The Co-Founder of Rocketship Education Has Learned Lessons Too

Rocketship Education is a nonprofit network of public elementary charter schools that has become well-known for their innovative system of using deeply integrated technology to create personalized education for children. They opened their first school in San Jose California in a church, and stunned the educational world when their low income students were assessed by California’s state system as equal to students in the Palo Alto School District. Preston Smith, co-founder and current CEO, writes about some of the lessons he has learned from leading Rocketship Education over the years.

One of the more difficult lessons was meaningful inclusion benefits all the students. When Rocketship Education began, they struggled on how to deal with children with disabilities. Some of them have behavioral disabilities that make them more difficult for teachers to deal with, and that means they disrupt classrooms for the normal children. He admits that at first, Rocketship Education focused on complying with guidelines. However, they developed a meaningful-inclusion model. In that model, students with disabilities spend 80% of their classroom time in the general student population. The students with benefits gain from greater exposure to quality education. However, Smith says the regular students also benefit. They learn to have greater empathy for the disabled students. He admits this isn’t an easy model. It can upset parents when the education of their well-behaved children is disturbed by a child with a behavioral disability. However, he says, that’s a small price to pay for achieving a school community that includes all the children, and which celebrates the accomplishments of all the students.

One of Rocketship Education’s supporters is tennis star Andre Agassi. At a bad time in his own life, Agassi decided to help children who needed a better education to have a better chance at a good life. For reasons outside their control, they did not have the choices he had. He and Robert Turner created the Turner-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund, and that fund supports several Rocketship schools. In late 2016, Agassi’s fund opened the Rocketship Rise Academy in the Woodland Terrace neighborhood in the S.E. of Washington D.C.