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Newsletter: Go Into the City

Feb 15, 2009 10:55:00 AM / by Tim McCarthy

I believe that Rich Clark, and his fellow Cristo Rey partners are the epitome of searchers in seeking education to free those trapped in the poverty cycle of our inner cities.  And I admire them for it. [more]

About 30 folks showed up at our first-ever The Business of Good forum last week at the Fisher Business School at Ohio State. What the crowd lacked in size, it more than made up for in skill, varied backgrounds and dialogue.

And Rich Clark, founder/president of Saint Martin De Porres High School in Cleveland's inner city, gave us a lot to discuss. His presentation was informative and penetrating.  Let's cover the informative first.

Saint Martin High School is located in Cleveland's St. Clair Superior neighborhood, which can be said to be the poorest neighborhood in America's poorest city.  The school has a unique business model which can be seen in detail at www.saintmartincleveland.org.

Rich and some very enterprising backers started Saint Martin about 5 years ago. He'd been Principal at St. Ignatius High School, a highly regarded college prep school on the Cleveland's near west side, for 12 years when he said "he heard a calling"

The first inner city high school employing this model was started in Chicago in 1996. The concept has now grown into a network of 22 high schools in urban areas around the USA. (see www.cristoreynetwork.org).

The program is essentially corporate work-study designed to provide a college prep education for inner city youth.

Local employers agree to provide one full-time, entry-level office job which supports a team of four students. The employer cost is $25,000 and Saint Martin handles all employment issues such as Workers' Compensation, Social Security, Medicare and tax withholding.

The money the employer pays is then used to cover those students' tuition costs at Saint Martin.  Each student works one full day a week (five full days a month) to help cover 70% of his/her tuition. The remaining money is raised from private donations.

The results of the model are startling, both educationally and corporately. Saint Martin graduated its first class of 50 last May and all 50 students were accepted to university. Projecting those same 50 kids entering 9th grade in Cleveland public schools, only about 20 of them would have graduated high school, let alone been accepted to college.

And it seems a win/win for both parties since employers re-enlist at a near 100% rate and 70% of students are even being asked to stay on for summer jobs each year.

Wow! Now for the "penetrating" part of Rich's presentation:

Rich said “I set out on this mission with great confidence that I could "lead these poor people to a new horizon". It was not until three years later, listening to a gospel verse at a Mass at the high school that he found out what was really happening.  I'll let Rich's final comments at the forum tell the story:

"I was attending a small Mass at Saint Martin two years ago in May. I had taught high school religion for 20+ years and scripture had been one of my subjects so I was hearing the following reading for maybe the 100th time:

Acts 9.1-31 On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" He said, "Who are you, sir?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do."

When I began to hear this I said to myself "ho hum, heard this before, he gets knocked down, a bright light shines and a voice asks 'why are you persecuting me'.

But then I heard the line that I had really never heard before:

'Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do'.

It hit me right between the eyes. After thirty years in Jesuit secondary education when I first arrived at Saint Martin I pretty much figured I would just know what to do.  But after three years I realized I knew very little.

And this quote makes me realize that I was not coming to 'show the way' as much as I was here to walk with the students and their families and learn the way!

So indeed I had my little conversion and I was told what I must do.

It really is a journey with people not in front but alongside and sometimes behind. I am not an expert coming in to solve a problem but to immerse myself in the situation and join in the fun!"

Now here's what strikes me about Rich's final words, besides the fact that the 30 of us were really moved by his words. (We knew he LIVES those words rather than just speaking them.)

James Easterly's "The White Man's Burden" is this month's selection on our website, www.thebusinessofgood.org).

In his book, Easterly explores why the West has spent $2.5 trillion over the last fifty years in foreign aid, with very good intentions, and yet has had very little impact, except perhaps to make a lot of folks resent us.

In simple terms, Easterly feels we've approached the world's problems the wrong way.  He says we act as "planners".  That is, we decipher, from a distance, the problem in X country then create a plan to solve it.  Then we add lots of money to the plan.  He thinks, as I do, that is the wrong approach.

The solution, says Easterly, is to change our attitude from "planners" to "searchers".   That is rather than just planning Easterly suggests we walk with our global partners to search for the roots of problems in their particular situation.  Then, once we help them search and decipher the root causes, we can work with them to devise strategies that can be executed locally.  Then, during execution, we must remain present for adjustments.

I believe that Rich Clark, and his fellow Cristo Rey partners are the epitome of searchers in seeking education to free those trapped in the poverty cycle of our inner cities.  And I admire them for it.

Tags: Newsletter, Inspiration

Tim McCarthy

Written by Tim McCarthy

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