By Peter Boyle
They say you never forget your first love. Having unceremoniously dumped my first love years ago, to which I later returned, I can confirm the veracity of this old adage.
For me, academically speaking, my first love was entrepreneurship. The promise of entrepreneurship, of identifying a problem in the world – whether grand or mundane – and then using innovation, creativity, and business best practices to create and lead a venture to solve it, is certainly seductive. Entrepreneurs in the 21st century are leveraging technological gains and innovative business practices to solve innumerable problems, from the accessibility of taxicabs after a night out to ensuring clean water in the world’s underserved communities.
That promise – and the ensuing belief that I could do something about the world’s problems – led me to pursue a concentration in entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina. Professors like Ted Zoller provided proof that, with the right combination of disruption, innovation, and grit, ventures could do anything. Why not unleash the destructive creativity of the market for good, and solve society’s ills?
Then, I like to say, things took a turn somewhere. I fell in love again – this time with education. Entrepreneurship was soon out of the picture. Teaching English language arts in a middle school classroom in underserved west Phoenix holds much of the same potential for impact as launching a venture. Supporting the leaders of tomorrow as they unlocked the themes of Hawthorne, Orwell, Anne Frank, Gary Soto, and Harper Lee – and determining how they could unleash the power of the English language to be leaders in the world – certainly creates the positive societal change found in the best social entrepreneurship endeavors. And, the impact is visible and instant. There’s nothing like the feeling of accomplishment at the end of a school year after a student enters your classroom unable to write a paragraph in English and leaves having made over four years’ growth in his language arts skills.
There must be a way to combine these two passions – entrepreneurship and education – which both exist to positively transform our world. Turns out there is. Actually, there are two.
I was searching for ways to expand my impact after I made amazing academic gains in my classroom with my teammates in the classrooms next to me and in close concert with our supportive family and community. Reaching 100 students a year is excellent. Reaching 600 is a movement.
School administration is a logical next step for teachers looking to expand their impact. But what about entrepreneurs looking to expand their impact through education? There’s a path for that too. In the fall of 2014, my brand new school opened – the culmination of my educational and entrepreneurial passions. Western School of Science and Technology: A Challenge Foundation Academy serves about 400 7th to 10th grade students at the same west Phoenix intersection where I started six years ago. We had the highest state test scores for any high school in our neighborhood and are looking to be the first A-rated high school in our community next year.
But you never forget your first love. Last year, being a school principal was rated the most satisfying career in the country. It is. But ask any administrator, and they will tell you: you miss the classroom. If entrepreneurship was my first academic love, then education certainly was my first career love. After three years outside the classroom, I had to get back.
If I had thought I had found a way to combine education and entrepreneurship previously by founding and leading a successful public charter school, when the opportunity arose for our school to partner with the SEED SPOT NEXT program, an extension of Phoenix’s renowned SEED SPOT social entrepreneurship incubator, I jumped at the chance.
Now I am taking the role of Professor Zoller and helping to support not just the learners of tomorrow, but also the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. Entrepreneurship and education have molded in such a way that I am not only able to explore both in my own career, but I can support students to do the same. Students have already launched ventures to combat a lack of women in STEM-based fields, and to do something about the dark and unsafe streets here in Phoenix’s urban core.
I never forgot entrepreneurship – my first academic love. And, luckily for the benefit of my students’ game-changing ventures, I never let go of my second – education.
By Peter Boyle