Schools, Start-ups and Social Impact Investors: Tales from BoothEd's Chicago Trek

By Taylor Fleming '16

Taylor Fleming '16

Taylor Fleming '16

This past month BoothEd members took a deep dive into the Chicago education landscape during the annual Chicago Education Trek, visiting seven organizations. The trek included a range of organizations, from charter school networks to ed tech firms.  

At Great Lakes Academy, an independent charter school on the South Side of Chicago, BoothEd members met with the founding team, which includes Booth alum Krystle Kim (’14), hearing about the triumphs and challenges of creating a school from the ground up.  The group also had the chance to attend Great Lakes Academy’s “Community Celebration,” a weekly event that takes place on Friday to celebrate students who have had great behavior throughout the week. Booth’s own Jesse Feinberg (’16) was the guest “mystery reader” of the week. Jesse absolutely killed it at reading the children’s book Olivia to the GLA students.  There was also a Q&A portion led by the students and Jesse had to answer tough questions from the kindergarteners and first graders such as “How many days were you in college?” and “Where do you live?”

Booth-Ed co-chair Jesse Feinberg reads to students at Great Lakes Academy's weekly community celebration.

Booth-Ed co-chair Jesse Feinberg reads to students at Great Lakes Academy's weekly community celebration.

Next, BoothEd visited A Better Chicago, a venture philanthropy fund that is aiming to move the needle on college graduation for Chicago’s low-income students. Their investments include organizations such as OneGoal, founded by Jeff Nelson (‘14), and Bottom Line - Chicago, led by Chris Broughton (currently in part-time program). The group was hosted by Valerie Dao (Harris ‘12), A Better Chicago’s Portfolio Director. Valerie discussed A Better Chicago’s focus on bringing transparency to impact investors as well as the management support the organization provides to its grantees. Grantees are chosen after a thorough due diligence process that includes an ROI analysis of the organization’s activities as well as leadership and scalability assessments.

Another visit was co-hosted at 1871 by Impact Engine, a social impact investment fund and accelerator, and Learnmetrics, a K-12 data analytics startup. Jessica Yagan, the CEO of Impact Engine, discussed the accelerator’s portfolio, investment criteria, and social impact metrics. Jackson Edwards, the Director of Strategy and Development at Learnmetrics, shared how Learnmetrics works to empower schools and school districts by providing them with clear, accessible data that can inform decisionmaking. That same day, BoothEd members spent a few hours at Chicago Public Schools’ district office with alum Patrick Payne (‘08), learning about teacher evaluations and the school sorting process that takes place across the city. It was eye-opening to learn that many CPS students have commutes of one or more hours each way to get to their chosen school.

The visit to Teach For America’s Chicago office included meeting alum Maire Daly (‘13) and discussing the range of roles available to MBAs within the organization, from strategy to marketing to finance. BoothEd also visited GetSet, founded by Karan Goel (‘06). Karan previously won NVC with PrepMe and has now founded an organization to help students develop the right mindset to persist and succeed in college. Currently, 46 percent of students drop out of post-secondary education; GetSet is aiming to change that.  

The last visit will take place at one of Noble Network’s high school campuses, Muchin College Prep in the Loop, where BoothEd members will learn about the charter network’s focus on college preparedness from alum Matt Niksch (‘04).

The education climate is particularly complex with so many powerful stakeholders (i.e. teachers unions, local government).  It reaffirmed our belief that in order to solve educational inequity in this country, we need creative, persistent problem solvers who can work together and stay optimistic in the face of obstacles.  All in all, we walked away feeling energized by the great work being done in the Chicago education space and excited to see what is still to come.

Taylor is a BoothEd co-chair and former 4th grade teacher.