After the Flood: Thankful for Community

by Beyond Editorial Team

“You never expect it to happen to you.” Dulce’s eyes start to glisten. She is sitting on a brand new microfiber couch in a partially furnished three bedroom apartment in East San Jose. “Everything can change in one day.” Looking around she says, “Everything you see here is a gift. All that we own now was given to us. Even this apartment.” A matching dining room table set, a basket of books and toys in the hallway, and the couch she is perched on are all brand new.

It has been nine months since Dulce’s family lost their home and all their material possessions in the San Jose floods. When Coyote Creek unexpectedly overflowed its banks on February 20th, hundreds of homes were flooded and over 14,000 residents were forced to evacuate. “It was about 10am when I heard the yells of the firefighters on the loud speakers,” Dulce remembers. “The water had risen up past the driveways. The firefighters said that we all had to evacuate immediately, and were taking people from their homes in boats. I grabbed about four diapers and left. I assumed I’d be back by the end of the day.” Dulce shakes her head. It’s now been almost a year since the incident, and it’s doubtful her family will ever be able to return to their home due to all the damage. “From there we went to the shelter, and that’s where it all started.”
The name Dulce, Spanish for sweet, fits this courageous mother of three well. Dulce’s family is originally from Mexico. Her husband works in construction from 4am through 11pm every day. He has not missed a single day of work in the year since the flood. Together they have a teenage daughter, a ten year-old Rocketeer, and their baby, Said, who was barely three weeks old when they lost their home.
What do you do when you lose everything? Many of us have safety nets to absorb shocks like this. But for an immigrant family whose rent controlled apartment of eight years is destroyed in one of the most expensive housing areas in our nation, losing everything can quickly spiral into loss upon loss. “You realize how fragile life is. Especially if you are poor,” Dulce shakes her head somberly. She pulls out her phone, and navigates to a photo of her son, Cesar, in his Rocketship school uniform. His face is aglow with candlelight, as he beams up from a birthday cake with ten gleaming candles. “You also are reminded how important people are,” Dulce adds, smiling softly. Tragedy is never a welcome guest, but it does remind us of what is important in life. It brings community together, and finds support in unexpected places. “I never thought it would be Cesar’s school who would would be there supporting us in our darkest moments. Without the help of Rocketship, we wouldn’t have any of this.”
“I am a Rocketship Rocketeer at home, at school, and in my community.” Cesar recites this from the Rocketship Creed every morning at Mateo Sheedy’s launch. Those words have never held more meaning than now. Dulce’s voice moves up half an octave as she lists the names of Rocketship staff and teachers who have delivered meals, clothes, and provided her family with an outpour of love and support. Over 30 Rocketship families from nine Bay Area schools were directly impacted by the flooding in San Jose. Our network quickly went into high-alert to identify all these families and mobilize support. We established a fund with Catholic Charities that would pay for rental deposits, insurance deductibles and other big ticket expenses that our Rocketeers were facing. Together we raised over $62,000 to support our community in a time of crisis. This fund has made all the difference for Dulce and her family. It has helped pay for a safe apartment for the family, food, clothing, and care for her newborn baby.
“My family is so thankful for the support we received from everyone at Rocketship,” Dulce rises from her position on the couch. It’s time to pick Cesar up from school. “I want to thank the Rocketship donors for helping us when we lost everything. For giving us nights where we could rest, knowing our children were safe and sound. Above all, thank you for the spirit behind your generosity.”
At Rocketship we work in communities where the achievement gap is real. Our mission is founded on the fundamental belief that all children deserve the chance to realize their full potential. That mission calls on us all to come together to tackle some of the deeply rooted systemic inequities that hold our entire nation back. As Dulce’s story reminds us, when immediate disaster or misfortune strikes any one of our families, we band together and we come through for our community.
That’s what we do, and that’s a lot to be thankful for.


From Teaching to Recruiting: My Journey at Rocketship

by Caitlyn Metteer
Associate Director, Recruitment

Yesenia was one of those kindergartners who took her job very seriously. She knew she was in school to learn and she lived it everyday. She loved to participate, she was gregarious, and was well liked by the other students in class. She was incredibly smart, but she had to really work to learn to read. She struggled at times, but she continued to try. I’ll never forget the day I sat down with her for a reading assessment and I handed her a book that went beyond the pattern books she’d been reading. She looked at the words on the page and she slowly started to read the sight words she’d memorized. She started to decode the words she didn’t immediately know. She used picture cues to guide her and together we watched her truly read for the first time. Her voice warbled as she realized what she was doing and in that moment, I knew that she’d learned something no one could take away. I’d never felt the real weight of the work that we do quite like that. It was palpable and real.

