Their handshake added an unexpected jolt to the closing session of the New Schools Venture Fund summit in San Francisco last month, and with good reason. Acting Chancellor Kaya Henderson and Reed Hastings, Netflix co-founder and charter entrepreneur, sealed a deal to bring eight Rocketship Education schools to D.C.
Or did they?
Henderson said this week that she considered the handshake serious. But she also cautioned that there was a long way to go before the Palo Alto-based Rocketship, which has drawn national attention for its “hybrid” school model combining classroom and online learning, has a presence in the District.
“There are a lot of logistics to work out before we can more forward,” she said. Hastings, co-chair of Rocketship’s national strategy board and one of its several major Silicon Valley investors, was supposed to meet with Henderson in D.C. last week but had to cancel. She said they have a call scheduled for later this month. Hastings did not return a phone message left Monday.
Henderson said she is on board with Rocketship’s goal of operating “at critical mass” wherever they decide to locate--thus the notion of eight schools. She also said she sees them coming to town as either a charter operator or a partner for traditional public schools.
“The question is, are there at least eight schools in the city that we could partner with Rocketship to improve? Absolutely,” Henderson said.
Rocketship has attracted considerable buzz for its five K-5 schools in the San Jose area, where students divide their days between classroom instruction and a “Learning Lab” for online and small-group work in math and reading. In 2009 its flagship school, Mateo Sheedy, was one of the highest performing low-income elementary schools in California.
What also gets edu-entrepreneurs excited is that the hybrid model can be operated with fewer certified teachers, generating savings that can be put back into instructor pay and investment in new schools.
Henderson has apparently been interested in Rocketship for a while. According to one account of her on-stage appearance with Hastings and Goldman Sachs managing director Carlos Watson, she said Rocketship had been slow to return her calls. One education blogger, Elizabeth Corcoran of EdSurge, said Rocketship may consider it too early to venture into the pressure cooker of D.C. education politics, especially with the scale it has in mind.
But Henderson doesn’t agree, and said she’d like to see Rocketship in D.C. as sooner rather than later.