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Our ‘breakthrough’ success story

From left to right: :Stephanie Wernet, Chief Information Officer, Breakthrough Schools

Diana Harrison, Chief Talent Officer, Breakthrough Schools

John Zitzner, President, Friends of Breakthrough Schools

Alan Rosskamm, CEO, Breakthrough Schools

Tyler Thornton, Chief Operating Officer, Breakthrough Schools

Cheryl C. Hutchings, Chief Financial Officer, Breakthrough Schools

As the nation struggles to find its energy drained from one of the most despiteful presidential elections in decades and as schools continue to fail African-American students at an alarming rate throughout America, a beacon of hope evolves right here in Cleveland.

When a national climate of what’s wrong is being highlighted more than what is right, along comes a ‘Breakthrough’ for what would be the best solution to the educational crisis that has engulfed America.

Beneath the walls of an antiquated red brick building that resembles a factory more than an educational department, nestled on the corner of Superior Ave. and E. 36th Street in Cleveland is a transformational education evolution in the name of Breakthrough Schools.

It is in this building where its employees and conference rooms are as diverse as they come, the names of each room associated with the name of a street in the community in which it serves.

Breakthrough Schools is by far one of countless charter schools that have drastically altered the landscape of public education for the foreseeable future.

The report cards of charter schools failing and mismanaging resources committed to children are well documented. Hence, Breakthrough will not even promote or brand itself as a charter school.

That is because Breakthrough has proven to be the exception to the charter rule. Charter schools are nonprofit organizations that offer an alternative to overcrowded public schools that are under the rule of unions that are systematically gobbling up enormous government resources and not delivering to children, particularly minorities and the poor.

John Zitzner is the president of Breakthrough Schools. The New Jersey native has spent most of his life in Cleveland. When he sold his software company in 1998, he was determined to offer an entrepreneurial after school program.

When he arrived at a Cleveland public school one morning, to his dismay he discovered there were just four students in the classroom and not a teacher in sight. The students informed him the kids usually get there around 10 a.m. although school began at 9 a.m.

Zitzner began an effort to combat what is still known today as one of the great crises facing Cleveland.

E-Prep became a model of what are now 12 schools under the Breakthrough umbrella serving 3,600 students, 96 percent of them are minority and their success rate with the students is alarming.

Moreover, Breakthrough has done something that many charter schools dare… that is work directly with the failing school districts in which they are competing for students.

It is yet another clear demonstration that Breakthrough is much less concerned about its own report card, but instead the success of the students.

While the city of Cleveland has been basking in the national spotlight from the Cavs winning the NBA championship, the Indians playing in the World Series and scores of thriving downtown enterprises, Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) has not enjoyed that measure of success.

Less than 36 percent of students graduate from high school and an even more astonishing 89 percent will not graduate from college.

While Eric Gordon, CMSD-CEO, and Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson have rolled their sleeves up and have steadfastly sought to solve the educational crisis, it has proven to be a task that more hands need to be on deck.

Zitzner and Friends of the Breakthrough Schools staff are the essential hands that can eventually bring everything together.

During a recent visit to one of its schools, ‘Citizens’, as a guest of board member Bridget Moreno, I saw firsthand the unique teaching methods that are tailored to each classroom of kids that is spurning a ‘Breakthrough.’

Students are not lumped into one age group, but instead a learning group that inspires improvement.

Breakthrough teachers, who are paid vastly less than those at public schools, are enthusiastic. That is why Breakthrough Schools have managed to outperform and why three of their schools were among the top schools in 2010.

Their staff of 500 employees, of which 400 are teachers, are fueled by the plight of its students and the passion they have to want better for themselves. Four of the dozen principals are Black and that number will increase to six by 2017.

However, their challenge is a tall order because of the lack of equitable funding. Each student only receives two-thirds of what is allocated for students in the district.

Therefore, Breakthrough Schools is going to require many generous donations to achieve its robust goal of serving 7,000 students by the year 2020 to sustain its remarkable model for education.

Any donation is much more than a benefit to the future, more importantly it is a NOW BENEFIT, without that, what does the future hold anyway?

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