That was my very first year teaching at Rocketship and the first year of our school, Rocketship Mosaic Elementary. I made the decision to join Rocketship because I was looking for a place where I could work alongside like-minded colleagues, receive coaching and support from my school leaders, and where I could participate in a leadership development program that would prepare me to someday become a school leader. I found all of those things at Rocketship and I was so excited to begin my journey to school leadership.

My interest in school leadership was primarily driven by my desire to expand my impact. I felt lucky to have the opportunity to work with two classes of kindergarten every day. Each time I saw one of my students begin to read right before my eyes, I knew I wanted to do more. I took advantage of the leadership opportunities on campus and quickly realized that while school leadership is an incredible to impact a community, it was not right for me. While this probably wasn’t the intended outcome of my increased exposure to leadership, it was instrumental in my own career and personal growth path.

I started talking to my coach about my interest in working closely with other teachers and my love of systems and logistics. He already knew that I could talk to just about anyone and that I was passionate about the work we were doing at Rocketship. Eventually, we realized that a recently open position on our Teacher Recruitment Team could actually be perfect for me. I didn’t have any formal recruitment experience outside of work I’d done with my sorority in college, but I had most of the skills it would take to recruit excellent teachers to Rocketship. It was thanks to the personal relationship I had with my coach and his attention to my development that I found the perfect place for my interests and talents.

When I started my work as the founding member of our Recruitment Team, my first task was to find someone to take my position at Mosaic for the following year. Bringing high-quality teachers to Rocketship has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my career. Anytime I walk into a strong classroom being led by one of the teachers I brought here, my heart swells with pride. Some came in as first year teachers and benefited from the amazing coaching and development we offer. Others came with incredible experience and talent, helping to shape the direction of our network.

I’ve been able to watch teachers I’ve recruited be promoted to assistant principal and principal. They’ve joined our Network Support team, and one of them even sits right next to me in our national office. Maybe the best part of this job is that I’ve hired some seriously amazing teachers to teach my original group of kindergartners. I’ve been able to drop in and visit. We’ve laughed about their hilarious personalities and celebrated their successes together over the years. I also feel lucky to have the opportunity to engage on broader policies and talent issues that I’m deeply passionate about. Our team digs on hard questions around sustainability and we push for changes that we believe will increase the retention of our teaching force.

My path at Rocketship has looked very different than what I’d initially envisioned. Instead of spending my time walking the halls and coaching teachers, I spend my time trying to bring the very best teachers to Rocketship. I’m reaching out to people who might know amazing teachers and I talk with teachers about the work we’re doing at Rocketship. While it’s not quite what I thought I’d be doing, I’m still very much working toward my ultimate goal of expanding my impact in the communities we serve. And I’ve been able to grow my skills in ways I never imagined. I’ve brought excellent teachers and leaders into these communities and put them in front of our kids. I’ve worked to carve career pathways for our community members to get into the classroom.

Most importantly, I saw my first group of kinders, the ones I got to watch learn how to read, head off to middle school. While I sat at their 5th grade graduation, I got to watch one of their teachers who I recruited stand at the podium and hand them their diplomas. It was wonderful to hear her speak about this same group of kids as tenacious learners and voracious readers. I also thought a lot about Yesenia. She moved a couple years ago, but I know that she’s out there, still working and learning. I really hope that she’s in a school where there is someone else working to bring great teachers to her, just like my team does every single day.

Caitlyn has been with Rocketship for 6 years – beginning as a founding kindergarten teacher at Rocketship Mosaic Elementary, and moving onto the position of founding recruiter. Caitlyn is now the Associate Director of Recruiting.


Unidos en la diversidad: Hispanic Heritage Month 2017

by Beyond Editorial Team

This Hispanic Heritage Month, we’d like to honor the diversity we find at all our Rocketship schools, and pay tribute to the rich and varied latinx culture that contributes to our greater community all year long. Check out the below photos for a look into how our schools have been celebrating!

Este Mes de la Herencia Hispana, rendimos homenaje a la gran diversidad que se encuentra en todas las escuelas de Rocketship, y a la diversa cultura latinx que nos enriquese tanto. Le invitamos a echar un vistazo abajo a algunas de las fotos que vienen directas de las celebraciones que tuvieron nuestras escuelas este mes. Continue reading

Rocketship Ranks in the Top 10%, Again

by Preston Smith
Co-Founder and CEO, Rocketship Public Schools

I am proud to report that our Rocketeers in the Bay Area outpaced students in every community we serve and across the state on the 2016-17 California state assessment! 

