Social Enterprise Perspectives: Restoring My Faith in Public Schools

Chicago Public Schools
Location: Chicago, IL

In 1984, my parents left South Korea with only $500 in their pockets. They left everything and everyone they knew to come to the United States because they wanted to provide me with a great education. Their sacrifice has always underscored the value of education for me. It has also inspired me to work for reform within the American public school system.

Throughout college, I had grand ideas of single-handedly reforming the school system. I taught at summer enrichment programs, researched policy issues at a national education think tank, and even taught middle school math at a charter school in New Orleans to gain the experiences I needed to jump into the reform effort. Sadly, after spending close to ten years moving in and out of the public education sector, I completely lost hope in the school districts’ ability to reform. I entered HBS discouraged about the possibility of actually changing the education system and began to consider alternative ways of impacting students (i.e., community development work).

Despite my misgivings about the sector, I ended up accepting an offer to work for Chicago Public Schools (CPS) this summer. Looking back, I think I took the position because I hoped that CPS would restore my faith in public school systems. Four months later, I am incredibly excited to say that the internship completely changed my views about public schools; it restored my faith and reignited my passion for education.

I learned an incredible amount about myself and the school system during my ten weeks with CPS. For me, the value of this summer was not in the specific project I conducted for the school district. Rather, it was in learning more about how a school system really functions, what others currently are doing to reform the system, and how I can contribute to that effort in the future.

First, this internship provided me with an invaluable introduction to the internal workings of a major urban school district. As one of eight summer interns, I was privy to weekly breakfast meetings with senior managers from a number of departments in the central office of CPS. These sessions provided me with not only a comprehensive overview of how each department functioned, but also allowed me to ask each of these leaders probing questions about current initiatives, tensions within the school district, etc. It was a great introduction to the inner workings of a large urban school district. I now have a profound respect for leadership team at CPS; they have an incredible task of operating a school district that serves over 400,000 students and manages a $4 billion annual budget.

Second, the summer offered me a glimpse into the major transformation effort currently being pursued by CPS. The work is inspiring in many respects. At a time where many of us have written off school districts, this district is committed to making a change, a very large change. The mayor, the CEO, the senior management, and many others all share a belief that CPS can correct its current course. Initiative after initiative has been and will continue to be implemented. Not every single initiative will succeed, but after watching the senior team at work, I feel confident that things at CPS will change for the better. I feel inspired by the people and work being done at CPS. It restores my faith.

Finally, my internship inspired me to return to the education sector in the future. I am uncertain as to when and how I will enter the sector, but I do know a few things. My business skills will be welcomed, my work will matter, and my goals of helping to reform the education system will be realized.

October 3, 2005
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