B is for Blast Off

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 12 2012

B is for Build

Five weeks ago, I moved to Johannesburg, South Africa to join eAdvance as the Director of Development and Leadership.  It turns out that opening a primary school is an all-hands-on-deck sort of endeavor.  Yes, I do develop curriculum, design professional development sessions, and hire terrific faculty, but I am also responsible for a number of random tasks that seem to change hourly:

  • Today, I received quotes for roof repair of the building that we are currently converting from an insurance company into a school.
  • Weekly, I review samples of uniforms, textbooks, pool nets, classroom furniture, bathroom and kitchen products, student supplies, and all manner of other materials.
  • Recently, I was put in charge of selling several thousand dollars worth of office furniture that the former renters left behind when they vacated the building.

We are all learners here- there are infinite details to consider as we build a safe school with adequate resources to drive student achievement and happiness.  Jumping into the deep end, though, is not just a question of tangible materials.  Because our staff come from varied backgrounds- geographically, intellectually, and in terms of career experience- we spend much of our time in healthy debate.  I find myself trying to soak up as much business knowledge as possible so that I can understand the intricacies of marketing, admission, fees, and long-term sustainability.  Our business-minded team members ask questions constantly about assessment, special education, behavior management, and curriculum.  I am grateful and proud to be part of a founding team that is humble and thoughtful in disagreement and, ultimately, unified in our decisions.

On Saturday, September 22nd, we will have our first Open Day for families interested in enrolling at Spark Ferndale.  We will set-up a model classroom, provide access to our online software, and serve refreshments as families meet our staff and register for the 2013 school year.  As I have met with families over the past month, I have been struck by the universal sentiment expressed that excellent educational options are simply inaccessible in South Africa.  Even the majority of government (public) schools charge fees that far surpass the fees our private school will charge next year.  Those that do not charge fees exist in dire circumstances: often operating with no running water, inconsistent teacher attendance, outdated textbooks and few student materials, little compliance with state assessments, and lack of professional development and leadership opportunities.  The market here actually differs substantially from that of the United States, where the injustice lies in the juxtaposition of well-resourced public schools and failing public schools, both of which are free.  Here, there are no free education options that truly teach students.  The private school system has expanded rapidly to fill in gaps left by the government, but there are still very few affordable options for low and middle income families.  As such, our school (and in the future, our entire network) will serve a diverse community of students, in terms of race and geography; what these students will have in common is a need to access internationally-competitive education for an affordable price.

I am, to put it simply, so happy to be living and working here.  I think of my Rocketship students and imagine our future Spark scholars and feel filled with purpose and appreciation, even when the roof leaks or I am coordinating toilet paper delivery.

For the kids,


One of our founding Spark families after registering their son for kindergarten.


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    About this Blog

    Bailey Thomson, Bay Area Corps Member 2010

    Bay Area
    Elementary School

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