change Agent of the Year
Jonathan Klein, Great Oakland Public Schools

Change Agent of the Year celebrates the work of leaders and organizations in the education ecosystem who demonstrates exceptional urgency and vision and who has made meaningful strides in the past year toward transforming public education.   This year’s Change Agent awards recognize local leaders driving political change at the community level.  Jonathan Klein and his organization, Great Oakland Public Schools, have demonstrated the powerful ability to connect and inform the Oakland community around advancing the quality of public schools in Oakland.  Under Jonathan’s leadership, GO demonstrated that a community coalition can use grass roots organizing and advocacy to change the political context and that a community coalition can use grass roots organizing and advocacy to change the political context.

Neerav Kingsland, New Schools for New Orleans

Change Agent of the Year celebrates the work of leaders and organizations in the education ecosystem who demonstrates exceptional urgency and vision and who has made meaningful strides in the past year toward transforming public education.  In the past decade there has been more change in New Orleans than in any other city in America.  This is especially true of the public education system.  At the center of all this positive change is New Schools for New Orleans and its CEO, Neerav Kingsland.  Neerav has been equally successful in attracting talented educators and entrepreneurs to the city, and he has helped to build new charter schools and CMOs that are closing the achievement gap.  Through his work in New Orleans and his intellectual leadership throughout the country, New richly deserves this year’s award for Change Agent of the Year.

Innovator of the Year
Louise Waters, Leadership Public Schools

Louise Waters, CEO of Leadership Public Schools, has demonstrated an unwavering and innovative commitment to ensuring students at Leadership and beyond are truly college-ready.  Four years ago Louise set out to make Leadership an internal, teacher-led R & D lab focused on developing promising solutions to critical issues in urban secondary education.  Innovations developed include FlexMath, an interactive textbook with scaffolds built in to ensure access to under-prepared students, and most recently ExitTicket, a clicker tool that provides teachers real-time data to orchestrate powerful teaching in the moment.  Louise is a truly remarkable entrepreneur and innovator.

Jason Singer, Gobstopper

When NewSchools brought on Jason Singer six months ago as an Entrepreneur in Residence, it because clear the promise of Jason’ vision and the innovativeness of his solution.  The idea was novel – an e-reader designed with the needs of teachers in mind – to embed reading text with questions, prompts, videos, and definitions.  Jason is on a mission to improve reading instruction because he believes it is a key lever for increasing learning opportunities for kids.

Unsung Hero Award
Carrie Irvin and Simmons Lettre, Charter Board Partners

The Unsung Heroes award celebrates entrepreneurs who quietly tackle critical issues in education reform that are pivotal to improving public schools, but don’t always enjoy the limelight.  Carrie Irvin and Simmons Lettre recognized that strengthening the governance of charter schools could have a tremendous impact on students in Washington, DC and around the country.  Since founding Charter Board Partners in 2011, Carrie and Simmons have partnered with the boards of over 20 schools, impacting almost 8000 students in Washington, DC, and trained more than 200 community members to prepare them for board service. 

Entrepreneur to Watch*
Kate Mehok and Julie Lause, Crescent City Schools

Driven by a passion to ensure all students in New Orleans receive an outstanding education, Kate Mehok and Julie Lause launched Crescent City Schools, a New Orleans-based school management organization.  Both long-time school leaders, the pair draws from deep experience in education, results-driven orientation, and unwavering hard-work in order to intervene in chronically underperforming schools to create an environment for students and teachers to succeed.  Crescent City currently operates two schools, is opening a third next fall and they’re just warming up – this is a pair to watch.

*This section was updated 5/09/13

Guido Kovalsky and Felipe Sommers, Nearpod

One of this year’s Entrepreneur to Watch awards goes Guido Kovalskys and Felipe Sommer, co-founders and coCEO’s of NearPod.   Guido and Felipe launched NearPod less then a year ago and teachers fell in love.  It’s not every venture that can elicit tweets and expressions like the one below:

“NearPod helps teachers turn a 1:1 tablet environment from a chaotic classroom mgmt challenge into a synchronized, differentiated, interactive lesson.  It essentially equips teachers with the ability to transition seamlessly between whole class, small group and individual instruction.”

NearPod hit the #1 spot last week for teacher collaboration tools and is regularly a top 25 edu app.  Guido and Felipe are exceptional serial entrepreneurs – humble, hard-working, focused on value-creation, fun and ultimately driven to improve learning for kids. 

Congratulations to the 2013 NewSchools annual award winners!!