An Open Letter to Secretary of Education John King, Jr.

Hello, Mr. Secretary,

Let's chat about a subject I know is near and dear to you: public-private collaboration to improve education. After all, the success of our great nation depends on it.

In overseeing New York's Common Core Learning Standards as part of President Obama's Race to the Top Initiative, you often faced fierce opposition from multiple political forces. But you never wavered from your primary goal: understanding the skills students needed to thrive in college and graduate with a plan to succeed in our new economy, and arming them with the tools to get them there.

You understand that their future is our future. And so do I. Your success in founding what became the best-performing urban middle school in all of Massachusetts shows me you also understand one key tenet of education in the 21st century. Public and private shouldn't work against one another: They have to work together.

I humbly and warmly request a meeting with you to discuss the value of public-private collaboration, and your goals as Secretary of Education. Here is my story:

I am executive director of Youth About Business, a national leadership and entrepreneurial training program. We recognize that investing in our young people is investing in the sustainability of our economy. These students will be entering the job market in a few short years, catalyzing change and shaping the political landscape. They are the most valuable and sustainable investment we can make.

Through summer business camps and training programs, Youth About Business has helped 7,000 alumni glean valuable skills and advance their careers. Ultimately, we're in the business of potential--seeing it, fostering it--and we pride ourselves on working with young men and women from all backgrounds. We have program participants from some of the most prestigious boarding schools in the country, as well as some of the most under-performing schools in our nation. We recognize that all young adults have skills and potential to be developed.

And I'm proud of the work we at Youth About Business have accomplished:

  • We have established a national public-private partnership, collaborating with some of the nation's largest corporations. This partnership allows us to bring mentors to the classroom to provide problem-based case study models that uniquely prepare students as they are preparing for college and careers. Our model directly impacts student's critical thinking and team work in diverse groups. This will help our nation's schools by providing meaningful and experiential training in the classrooms. And corporations benefit, as well, by being able to offer employees skills-based volunteer opportunities--shown to improve employee engagement and retention.
  • We currently offer residential programs at Columbia University, Emory University and Vanderbilt University for our students who want an intensive summer training experience. With meaningful sponsorship, thousands of young men and women can participate in our resident camp during their summers. This immersive program exposes these young adults to the diverse--and enormously capable--student populations on these campuses, and the intensity of the program expedites participants' road to reaching their full potential.
  • That's the good news. The bad news is, we're not fully realizing our potential. As a small non-profit, we don't have the scale to touch and inspire every young person. We must collaborate more--with schools, churches, corporations and other non-profits. Many community institutions serve and support our youth. By combining our resources, we can achieve more.

    We must provide a scalable solution so that the thousands of youth in our public schools in our nation's largest school districts understand the value of collaboration and support. We want to equip children with marketable skills, and improve their career preparedness. This training, these programs, must prepare them for entry-level employment, or equip them with the passion and industry knowledge to create their own businesses.

    When a child is placed in an environment that bombards them with hope, they respond. They reject the notion of "settling;" they strive to achieve more. They see their own potential for their future.

    You and I have much in common. As you once wrote in a moving op-ed piece on Martin Luther King Day 2014, "The single best tool we have to advance opportunity is education." I'd go a step further and say that with great collaboration, the great tool of education becomes even more powerful. By working together, we can both affect change. It would be an honor to meet with you and your staff personally to discuss this more.

    Seven thousand young adults have met Youth About Business' challenges, and realized their own potential. Will you help us do more?