In math, 54% of our Rocketeers met or exceeded state standards compared to just 40% across the state and 38% across the districts we serve. The state average improved just one percentage point while Rocketship moved up three points. In ELA, 44% of our Rocketeers met or exceeded state standards – which puts our network on par with the state average. The state did not improve upon last year’s average in ELA while Rocketship moved up three points.

Nearly 9 out of 10 Rocketeers in the Bay Area are classified as low-income. These are the students that underperforming public schools have let fall behind for far too long. To track our progress toward eliminating the achievement gap, we pay close attention to how our low-income students perform compared to similar students across the state and local districts.

Rocketship is once again in the top 10% of all California elementary school districts and charter schools in both math and English Language Arts (ELA) performance among low-income students.


In ELA, 42% of Rocketeers classified as low-income met or exceeded state standards – ten points ahead of the state average of 32%. 

In math, 52% of Rocketeers classified as low-income met or exceeded California state standards – nearly double the state average of 27%. Notably, our low-income Rocketeers beat the California state average for all students by 12 points!  This is what it looks like to eliminate the achievement gap! 

Standardized test results are just one measure of achievement and can’t fully capture all the components of academic success. Yet state tests provide an objective and comparative view of the quality of our schools. They shine a light on the persistent achievement gap in our communities and help us hold schools accountable to serving all students with the excellence that every student deserves.

We have more work ahead to get every single Rocketeer on a college bound path, but we are proud of the progress our Rocketeers are making. Year-after-year, our low-income Rocketeers outperform the state average for all students in math. In ELA, our low-income Rocketeers are now just 3 points behind the state average for all students – cutting that gap in half.

Of course, we’re not aiming for average. Our Rocketeers deserve an excellent education and we won’t settle for anything less. 

Preston co-founded Rocketship Public Schools in San Jose in 2006. Prior to founding Rocketship, Preston was founder and Principal of LUCHA Elementary School, part of the Alum Rock Unified School District in San Jose, CA. After its first three years of operation, LUCHA was the fourth highest performing low-income elementary school in California. Preston began his career in education as a Teaching for America (TFA) Corps member at Clyde Arbuckle Elementary School (CA). In 2003, Preston was named “Teacher of the Year” at Arbuckle and was nominated as one of six finalists for TFA’s Sue Lehmann award, given to TFA corps members with the highest academic classroom gains in the nation. Preston is also an Aspen New Schools Fellow. He lives in San Jose with his wife and two children who attend Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep.



Parents Must Understand Growth Scores to Make Sense of Student Progress

by James Robinson
Principal, Rocketship United Academy

This op-ed originally appeared in The Tennessean on September 26, 2017.

Most schools across Tennessee recently learned how much academic progress their students made last year. But elementary schools in Davidson County will have to wait another year to see how much growth their students achieve in a school year.

This means when the rest of the TNReady results are finally released this fall, the focus on our elementary schools will be solely on student proficiency.

But there is another assessment that most Nashville public schools are now using to track student progress – the NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) – which can tell us how much individual student growth has occurred during the school year. Continue reading

Rocketship Parents Featured on “Reinventing America’s Schools”


Rocketship DC parents Erika Harrell and Shavon Collier had the honor to be featured in The 74 Million’s latest project, “Reinventing America’s Schools.” Ms. Harrell and Ms. Collier are both founding parents of Rocketship Rise Academy.

This project by The 74 was inspired by the new book Reinventing America’s Schools: Creating a 21st Century Education System, by the Progressive Policy Institute’s David Osborne. It is a bracing survey of the most dramatic improvements taking place in urban public education today, in cities as diverse as New Orleans, Denver, Washington, D.C., and Indianapolis. To celebrate the publication of Osborne’s book and to further tell the story found in it, The 74 Million created a microsite of stories and videos from each profiled region. Continue reading

Rocketship Stands With Dreamers / Rocketship está del lado de los dreamers

by Preston Smith
Co-Founder and CEO, Rocketship Public Schools

Dear Rocketeer families,

All of us at Rocketship are outraged by President Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In six months, more than 800,000 young adults who came out of the shadows for the promise of a path to citizenship could lose their student and work visas and are at risk of deportation. Our families, students, alumni, staff, and communities are directly threatened by this action.

We proudly stand with our DREAMers and will continue to fight for them. This fight is at the core of our Rocketship movement. It’s a fight for equality for all children.

