The Drexel Fund has made a number of investments in a diverse set of operators that meet our funding criteria and demonstrate that sustainable private school network growth is possible in the right policy environments.
Academy Prep is a developing network of tuition-free private schools exclusively serving low-income students and providing them with a rigorous college-preparatory middle school education and ongoing graduate support that prepares and continues to guide them to be competitive in high caliber high schools and universities. Over the past twenty years, Academy Prep has grown into two high-performing schools in the Tampa Bay area—Academy Prep St. Petersburg opened in 1997 and the second school opened in Tampa in 2003—serving more than 225 middle school students. Its student body, which is 100% low-income, regularly arrives achieving below the 40th national percentile in reading and math and regularly leaves the middle school years achieving above the 70th percentile. Ninety-seven percent of graduates have gone on to complete high school and more than eighty percent attend college. Academy Prep leadership recently developed a strategic growth plan to scale to five campuses in west central Florida that will eventually serve more than 630 students. Its third campus will open in fall 2019 in Lakeland, Florida.
Since 2004, Lubavitch of Wisconsin, a branch of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, has operated Bader Hillel Academy, a successful K-8 Jewish day school near Milwaukee. Seeking to serve graduates whose families sought a college preparatory high school education alongside a Jewish education, Lubavitch of Wisconsin leadership developed an innovative high school program in 2013. Students enrolled in a publicly funded virtual high school program augmented by a tuition-funded Jewish studies program housed in facilities and with support staff provided by Lubavitch of Wisconsin. Within several years, the program’s leadership decided that they wanted to integrate the academic portion of the school. Piloted by Bader Hillel Academy for 9-10th grades, they partnered with the Summit Learning Program, an organization providing 380 schools across the United States with the tools, resources, and training to support a rigorous project-based academic program. Its success has led to the creation of a new high school which will launch in fall 2019 to house and grow the pilot program into its own independent 150-student school at full capacity.
Build Urban Prosperity (Build UP) is a new school model that launched in fall 2018 in Birmingham, Alabama, that is rethinking high school and how to better support skill development that will lead to pathways in the trades. While mastering high school content, students learn carpentry, drywall, electrical, and plumbing skills. They also learn how to finance, purchase, sell, and care for a home through in-class exercises and paid internships. As whole school projects, students renovate duplexes within Birmingham’s Ensley neighborhood. When students have earned an Associate Degree through Build UP’s six-year program and have enrolled in a four-year college or have obtained a full-time job, they will obtain ownership of one of the duplexes they helped renovate while in school. Build UP will reach a capacity of 120 students in its 6-year program by 2023-24. Once successfully launched, Build UP plans to replicate in other cities. Build UP CEO, Mark Martin, participated in Drexel’s Founders Program in 2017-18.
In 1996 Father John Foley launched the first Cristo Rey High School in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. It implemented a rigorous college preparatory curriculum with an innovative Corporate Work Study Program whereby students work five days each month in an entry-level job at a professional company, with the fee for their work being directed to underwrite tuition costs. The Cristo Rey Network (CRN) was founded in 2001 in order to franchise the model nationally. There are now 35 CRN schools serving more than 11,500 exclusively low-income students nationwide. Three Cristo Rey schools have received funding from The Drexel Fund:
- Cristo Rey Oklahoma City Catholic High School opened in fall 2018 and will reach a capacity of 500 9-12th grade students in 2021-22.
- Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School opened in 2014 into a facility with capacity for 400 students. In the fall of 2017, the school moved into a new, permanent facility that can house its full capacity of 550 students.
- Cristo Rey Jesuit High School Milwaukee opened in 2015 into a facility with capacity for 400 students. In the fall of 2020, the school will move into a new, permanent facility that can house its full capacity of 500 students.
Fugees Family was established in Clarkson, Georgia in 2004 as a private year-round soccer camp, after school tutoring program, and an academic enrichment camp for refugee children. In 2007, Fugees Family launched Fugees Academy as a middle school that now serves 84 students in grades 6-12 representing 23 different homelands. Given its students’ backgrounds with little or no English upon matriculation, students enter the school performing under the 5th percentile and graduate performing around the 60th. Annual student retention is at or above 90% and the first two graduating classes, while small, all matriculated to college. Fugees Academy has now developed a network model allowing it to bring its successful model to refugee students nationwide. In fall 2018, the Fugees Academy network launched a new school in Columbus, Ohio, and has plans for another in Cleveland—serving 792 students combined when fully enrolled.
In the mid-1990’s, the late Father Harry Tompson, a Jesuit pastor in downtown New Orleans decided to launch an independent Catholic school in order to break the cycle of poverty through education. Based on the Nativity model of education, The Good Shepherd School opened its doors to thirty children in the fall of 2001, growing to a little over 100 students over 15 years. Given a record of academic and operational success, Good Shepherd School engaged in strategic planning in 2016-17 that called for the original campus to move to a new facility that will allow it to triple in size and launched a network structure to support the replication of its successful school model. Good Shepherd School relocated to its new facility in fall 2018 and the Good Shepherd Mission Network intends to open a second campus, serving a combined 700 students when fully enrolled.
In the mid-1990’s, the late Father Harry Tompson, a Jesuit pastor in downtown New Orleans, decided to launch an independent Catholic school in order to break the cycle of poverty through education. Based on the Nativity model of education, The Good Shepherd School opened its doors to thirty children in the fall of 2001, growing to a little over 100 students over 15 years. Given a record of academic and operational success, Good Shepherd School engaged in strategic planning in 2016-17 that calls for the original campus to move to a new facility that will allow it to triple in size and launched a network structure to support the replication of its successful school model. Good Shepherd School will relocate to its new facility in Fall 2018 and the Good Shepherd Mission Network will then launch a second campus, serving a combined 700 students when fully enrolled.
