Rocketship Education Is Coming to a Town Near You

The first Rocketship school opened its doors 10 years ago with humble beginnings. The school was in a church’s basement, and over the years, the administrators have learned a lot. In this article, the co-founder and CEO of Rocketship Public Schools Preston Smith outlines 10 lessons he learned in the school’s first 10 years.

Lesson #1: Without the home, personalized learning could not exist.

The media were extremely interested in us because we advocated something called “personalized learning.” We whole-heartedly agree that technology is needed to encourage learning, but we also believe that students need more than just technology. Teachers and administrators must thoroughly understand what each child and his or her family needs and desires. A very important part of personalized learning has been visits to the children’s homes. We have found that our home visits strengthen the relationship between the student, the student’s family and the teacher. That is the way in which we learn how we can give each child specifically what he or she requires.

Lesson #2: The system will not change until we create more demand.

Rocketship school was created to be an agent of elementary school education. Several people, including parents, partners and those who donate to us want us to expand to a K-12 system. I would like to be able to do that because I hate to lose our kids after they graduate from fifth grade. We don’t know what happens to them after that, but we have to decide whether we are going to reconstruct public education or create another system that can exist along side of it. A K-12 system would make it impossible for us to involve parents outside of the classroom. It also would not promote parental demand for equity in the public school system. When John King stated that we were investing a majority of our money in supply and very little in demand, systems that are equity-focused do not have a chance to change that quickly. So, we need to spend more time creating the demand.

Lesson #3: Recognize parental power.

The purpose of our parent leadership program is to ensure that families can demand that politicians listen to them so that they can hold these politicians accountable for their actions. Lastly, we wanted to ensure that superior public education can prosper. Since we are only an elementary school, parents will be forced to fight for high-quality middle schools and high schools as well. That is what we hoped would happen, and it turns out that that is exactly what did happen.

Lesson #4: Teachers are responsible for creating culturally responsive schools.

Rather than send kids out of their neighborhoods to integrate a school, we believe that teacher diversity is more important. At Rocketship Education, we accept children of all races, classes and creeds, but teacher diversity is what benefits our students more than student diversity.

Lesson #5: We have to stop talking and start acting.

I thought that it was important to send my two children to a Rocketship school. I believed that I wouldn’t be able to convince anyone that Rocketship was right for their children if I didn’t believe that it was right for my own.

Lesson #6: All children benefit from meaningful inclusion.

We had difficulties integrating children with special needs into our schools in the beginning. We developed a “meaningful inclusion model” specifically for children with special needs. These children spend 80 percent of the school day with our kids without disabilities. Kids with disabilities aren’t the only ones to benefit from this because kids without disabilities develop a greater sense of empathy.

Lesson #7: Always continue to learn.

We tried something new called “the flex model.” We wanted to create an energetic and free learning environment in which three teachers would be directed by one school leader. We hoped to encourage teachers to perform to the best of their ability, but the model did not work for every Rocketship school. We decided it wasn’t a good idea for that time, but we learned about real-time coaching, setting goals and adult continuous learning. We are still using what we learned from that project in our actions today.

Lesson #8: Know the particular mindset that will complement your organization the best.

We learned during the flex model period that every teacher is not in favor of being coached. This gave us the ability to re-define our hiring practices. We began to look for people who value the learning process and would welcome instruction whether they are new to teaching or have been in the classroom for several years. Now, we spend as much time evaluating a candidate’s mindset as we do examining his or her resume.

Lesson #9: “Two heads are better than one” turns out to be sage advice.

We discovered that the relationships we had with public agencies that were helping us realize our goal of opening Rocketship schools were instrumental to our success. Cultivating these relationships took time and effort, but it was absolutely necessary to do it.

Lesson #10: We are honored to be public schools.

Public education is the pillar of our democracy and what makes the American dream possible. Public education does need to be reinvigorated, but taking the “public” out of education isn’t an option. It is an honor to be a public school, so we have decided to change the name of Rocketship Education to “Rocketship Public Schools.”

About Rocketship Public Schools

Rocketship Public Schools is an educational network with several public elementary charter schools. The schools have been strategically placed in areas that were not known for having excellent schools. For a school to be life-changing for students, the administrators at Rocketship believe that it has to entrust teachers and make parents a part of the process. Then, the entire community can be inspired.

Rocketship Public Schools is a non-profit network with 501- 1,000 employees. Rocketship Education is located in Redwood City, California. At Rocketship Public Schools, they believe that they will close the gap between the most successful schools in America and those that have performed at the lowest levels within our lifetimes.