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.

To celebrate the vibrant district-charter collaboration and entire school system turnaround in DC, our two Rocketship Rise Academy parents told their story of being involved at Rocketship:

  • Erika Harrell, Parent of 3rd grader, Rocketship Public Schools—Rise Academy. “I like to be included in my child’s learning process. I like to know what’s going on with them so that I can be supportive at home, and to me, the charter model just has been the most beneficial. Aside from cutting down on the bureaucracy, I feel like teachers have more freedom to connect with parents without so much red tape. Having choice really feels like I have the stronger freedom to determine and act on the kind of parent I want to be. I think of myself as a teacher first when it comes to my kids. Learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom, and I believe that teachers and parents and schools should have a strong partnership. For me, it’s about finding the best partner for my kids so that they can be the best that they can be.” Watch more from Ms. Harrell:
  • Shavon Collier, Shavon Collier, Parent of 3rd grader, Rocketship Public Schools—Rise Academy. “While my child has been at Rocketship, I will say she has grown six levels up compared to where she was. She loves to come to school. She loves being here. Before, she didn’t like coming to school. They reward your child on good behavior, good academics, and things of that nature. When I say reward, they just notice them. Children like that. They look forward to receiving an incentive. Not even an incentive, just acknowledgement of doing good in school. She went above and beyond and I saw that she tried her best at doing what she was supposed to do in school versus when she was in other schools. She tries much harder. She just loves, loves, loves learning now.” Watch more from Ms. Collier:

Read the entire series at



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.


Our staff reflected on the types of legacies we hope our Rocketeers will have, but we found that we cannot think ahead without first acknowledging some of the challenges that our students  have, and will continue, to face. We see the ways that many throughout DC have turned their backs on children East of the River; we have analyzed PARCC scores from surrounding schools with proficiency rates in the single digits, yet with minimal protest of those injustices; we have heard from our founding families who chose our school because they sought hope, and something other than the status quo, for their children. We know what our Rocketeers are capable of, yet we also know what they are up against.

At Orientation, we had our parents answer the question: “What do you want your Rocketeer’s legacy to be this year?” The statements that parents shared with us were powerful and gave us insight into the paths we know our Rocketeers can, and will, take. A few that truly inspired us were:

  • “To be all that she can be and open up socially.  Use her words to express herself. Stay focused, even if easily distracted. It’s okay to make mistakes because they can be fixed. A problem solver.
  • “Independent, even when mommy is not around. Pursue her goals. Know what she wants and get it. Be the smartest she can be, always.”
  • “To be a courageous thinker. To not settle for anything less than the best. To always go above and beyond and prove anyone wrong who says he isn’t capable.”

But to establish those legacies, we had to get school started.

The founding team was buzzing with excitement as we worked toward day one readiness. Founding Principal Michael Rabin spoke about the high level of innovation and entrepreneurial spirit that a founding team of teachers and parents needs to start a school. RLP marks the third school Mr. Rabin has helped found in DC. He knows that nothing quite matches the grind required of a founding school, where your own growth as a teacher and leader is unmatched. Founding Assistant Principal Ashlee Watson was looking forward to transitioning from an existing Rocketship school to founding a new school with a vision for the Ward 7 community. Ms. Watson is inspired by the opportunity to enter a community and form a new identity.

Founding Business Operations Manager Keina Hodge could not wait to see the founding team function together and meet the new Rocketeers. Ms. Hodge helped found Rocketship Futuro Academy in Concord, California last year, so she knew some of the challenges and rewards of striking out as a new school. After so much preparation, she’s ready to get the wheels in motion. And founding Office Manager Andrea McLean was grateful for the opportunity to provide families with access to high-quality, personalized learning for their students. Ms. McLean was so excited for the school that she registered her own daughter to attend. Ms. McLean knows that RLP is a place that will treat her daughter as a unique individual, meeting her needs while pushing her to grow and thrive.

Taking the sum of those individual visions and dreams, Rocketship Legacy Prep set aspirational goals for our students. Looking ahead to what legacy we want our first year to leave, we knew that we would not be satisfied merely with academic proficiency. Student success goes beyond getting kids to where they need to be academically; it means pushing them to engage with and take ownership of their learning. We will teach each Rocketeer to read beyond grade level, and then push them to use literacy as a foundation to become critical thinkers and navigate the world from an informed perspective. The over-arching vision for both the founding staff team and for the RLP community, is to be a place where the whole child is nourished every day, doing what is best for each individual and for the collective group.