HOPE Christian Schools is a network of eight Christian college-preparatory schools in Milwaukee and Racine, Wisconsin, serving predominantly low-income students. With a mission “rooted in the 3 Cs – Christ. College. Character,” HOPE Christian Schools began with a single elementary school of 47 children on the northwest side of inner-city Milwaukee in 2002. Another elementary and a high school opened within the following three years, at which time a parent organization, Open Sky Education, was created in order to launch charter schools through the Eagle College Prep network in Phoenix, Arizona, and St. Louis, Missouri. (Open Sky Education also runs Compass Educational Programs, a Christian after-school program, and Compass Facilities.) The HOPE network has since opened five more K-8th grade private schools in Milwaukee and Racine. The Drexel Fund is supporting HOPE Christian Schools’ growth from six to nine schools, serving 4,584 students when fully enrolled.
Founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame, Julie Billiart School – Lyndhurst is a Catholic K-8th grade school that has a more than 60-year history of exclusively teaching children with special needs near Cleveland, Ohio. As a school dedicated to children with unique learning and social needs, Julie Billiart serves a wide spectrum of students. Learning disabilities range from mid to high functioning autism, ADD/ADHD, traumatic brain injury, hearing impairment, anxiety, and/or speech and language disorders. Given Ohio’s publicly funded voucher programs for students with autism and other special needs, students can receive scholarships up to $27,000 annually to designate to their choice of approved special needs providers. Having not been able to meet the demand for seats, Julie Billiart School developed a network and a plan for growth across Northeastern Ohio. By fall 2021, Julie Billiart Schools will grow from one school to three schools, serving 375 students when fully enrolled.
Kingdom Prep Lutheran High School is an all-boys school bordering Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with a mission to “Build a brotherhood in Christ, for lives of purpose.” Launched in August 2018, Kingdom Prep is the first all-boys Lutheran school in America. Modeled after St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, New Jersey, Kingdom Prep emphasizes team building and spiritual development to build a social and spiritual network that will support students through rigorous academic work and the difficulties of adolescence. The college-preparatory curriculum will be enhanced each year through thematic learning via a “community innovation partnership challenge” where student teams focus on tackling a unique community problem by integrating grade-appropriate math, science, reading, and social studies to solve problems. Kingdom Prep will reach a capacity of 275 9-12th grade students by 2022-23. Kingdom Prep’s President, Kevin Festerling, participated in Drexel’s Founders Program in 2017-18.
In 2002, Lutheran Urban Mission Initiative, Inc. (LUMIN) was created to address the weakened state of Lutheran education in Milwaukee’s urban community. Since that time, the organization has developed a network structure of strong back-office support, a rigorous and consistent academic program, deep character and spiritual formation through a faith-based education program and a comprehensive set of student and family supports. It has grown to a network of five high performing K-8 schools across southeastern Wisconsin serving more than 1,200 low-income students and their families. In the summer of 2018, LUMIN leadership began a strategic planning process to consider future growth of the organization’s network of schools. The resulting plan outlines the creation of four new schools in Southeastern Wisconsin over the next seven years. The Drexel Fund is supporting LUMIN’s growth to seven schools, serving 1,820 students when fully enrolled.
A small group of individuals who envisioned an excellent Christ-centered education in the inner city of Indianapolis founded The Oaks Academy in 1998 with 53 students at the founding Fall Creek campus. The founders desired to offer a quality Classical education to students across racial and socioeconomic barriers, which they believed would facilitate revitalization in the lives of students, families, and the community at large. As a result of its rigorous academic program, The Oaks Academy is rated the top school of any school type – private, charter or traditional district – in the state of Indiana. Due to growing demand, The Oaks Academy opened a second campus, Brookside, in 2012. In 2015, The Oaks Academy opened its middle school campus. All three campuses serve a deliberately diverse racial and socioeconomic mix of students. By fall 2026, the current three campuses of The Oaks Academy will grow by 84%, serving 1,224 students when fully enrolled.
Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Wildflower Schools is an ecosystem of decentralized teacher-led Montessori micro-schools. Wildflower Montessori started in January 2014 as an early childhood education program created by MIT Media Lab professor Sep Kamvar in partnership with two Montessori veterans. Since then, a growing network of teacher leaders has helped start more than two dozen additional Wildflower schools around the country and in Puerto Rico. Wildflower schools are 1-2 room schools located in shop-fronts embedded in neighborhoods, with the faculty both teaching and administering the school. The small scale of each school is meant to allow teacher-leaders to make day-to-day decisions that respond to the needs of the children and school-wide decisions that express their own vision. The Wildflower network is supported by a foundation that works to build capacity, systems, tools and research to grow and strengthen the network.
- Alyssum Montessori School is the first school in Indiana affiliated with the Wildflower network. Launched in fall 2018 as a private school participating in Indiana’s statewide voucher program, the school will reach a capacity of 40 students ages 3 through 12 by 2020-21.
- Azalea Montessori School is the first school in Ohio affiliated with the Wildflower network. Launching in fall 2019 as a private school eligible to participate in Ohio’s voucher programs, the school will reach a capacity of 20 students ages 3 through 6 by 2021-22.
- Hawthorn Montessori School and Fox Flower Montessori School are the first schools in North Carolina affiliated with the Wildflower network. Launching in fall 2019 as private schools participating in North Carolina’s statewide voucher program, the schools will reach a capacity of 60 students ages 3 through 12 by 2021-22.