Rady Alum Helps Launch San Diego Charter School
Rady alumnus Ken Harris tested his entrepreneurial skills to help launch a different kind of startup — a new charter school for under-served children named San Diego Global Vision Academy.
After more than two years of work by Harris, his wife Dena Harris, the principal and CEO of the school, and a group of dedicated teachers, the school opened this September in Normal Heights with a mission to teach 110 students from kindergarten through sixth grade a core curriculum emphasizing writing and service learning.
“I used many skills I learned at Rady throughout the process,” said Harris, who graduated with his MBA in 2008. “I had to conduct market research on the school district and its needs, I analyzed the demographics of the district and I had to seek feedback and information from the team who was forming the school.”
Harris helped the school win grants and developed a business plan, the first steps for opening a charter school. He assisted the group in constructing a submission for acceptance to the San Diego Unified School District, which district leaders called the best they had seen. Later he reviewed the school’s budget, helped his wife negotiate renting the school’s building and drew up several business contacts.
Harris, who owns an information-technology company, even reached out to his colleagues for assistance and received about $30,000 worth of computer equipment. Now he has been putting to use his human resource skills, counseling his wife on keeping the teachers happy. Everyone at the school is being paid minimum wage until the state passes a budget and gives them the money needed to survive.
“My wife has to keep the teachers motivated even though they don’t even have health insurance,” Harris said. “The money goes for the supplies and equipment the children really need.”
The school was designed to help students in an impoverished area of San Diego receive a top-notch education. About 90 percent of the students qualify under the federal poverty guidelines for free lunches. Teachers of the school are determined to teach students the core curriculum. Their education is enhanced by an intensive focus on writing and service learning, including a project writing books to send to children in Africa.
To make sure students had a safe place to play, Dena Harris, like a true entrepreneur, made friends with a neighboring elementary school and worked out a shared schedule for a nearby park. The neighboring school also joined many others in the district to donate books, other instructional materials and furniture to the school.
“My wife is an entrepreneur,” Ken Harris said. “We have two CEOs in one house.”
But the school still has many needs — a wish list for basics such as pencils, glue sticks and erasers, along with pricier items such as computers and projectors is posted on Amazon.com. The school is accepting financial donations for patio furniture for student lunches and learning materials.