We are coaches rather than managers. We commit to developing and growing our teachers, empowering them to become content experts and instructional leaders who drive student outcomes. We all benefitted from someone in our career who believed in us, who pushed us, and we aim to the do the same for our team – from support staff on up.

The same goes for our parents. Parent engagement is at the core of all that we do, and the founding RLP team committed early on to prioritizing meeting and building a relationship with every family that comes in the door. RLP partners with parents to build on the work they engage in with their children at home, conducting home visits. Good work is being done in the home, and we want to bring it into the school to build upon it and best support our Rocketeers.

Opening a new school has its challenges, but we are confident we can meet them head on. RLP is co-locating with Rocketship Rise Academy for the first six months of the school year as our new building is finished. In that time, each RLP team member will be intentional about establishing a separate identity and making sure our families feel at home. RLP will move in the middle of the school year from Ward 8 to Ward 7, making our home in a state-of-the-art building all our own, in the community where most of our families live. We are thrilled to bring our families and the relationships we have built along to our permanent home in Ward 7.

Founding a school is a continuous learning experience for everyone involved, but the legacy we will establish after only one year is more than worth it. The foundation of this legacy is trust. Trust between Rocketeers and their teachers, between teachers and their leadership team, and between Rocketship Legacy Prep and our families. It is trusting in the vision Mr. Rabin has articulated that enables us all to move forward as a united team – ready to create systems, teach lessons, and grow together. Now that’s a legacy we’re excited about!


Michael Rabin comes to Rocketship’s second DC school with experience in educational leadership from several charter schools. Michael was a founding Assistant Principal at Rockeship Rise Academy in DC last school year. Prior to joining Rocketship, Michael was a principal intern at Prospect Hill Academy Charter School in Cambridge, MA, and worked as the co-director of academic achievement at Achievement Prep Public Charter School Network in Washington, DC (Ward 8). Before moving into school leadership, Michael taught 5th and 6th grade history, and middle school Spanish in Washington, DC and Prince George’s County, Maryland. Michael received a bachelor’s degree from Emory University where he received Phi Beta Kappa recognition, a master’s degree in teaching from American University, a master’s degree in school leadership from Harvard University, and was a member of Relay Graduate School of Education’s National Principals Academy Fellowship.

Erica Toews is an Education Pioneers Fellow who spent the summer working in Operations at Rocketship Legacy Prep. She is currently pursuing her MBA at Dartmouth. Before business school, she worked as a Product Manager at an education technology startup called Zearn. Erica was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to teach English in Malaysia for one year and worked at Google for two years after receiving her BA from Stanford. Erica is deeply passionate about elementary school education and inspired by Rocketship’s emphasis on blended learning and community engagement.


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.

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A Dream Realized: From Undocumented to Graduate to Teacher, What I Learned at Rocketship Discovery Prep

by Angelica Del Rio
First Grade Literacy Teacher, Rocketship Discovery Prep

I never thought I’d get here. I never thought I’d be legally allowed to stay in this country, be a college graduate, or be a teacher. Coming originally from Tijuana, Mexico, when I was one year old, my family immigrated to San Jose.  We scraped by those first few years. We crammed eight people into a two bedroom apartment. My father was always working, trying to keep food on the table and saving up so we could move into our own home. When I turned five, my dad bought our first house.

I started school that same year. I went to a nearby school in the neighborhood. It was great and I got good grades. But everything changed when I got to middle school. My parents were no longer able to help me with my homework but they still expected me to earn straight A’s. My dad would tell me “You only have one job. Your job is to go to school and get good grades. My job is to work to give you food and shelter so you can bring those excellent grades home.” I was so scared to disappoint my family. I did not know how to study, so I memorized everything by writing it down on a paper. I would read what I wrote to myself and I would go to sleep repeating what I had written from my books. My grades improved but I’m not sure I really learned much in middle school. In high school, things got a little better. I did well in math and science, but I hated English. I understand the pain that many of my students have when they are not able to write or say something grammatically correct in English.

