In this Pioneer Profile, EP hears from Alumnus Jon Hanover (Analyst Fellow, 2010), who founded Roots Elementary School in Denver, Colorado, a brand new school that is set to open this August. Read on to hear more about why Jon wishes we paid teachers like we pay hedge fund managers and professional athletes, why his favorite school memory includes jumping on furniture and Latin verbs, and what it was like when one of his students learned to read for the very first time.
1. Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I grew up in Chesterland, OH – a small town sandwiched between suburbia and Amish Country. It was the kind of place you’d have to drive several towns over to find a movie theater or a Walmart. It was hard to get into much trouble as a kid because everyone knew everyone.
2. What do you like most about where you live now?
From a mission standpoint, Denver is large enough to have all the same problems as other major metros, but is small enough that there is a real sense of optimism that change is possible. The education reform community is small, collaborative and fun here.
Personally, I love that I can drive an hour and find myself lost in the wilderness. 300 days of sunshine don’t hurt either.
3. What is your favorite school memory?
It was last period on the first day school my freshman year of high school. I had just sat through class after class where we spent the first day reviewing the classroom rules and syllabus and was bored to tears. I shuffle into Mr. Prueter’s Latin class and before the bell rings, he kicks an ottoman to the center of the classroom, runs and jumps on top of it like a crazy man and starts flashing vocabulary words.
I learned two Latin verbs before the bell rang. And more importantly, I understood that his class would be one where every minute mattered and that not participating was not an option. I went to a small rural public school – the kind that doesn’t offer Latin – but Mr. Prueter fought tirelessly every year to keep the program. Every year he had dozens of high school students standing by his side, who voluntarily gave up evenings and weekends to advocate for the program to the school board. I strive to be half the educator Mr. Prueter is.
4. Which leader (alive or not, in any field) do you most admire?
Derwin Sisnet, CEO of Gestalt Community Schools in Memphis, TN. Derwin’s vision for change in his community is what inspired me to embark down this crazy path of school building.
5. When was the first time you thought about working in education?
My older sister Julie tells me that when we were in elementary school we built a pretend school out of blankets and pillows and boxes and took turns being principal. I guess I never looked back.
6. What has been your most memorable moment working in education?
It was early in the second semester of my first year teaching kindergarten. I was in the middle of a guided reading lesson with my readers who were struggling the most. These scholars had built a strong early reading toolkit, but had not yet been able to put it all together and decode text. I was coaching another scholar when I looked over and noticed Maria was crying. “What’s wrong?” I asked. Maria said, “I can do it! I’m reading!”
7. What do love about your job?
I love the amazing scholars, families, and educators I get to spend time with every day. I am also deeply fulfilled by the knowledge that we are building something together that will provide lasting value to the community.
8. If you had a magic wand, what’s one thing you would fix or change?
Just one? I would pay teachers like we pay hedge fund managers and professional athletes.
9. What are you still learning to do?
I’m still learning so many things. Right now I’m focused on learning how to successfully manage a complicated real estate transaction to build a permanent home for Roots (the elementary school that I founded that opens this fall) in our community. It’s not exactly what I had in mind when I was playing “principal” with my sister as a kid, but one of the many types of challenges this work presents.
10. What or who inspires you?
Our teachers. They show up every day with boundless passion and commitment to expanding opportunities for our scholars.