Kellogg World Winter 2010

Teaching students to succeed through entrepreneurship — and collaboration

By Amy Trang

Amy Slothower ’98 was appalled when she heard the statistics for Denver Public Schools. A 45-percent dropout rate. Only 9 percent of incoming high school freshmen graduate from a four-year college.

“Denver is my city and I felt a responsibility to do something about this,” Slothower says. “Out of outrage, I got involved with the issue.”

Slothower, executive director of Get Smart Schools, knew that entrepreneurial skills — taking large, complex problems and breaking them into small, solvable issues, for example — would prove fruitful for students throughout their lives.

She invited Kellogg alumni Jon Boris ’98, Melissa Edison Barnes ’93, Ken Glickstein ’92 and Tim Sznewajs ’02 to join a 10-member board that would launch Venture Prep, a visionary charter school built around entrepreneurship. She knew their collaborative mindset would help the school overcome the hurdles it would inevitably face.

The board spent two years developing a mission and a curriculum that emphasize entrepreneurship though problem-solving and creative thinking. Venture Prep’s students build those skills in their sophomore and junior years by writing a business plan and bringing that plan to life.

“The school’s focus is for students to learn and gain the confidence to face life challenges, whether it’s negotiating your summer job or even getting into college. Whatever you want to do, those entrepreneurial skills are helpful,” says Edison Barnes.

When Venture Prep opened in 2008, the board found that the school’s recruitment numbers were half of what they expected. With only six weeks to turn the situation around, the Kellogg alumni worked with the rest of the board to develop a recovery plan that included marketing and data strategies to make weekly progress on student recruitment.

The hard work paid off. In its first year, Venture Prep had the highest state test scores in its cohort. The school also received the Downtown Denver Award in 2008 for its positive impact on the city. The success of Venture Prep has led Denver Public Schools to approve a second Venture Prep campus, which could open as soon as 2012.

“Teamwork is a real skill, and two years of working on that skill at Kellogg does incredible things for you,” Slothower says. “The Kellogg alumni were so adept at dealing with problems, and they had the confidence and optimism that we would overcome them.”


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