SEED Public Charter School rearing fresh, new minds in nation's
Rajiv Vinnakota '93 is not afraid to blaze new trails, even if
it means leaving a comfortable management consulting job for the
nonprofit, education sector.
Vinnakota has spent the last four years developing the country's
first urban public charter boarding school from the ground up in
southeast Washington, D.C. The school currently feeds, beds, and
educates 155 students in seventh to 10th grades in one of the nation's
most underserved communities.
Public Charter School is a subsidiary of the Schools for Educational
Evolution and Development, which was conceived from discussions
on urban policy and education that Vinnakota had with classmates
at his first reunion in 1994.
that weekend, the Milwaukee native took a leave of absence from
his job at Mercer Management Consultant and started researching
boarding schools. By February 1998, Vinnakota and fellow cofounder
Eric Adler were welcoming SEED's first 40 students to the school's
original home, a renovated residential hall classrooms on the grounds
of the Capital Children's Museum.
"We serve them in their own environment not the Pennsylvania
boonies or Colorado and it demonstrates to them that good
things can happen in their community," said Vinnakota.
It was not easy, though. The molecular biology major who also
earned a certificate from the Woodrow Wilson School put his policy
knowledge to work during those development years. He successfully
lobbied for an amendment which he authored to Washington,
D.C.'s charter school law that increased spending for the boarding
school, which required more resources because of its 24-hour operations.
school, now located in a newly constructed campus that will serve
300 students when completed, receives about $23,000 per student.
SEED makes up the rest of its annual $28,000 per student cost through
fundraising and time/dollar contributions from parents, who do various
jobs such as cleaning, supervising, and carpooling for home visits.
The investment has already produced returns with standardized
test scores from the school's first class improving every year.
"It show that if you provide the necessary resources for
our kids they can succeed beyond your wildest dreams," says
Vinnakota, who focuses his energy nowadays on administrative tasks
such as strategizing and fundraising.
The school has received much attention in the Beltway, with articles
regaling its efforts appearing in all local newspapers, including
"They are able to bring all kinds of new investments
financial, personal, and even political into the lives of
these young people," Nelson Smith, the executive director of
the D.C. Public Charter Schools Board told Roll Call. "They
really break the boundaries."
Vinnakota's goals for SEED's students are long term. "I'll
tell you it's working when I graduate our first group of kids from
college," Vinnakota says.