Challenging traditional methods of public education by establishing boarding schools, funded by public-private partnerships, in low-income urban communities, providing a round-the-clock environment that fosters academic success and personal growth.
By creating publicly-funded, inner-city college preparatory schools, Raj Vinnakota and The SEED Foundation are changing the way the public, private, and citizen sectors invest in education and urban communities.
In 1998 the Foundation launched its first school, the SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C. The school operates a ten-month program that nurtures students–and in many cases, their families–and encourages children to strive for academic excellence. Each student lives in a "house" in one of the campus' two dormitories and is assigned a houseparent. Each day after classes, they may choose to participate such activities as drama club, debate, book club, and art and dance classes. After dinner, teachers and volunteers are on hand to assist with study hall. Each student spends two weekends a month with his or her family. In addition to the ten-month program, the SEED school conducts a six-week summer program for students who have difficulty meeting academic requirements during the regular school year. The school began with forty seventh-graders in 1998, drawn at random from the community. Each year, it adds a grade level and is currently educating two hundred thirty students in grades seven through eleven. It will grow to three hundred students next year. Demand for the school is high; currently, there are three applicants for every student slot. To select a site for the school, The SEED Foundation team spent hours with neighborhood associations, community development corporations, parents, and city officials, finally settling on the site of a former public school that had been repeatedly arsoned.
To aid its mission, the SEED school developed a Community Relations and Parent program, the goals of which are to support parents' involvement in their children's education, to reach students in the community who would be well-served by the residential program, and to build a strong relationship with the community at large. Parents are asked to volunteer six hours each month at the school and participate in student educational plans and school sponsored activities. The SEED school supports students' families with programs that teach computer skills, help parents find jobs, and teach family counseling. While the model continues to evolve, Raj notes that the "vision for the Seed Foundation is that it will become one of the leading institutions for urban areas and the mechanism for revitalizing a number of urban areas. Our philosophy is that you need to have a whole community to build a successful education system." Through public and private dollars, The SEED Foundation has created a replicable model that will allow each school to sustain itself and to support a per-pupil cost of $22,000 per year. Each school will initially secure public funds for operating costs. This includes a per-pupil allocation as well as additional public funds for the residential, facility, and special needs allocation. Private funds must be secured from individual donors, foundations, and banks for campus development. For the Washington, D.C., campus, a $14.1 million construction loan was secured from Bank of America in the bank's largest loan to a charter school to date. In addition, a District of Columbia bond issue has provided long-term financing and a capital campaign will meet the equity components of the new SEED Campus as well as provide operating expenses for the Foundation and the school. Finally, an endowment will insure the long-term sustainability of each SEED school.
Having brought in a steady stream of public funding and built a new campus near completion, the SEED Foundation is expanding its breadth of operations beyond the SEED School in order to fulfill its vision of being a national model for urban education. The Foundation will complete the construction and renovation of the SEED school's permanent site; complete a fundraising campaign for the Foundation and the Washington school; explore additional revenue-generating opportunities; and identify new sites in other cities desperately seeking a solution to inner-city education. The SEED Foundation will also begin to disseminate the results of its work as a tool to be used for the field of education. From the beginning, the Foundation established an independent evaluation to determine the effectiveness and ability of a boarding school to provide a world-class college preparatory education to urban students. The evaluation was also charged with identifying items that could be replicable in the traditional public school system as well as key elements that allowed them to establish a successful charter school. The findings of this evaluation will be used to shape the Foundation's expansion effort as well as the education field and charter school movement.