By Julie Zeglen
Build the Future is banking on the accuracy of that networking-friendly adage, “It’s all about who you know.”
The not-for-profit supporting three Freire charter schools — a Center City-based high school and middle school, and a high school in Wilmington — is preparing to open a fourth school this August, TECH Freire. To do that well, it needs to build out its network of support, explained Kelly Davenport, the executive director of Build the Future.
“We opened our doors in 1999 and over 17 years, we have built some incredible relationships with folks who are on our board, folks who have helped us,” she said. “We need to expand and increase the number of relationships we have across the city and the number of people who know who we are.”
Her vision probably encapsulates what a lot of mission-minded organizations wish for, in addition to their formal boards.
Advisors would serve as both spokespeople — people who will both vouch for the schools in public and within their individual professional sectors — and connections to resources. An example of how they might help the schools, according to Davenport: It was recently discovered that the TECH Freire building had an electrical problem. Build the Future knew someone with connections to PECO, and that person helped streamline the solutions process. The council would be a wider network of people with connections like that; its members would agree to be “on speed dial” for anything the schools might need, Davenport said.
Advisors might also span multiple sectors. Davenport said Build the Future is looking for support from people working in community relations, education, politics, law, real estate development, finance, tech — you name it, the schools could use it.
The council isn’t set yet — Build the Future only held an introductory meeting about it yesterday, where it hosted about a dozen potential advisors in the Hangley, Aroncheck, Pudlin and Segal law offices on the 27th floor of One Logan Square. But who, specifically, are these potential advisors? How did Build the Future get them into a room together?
It’s simple: They’re friends of the schools’ board members, or have some other personal connection to the organization — a “web of relationships,” as Davenport put it.
Former mayoral candidate Doug Oliver is one of those friends. Oliver said he learned about Freire from board member Tom Caramanico while campaigning last year. Oliver was trying to learn more about the contentious Philadelphia education debate that often pits public schools against charter schools and demands that people note “which side are you on.”
“I didn’t know what I was,” he said. Caramanico, Oliver said, helped to make him smarter about how charter schools operate. “I found that both sides have very strong arguments.”
Oliver said he can’t commit to joining the council in any regular capacity, but that he told Davenport, “‘You call my phone, I’m picking up.’ I consider myself a friend [of Freire]” — anything to help kids get a quality education, he said.
Another friend is Debbie Campbell, vice dean of the Fox School of Business at Temple University.
During Thursday’s meeting, Campbell suggested that a partnership with Fox might look something like Fox opening its career center to TECH Freire students or helping them develop resumes and LinkedIn profiles. Because the high school will be opening near Temple’s campus at North Broad Street and Susquehanna Avenue, “Temple will probably be a big player” in supporting it, Campbell said.
And then there are friends like Anusha Janardhana, a biomedical engineer with Johnson and Johnson who met Davenport at a nail salon just a few weeks ago.
Janardhana and Davenport got to talking while picking out polish colors, Janardhana said. She shared that her mom had opened schools in Thailand and India; Davenport told her about the Freire schools, and Janardhana loved the sound of the mission.
“I told her I’d help out with whatever she needed,” Janardhana said — possibly with connections to the engineering field, or with curriculum development.
It just goes to show: Connections can be made anywhere. “Who you know” just needs to be the right kind of people.