Rocketship Education Gets $2 Million from Netflix CEO

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has announced that he is donating $2 million to Rocketship Education, a network of charter schools based in Redwood City, California.

Hastings announced that the money will be the beginning of a $17 million fundraising campaign with the goal of opening new schools over the next three years. Kristen V. Brown of SFGate writes that the first Rocketship school, Mateo Sheedy Elementary in San Jose, started in 2007,  and since then the non-profit has grown to 11 schools in three regions nationwide.

The new round of fundraising will also allow for innovation at the organization’s existing schools. Rocketship schools have been noted for a focus on blended learning and the use of high-tech teaching which have resulted in higher test scores for many low-income and immigrant students. One of the group’s goals was to quickly open schools in 50 cities and raise enrollment to one million students, a plan that has now been scaled back.

“I admire organizations that take on great challenges and dream big,” said Hastings in a statement. “Rocketship focuses on a collaborative and inventive approach that rethinks every element of the student experience in the early years of public education. I am excited to support their trajectory.”

According to Angela Swartz, reporting for Silicon Valley Business Journal, the nonprofit has met with criticism from parents, teachers, and superintendents in the Redwood City Elementary School District concerned that the new Rocketship charter school could take money away from the public schools in the district. State law, however, does not allow a charter application to be denied even if the addition of the charter school could potentially affect the district’s finances.

Last year a lawsuit was filed seeking to rescind approval of 20 Rocketship schools which, claims the suit, were unlawfully approved by the Santa Clara County Board of Education.

Rocketship seeks to serve low-income Latino students, and this demographic has likely seen gains because of energetic teaching, longer school days, computer lab class, strict disciplinary techniques, and focus on improving test scores, reports Sharon Nogucji, writing for the San Jose Mercury News.

“We have evolved, learned and improved,” Fred Ferrer, president of the Rocketship board of directors, said in a prepared statement. He expressed appreciation for Hastings’ gift.

On the Rocketship Education website, the organization explains that Father Mateo Sheedy, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, created a scholarship at Santa Clara University and was surprised to discover that none of the children in his parish met the basic academic requirements that would qualify them for college or university. His parishioners, John Danner and Preston Smith, both education entrepreneurs, took up the gauntlet after his passing.

Danner, a software engineer, was keen on personalizing education, and Smith understood the importance of empowered teachers and engaged parents when it comes to students’ success. It wasn’t long before Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Eleementary was opened and students began to show improved academic achievement. Today there are nine schools in San Jose, one in Milwaukee, and one in Nashville.

The site states that for the third year in a row, Rocketship schools are in the top 5% of districts serving low income students in California.