Tony Caine seems like a heck of a guy. He’s 53 but looks 10 years younger. He has made more money than he’ll ever need and could rest on his laurels and live la dolce vida in Aspen.
He may be enjoying the good life, but he’s determined to do more. So he has founded a new non-profit, Summit 54, which aims to help “academically motivated” eighth-graders in Chicago and Denver have successful high school careers and graduate from top colleges. He’ll do this, he says, employing a “360 approach,” providing each kid with intensive tutoring, mentors, a rigorous curriculum requiring 1,600 hours of work from each students over four years, and an eight-week boot camp for incoming freshmen.
Oh, and Summit 54 promises to pay the full college tab for all its graduates.
You may be asking yourself at this point: “Haven’t we hard this all before?” Well, yes, at least in bits and pieces here and there. Caine’s vision may be a bit naive, but spend a little time around him and you begin to understand why he has been such a successful entrepreneur.
He shows not the slightest sign of dogmatism. He asks everyone he comes across to critique his ideas — “lay a 2×4 up against the side of my head” — and appears not to take criticism personally.
Summit 54′s approach is to find motivated eighth-graders languishing on waiting lists for top charter high schools and get them into the program. Caine figures there are thousands of such kids in the two cities, condemned to attend low-performing high schools. Summit 54 can help them rescue themselves, he said.
Caine invited a group of educators and advocates up to the Aspen Institute for a couple of days of brainstorming this week. He got a good turnout, which is no surprise given that the Aspen Meadows resort is one of the world’s beauty spots, we’re in peak leaf season and the weather is postcard-perfect. (Henceforth I will accept all invitations to attend meetings and conferences at the Aspen Institute. I don’t even care what the topic is.)
Attendees include Terrance Carroll, outgoing speaker of the state House of Repesentatives, Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, ex-Manual High School Principal Rob Stein, West Denver Prep honcho Chris Gibbons, representatives of Colorado Youth at Risk, Facing History, Denver Public Schools, Aurora Public Schools, Adams 14, Chicago Public Schools and various foundations.
Perhaps the most important participants have been three members of Project VOYCE, a worthy Denver non-profit perpetually starved for funds. Started by Brian Barhaugh, who also started the excellent Youth Biz non-profit, Project VOYCE aims to “make youth voice real in school renewal.”
Barhaugh brought with him Shelby Gonzalez Parker, a single mom attending Metropolitan State College after graduating from Denver Justice High School, Lorenzo Sanchez, a University of Denver student who graduated from the Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts and won a Daniels Fund scholarship and Phillip Douglas, a 2002 Manual grad who oozes charisma. Douglas attended Fort Lewis College came back to Denver before graduating and ended up in prison, and now works as a Project VOYCE youth trainer.
The VOYCE triumvirate led off the conference this morning, and they weren’t shy about letting Caine know where they found his vision deficient. They had two major criticisms, which were echoed by other attendees:
- Seeking only “academically motivated” eighth-graders leaves out a lot of promising kids. Parker, Sanchez and Douglas said they would not have made that cut.
- Starting with eighth grade is too late. Many kids have fallen too far behind and become too disengaged by then. Why not start at sixth grade?
Caine, to his credit, acknowledged the legitimacy of these critiques and vowed to rethink his approach. The program is slated to launch next year, so he still has time.
So Bravo to Caine and major kudos to Project VOYCE and especially to Parker, Sanchez and Douglas.
Here is a video of the three speaking their minds.
Popularity: 13% [?]