I met with an architect a few days ago to discuss the needs of GEO Prep Academy’s new building in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His original plan included classroom space big enough for each one of our 650 students. I told him to cut that number in half. He looked puzzled, so I explained that, for our high school to succeed, we really have to have the right attitude from day one. And our goal is for 50 percent of our students to be on a college campus, not in our building.
GEO Prep Academy, which I co-founded with local leaders, is a launching pad, not a destination. It would be easy to design a sprawling campus with all kinds of amenities—and we probably wouldn’t encounter any pushback from architects and contractors. But with each additional square foot and each additional amenity there is additional cost that would limit our ability to reach our goal. So I had to approach construction with the right attitude.
Then I got to thinking, and I realized that our entire model really depends on everyone having the right attitude—parents, students, teachers, administrators, and, yes, architects, too. We want our kids to take real college classes on real college campuses with real college professors. For that to happen, our students need to have the right attitude; they must desire to be on that campus and to experience something far outside the traditional high school experience—the kind they may see in Hollywood movies. Their parents have to want that for them, too. Teachers have to support students doing more and accomplishing more than they did when they were in high school. And our administrators need to stop thinking success means a bigger staff and bigger campus.
From a budgetary standpoint, our attitude must center on getting the most education bang for our buck. If we think K–12 dollars can only buy a K–12 education, we will never succeed in getting our students a K–14 or K–16 education in the same amount of time for the same amount of money. It’s like running a mile in five minutes instead of ten. It’s the same distance, but it requires a very different attitude.
Our attitude for our athletes must be different, too. It isn’t good enough to foster players who perform well on the court or field. The goal isn’t to win state championships and hang banners on our gym walls; the goal is to prepare our students for the game of life—literally. This means holding our athletes to the same academic expectations as everyone else. They should be taking college classes, too. And they do! The same foundation that runs GEO Prep Academy, and of which I’m the president, also runs the 21st Century Charter School in Gary, Indiana, where our varsity basketball players and cheerleaders are all college students. One of our cheerleaders is so successful, in fact, that she’ll earn an associate degree by the time she graduates from our school. Her coach has the right attitude, too. She makes a point to introduce me to her cheer squad as college students and tells me the exact number of college credits each member has already earned. That’s attitude!
The same goes for our school board. If it doesn’t set the bar high, we won’t get the results we seek. Our board serves with the expectation of achieving outcomes that exceed those of the traditional high school model. That’s why we approved a resolution in 2012 for each graduate to earn at least three college credits and/or one career certification before receiving a high school diploma. And it’s why we approved another resolution in 2018 to increase the requirement from three credits to twenty-four for our 2022 graduates—a goal that we’ll beat in 2020, two years early.
The right attitude influences everything we do: Who we hire, how many staff we employ, what their roles are, how much space we have, how we use that space, and more. Do we need a planetarium? Or would we be better off with a Student Success Center for our college-goers to gather and study during breaks between obligations at our building and their college campuses? I think by now you know what we prioritize.
In public education, it is all too common to place a cost on a proposed reform: “If we only had this much money, we could do that.” But having the right attitude doesn’t cost anything. And the benefits are so great! So change your attitude and see what happens. You will be glad you did.