Sparking Creative Classroom Solutions Through Teacher Innovation



by Beyond Editorial Staff

Helping fourth graders access and understand the news. Increasing personalization in kinder STEM classes. These are just some examples of how our creative Rocketship teachers used funds they won in our first ever round of ‘Innovation Grants.’ This grant, sponsored by the Achievement and Operations Teams, awarded 5 different grants to help Rocketship staff innovate and solve important challenges that impact our Rocketeers. The grants were aimed at projects that identify specific, “bite-size” issues and include innovative and scalable solutions to solving the issues. 12 staff members, from teachers to enrichment coordinators to office managers, applied for this inaugural round of funding.  Here are some examples of the winners…

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‘We’re With You’: Fourth Graders Learn Empathy Through Art


by Briana Burtsell, Rocketship United Academy Art Enrichment Coordinator and Visual Art Instructor

Walking into the lobby of the Nashville Ronald McDonald House you know immediately that this is a welcoming place for kids. Brightly colored walls, comfortable seating, beautiful art, and a big kids play area fill the space. The problem is that families staying at the Ronald McDonald House spend most of their days in the hospital with their child and their nights in the individual family rooms, not in the lobby. The family rooms have not been brightened and decorated like the rest of the house, but instead remain grey and bare. Continue reading

March Math Madness

by Heidy Shinn

Prinipal, Rocketship Sí Se Puede Academy

 “Go down deep enough into anything and you will find mathematics.” – Dean Schlicter

When it comes to STEM education, the case for curiosity and exploration often gets lost in the traditional classroom. At Rocketship we believe in encouraging our student’s appetite for learning by igniting their curiosity and allowing them to experience learning. Last month for example, Rocketeers at Si Se Puede Academy found the connection between math and basketball during the NCAA March Madness tournament as they were transformed into court-side statisticians at the SAP Center in San Jose.

We caught up with Si Se Puede Principal Heidy Shin to find out more about this March Math Madness. Check out her story below. 

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Gratitude is a Choice We Make Every Day

by Tatum Schultz
Third Grade STEM Teacher, Rocketship United Academy

Every language in the world has a way of saying “thank you.” Gratitude is an inherent quality that resides deep within each one of us. It is triggered by different events and crosses the boundaries of race, age, and gender. Gratitude comes from the heart. It is an acknowledgment of the positive things that we feel in our soul. When we give gratitude, we give a gift freely and unearned.img_9471

At Rocketship United Academy, our leaders, teachers, and support staff are dedicated to sharing gratitude. Within our halls a positive culture thrives. Respect, responsibility, empathy, and persistence are our core values we believe in. We build on our core values and allow our Rocketeers to grow in a community that shares a desire to exceed expectations.

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Rising Into School Leadership

by Michelle Chung Ng
Assistant Principal, Rising Stars Academy

I can still remember the day my coach suggested I should apply to be in Rocketship’s Rising Leaders program. I was excited by the challenge and the opportunity to grow professionally. As a member of the Rising Leaders cohort 15-16, I have grown professionally by being honest about my development areas, being pushed out of my comfort zone and sharing openly with those in my cohort. Sitting in a room with other highly effective teachers who want to grow and learn as a professional inspires me.

Rising Leaders is a leadership development program that is offered to teachers at Rocketship who are interested in growing their adult management skills and have taught for more than two years. The program is designed both for teachers who want to grow their leadership in the classroom or begin the transition into school leadership. We meet once a month with our cohort, which is composed of about 20 teachers across the network.

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United We Learn

by Jason Egly
Teacher, Rocketship United Academy






El Salvador


Puerto Rico


Is this about the Olympics?

No. It’s a list of the homelands proudly represented by the students in my two fourth grade Humanities classes at Rocketship United Academy (RUA) in Nashville. Continue reading

Reconstructing Beauty: Empowering Our Girls for a Better Future

by LaToya Fernandez
Teacher, Rocketship Discovery Prep

Growing up in Hartford, Connecticut I learned the value of education early on. My mother was a workaholic providing for a family of seven and carried herself with strength and poise. Life at home was difficult at times, so I became immersed in school and extracurricular activities. Though involved in many organizations at school, I was still harassed for being African American, athletic, religious and just for being a girl. I was constantly teased about my hair. There were times in high school where I felt insecure about my physical appearance and capabilities. This motivated me to find my inner strength. I needed to become the Queen I was encouraging my friends to be.

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