(version español abajo)

Continue reading

Rocketship Legacy Prep: What Will Your Legacy Be?

by Michael Rabin and Erica Toews

Rocketship Legacy Prep Founding Principal and Education Pioneers Fellow

We want our children to understand their past, their legacies, but we also want them to build and create their own. For us, Rocketship Ward 7 represents just that: the chance for all of our kids to build their own legacy right there in the community.”

Those words came from one of the founding parents of the brand new Rocketship Legacy Prep (RLP), the second Rocketship school in DC and the first in Anacostia’s Ward 7. At Rocketship, each school is named by our founding parents. The RLP parents chose the name and idea of legacy because they see their new school as joining a community of proud families, neighborhoods, and communities East of the River that have been creating legacies for generations. Together, our parents, our staff, and the entire Rocketship DC family know our students are capable of leaving transformational legacies. It starts with us. Right here. Right now.  Continue reading

The First Day of School in Photos/ El Primer Día de Clases en Fotos: 2017/18

by Beyond Editorial Team

Nervous smiles and butterflies. Brand new backpacks and future friendships. The first day of school is filled with emotions for students, teachers and families alike. Above all it is filled with hope. Hope for a new year of growth, change, and learning. From the first day of school to the last, each and every Rocketeer walks into our classrooms with the potential for greatness. And it is our responsibility as teachers, parents, and school leaders to unleash that potential.

This year is full of new beginnings. We opened Rocketship Partners Community Prep in Nashville, and Rocketship Legacy Prep in Washington, DC. Rocketship Futuro Academy in Concord got new space, and we celebrated our first 10 years. What did the first day of school look like across our 18 schools? Our families across the country sent us their photos, and while we can’t share them all, here is a taste of what a Rocketship first day of school looks like:

Sonrisas nerviosas y mariposas. Nuevas mochilas y amistades. El primer día de clases siempre está lleno de emoción, tanto para los estudiantes como para sus familias y maestros. Es un día lleno de esperanza. Esperanza para un año nuevo de crecimiento, transformación y aprendizaje. Desde el primer día hasta el último, cada Rocketeer que entra en nuestras puertas tiene el potencial para ser extraordinario. Y es nuestra responsabilidad como maestros, padres y líderes escolares liberar ese potencial. 

Para nosotros en Rocketship, ha sido un año de nuevos comienzos. Hemos abierto Rocketship Partners Community Prep en Nashville y Rocketship Legacy Prep en Washington, DC. Rocketship Futuro Academy en Concord consiguió un nuevo espacio, y hemos celebrado nuestros primeros 10 años. ¿Cómo fue el primer día del año escolar en nuestras 18 escuelas? Nuestras familias nos mandaron sus fotos, y aunque no podemos compartirlas todas, aquí está una muestra de como es un primer día de clases en Rocketship:

Continue reading

10 Lessons From Rocketship’s First 10 Years

by Preston Smith
Co-Founder and CEO, Rocketship Public Schools

*This post originally appeared on The 74 Million

Ten years ago, we opened the first Rocketship school in a church in San Jose, California. Although we’ve made remarkable impact in the communities we serve, Rocketship Education is still a work in progress — we’re always learning how to better serve our students and communities. And we’ve definitely learned a few things during our first decade. Here are 10 lessons from our first 10 years: Continue reading

He Thought He Hated School. Here’s How We Turned It Around for a Kid With Special Needs

by Stephanie Storlie
Integrated Special Education (ISE) Specialist, Rocketship Rise Academy

*This post originally appeared on Education Post

“I’m not going to that school. I don’t even like school,” Chase yelled at me. Running up and down a slide, holding a giant stick two feet taller than him, this almost kindergartener in tall white men’s tube socks, blue swim trunks, and a neon orange shirt was already giving me a run for my money—and school hadn’t even started yet. It was July 2016 and I was doing my home visit to Chase’s family in Southeast D.C. before Chase started at Rocketship Rise Academy. I knew that we could create a learning environment where Chase could thrive. But I never imagined how far he would come in his first year. Continue reading

Learning & Letting Go: A Year in a Kinder Classroom

by Chelsea Graeff
Kindergarten Teacher, Rocketship Los Sueños 

“Ms. Graeff! Ms. Graeff!”

When you are a kindergarten teacher, you are a celebrity. All of the kids call out your name when they see you, with admiration, joy and expectation — not only the students who are with you for the 180 days of that particular school year, but also all the kids who have sat in your classroom over the years. That’s because kindergarten is like no other year in elementary school. For the students, everything is new and a little bit scary at first. For the teacher, we have the privilege of shaping a child’s identity as a student and their idea of what school is all about. There is nothing more dramatic than the change in a kindergartener from the beginning of the year to the end.

Continue reading