Rigorous. Mission-driven. Joyful. Those are three words Andy Boy uses to describe United Schools Network (USN), a series of thriving charter schools he founded that are combining academic excellence with integrity to position central Ohio students for success.
“USN is a small, tight network of college preparatory schools focused on serving neighborhoods that need us most,” Andy said. “It’s really important to us that we place our schools in the neighborhoods where students and families lack opportunities.”
Its flagship middle school, Columbus Collegiate Academy–Main Street, opened in the fall of 2008 on the Near East Side with 57 sixth-grade students. After seeing what a difference the teachers and curriculum had on the lives of those students, and making sure they were prepared to successfully operate multiple locations, USN opened its second middle school, Columbus Collegiate Academy–Dana Avenue in Franklinton, in 2012.
“We’ve always been intentional about focusing on what we need to do now, with an eye for the future. When we launched the first school, there was no talk about a second or third. It was, ‘let’s be the best middle school in the country’,” Andy said. “Once we accomplished a great deal of success, we saw we had kids that wanted to come to the school but couldn’t get here.”
In 2013, USN was selected by The Columbus Foundation as a Continuous Improvement grantee, and received a grant of $375,000—funding that helped USN secure an $800,000 Inflexion Fund grant from the Walton Family Foundation. Continuous Improvement partnerships with The Columbus Foundation focus on increasing capacity to meet community needs, improving program quality, inspiring innovative service delivery, and strengthening institutional infrastructure.
“We sweat the small stuff—and that takes care of the big things from a culture standpoint. Culture drives academics.”
—Andy Boy, Founder and CEO, United Schools Network
“Too many of our urban schools are underperforming,” said Lisa S. Courtice, Ph.D., executive vice president, Community Research and Grants Management, The Columbus Foundation. “In response to this challenge, the Foundation has taken a portfolio approach to investing in education—and USN is one of the programs we are proud to support. USN has excelled in educating children who are disadvantaged, and has built a set of schools that outperforms local district schools. Through their dedicated teachers, commitment to academics, and innovative culture, they are helping to shape the leaders of tomorrow.”
In total, the Foundation awarded more than $851,000 in grants to USN from 2010–2014, to help advance its mission and expand its reach. This included a $30,000 Signature Investment grant from the Columbus Youth Foundation, a Supporting Foundation of The Columbus Foundation, to provide new recreation space for Columbus Collegiate Academy–Main Street.
All USN schools are tuition-free public charter schools with no admission criteria. However, USN typically faces a challenge right away—the majority of
incoming sixth-graders enter the classroom reading more than two grade levels behind. Recognizing this reality, Andy and his team decided they needed to reach kids earlier, but wanted to ensure it was a good fit for them strategically.
“We knew that we wanted to grow, and if we want to do really great things for kids, we need to start younger,” Andy said.
After a year spent studying elementary schools, United Preparatory Academy (UPrep) opened at the Dana Avenue building in the fall of 2014 to serve 110 kindergarten and first graders. Each year, it will add a grade level until UPrep reaches its full capacity of 360 students in grades K–5. Between the three schools, a total of 600 students were enrolled at the beginning of the 2014–2015 school year. USN hopes to serve a total of 1,300 students with more than 100 educators by 2020.
“My long-term goal is to have our students leading our classrooms and our schools, and I think the best way is to have a succession plan that includes former students,” Andy said.