After Katrina there was simply no better place to do high-impact work in education and no place where there was greater need.
- Ben Markovitz
Just as Jack Kent Cooke Scholar Ben Marcovitz was beginning his graduate studies in the late summer of 2005, Hurricane Katrina tore apart New Orleans. Suddenly Ben’s focus was clear: Use his time at the Harvard Graduate School of Education to prepare to return to the city where he had taught school and help rebuild its education system. “After Katrina there was simply no better place to do high-impact work in education and no place where there was a greater need,” he said.
Ben resolved to create a charter school to serve urban students who had the ability but not the means to succeed. But it didn’t happen overnight. First, as part of his studies, he researched how to launch such a school. He also organized volunteers at Harvard to go to New Orleans and help existing schools get back on their feet.
After graduation in 2006, he signed on as assistant director at another New Orleans charter school that emerged from the catastrophe. He also received a fellowship with a non-profit that helped him further develop his understanding of school startups.
Then, in the late summer of 2008, Ben and several colleagues opened the New Orleans Science and Math Academy http://www.sciacademy.org/ (better known as “Sci Academy”) on Dwyer Road in New Orleans.
Sci Academy intends to prepare all its students to enter and complete college and pursue the careers and lives of their choosing, a bold goal in a city with some of the nation’s lowest high school and college graduation rates. “What I tell parents of prospective students I meet, all of whom are coming from fairly low-performing elementary and middle schools, is that if you stick with us for four years and work hard, you will be ready for college,” Ben said.
Since opening, Sci Academy has led its district in high school performance, a remarkable gain for students. Seventy percent of the first class entered Sci Academy with over three grades below level in reading. In June 2012, more than 95 percent of Sci Academy's inaugural senior class graduated with four-year college acceptances in hand.
The success of Sci Academy prompted the creation of the Collegiate Academies network to replicate the Sci Academy model of open-enrollment, college preparatory high schools. In August 2012, two new Collegiate Academies schools opened.
Ben is proud of his faculty and staff, but especially the kids and their parents. “The gold medal really does go to the kids because the kids have decided to do something drastically different with their education,” he said. “The teachers get the silver medal because they’ve made a very deliberate decision to make this succeed. The parents get the bronze because it is not easy on them either.”
Ben is now the Chief Executive Officer of Collegiate Academies.
Jack Kent Cooke Scholar Ben Marcovitz from Jack Kent Cooke Foundation on Vimeo.