Issue: June 2008 Issue
Head of the Class
Civic Innovation Lab earns high marks for E Prep School
Team NEO Econmoic Development Impact Awards Winner
Community Improvement: Civic Innovation Lab
Class from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. isn’t exactly the average sixth-grader’s idea of school. Neither is an 11-month school year, or having to adhere to a dress code of jackets and ties every day.
But John Zitzner gambled that the combination of a rigorous academic environment and an entrepreneurial philosophy might be exactly what high-risk students need to succeed. And he seems to be right.
Since opening the Entrepreneurial Preparatory School in 2006, Zitzner, a former software entrepreneur, has seen an unprecedented amount of success thanks to his unique brand of disciplined education.
Lorain County Community College —Launched in summer 2007, Lorain County Community College Interactive Video Distance Learning Lab allows students, businesses and the public to access state-of-the-art computers and telecommunication equipment for schoolwork, conferences, webinars and general use.
Chartered by the Cleveland Municipal School District and currently teaching 175 sixth- and seventh-graders, E Prep has improved the number of its students passing the state’s reading proficiency tests from 7 percent in August 2006 to 75 percent in June 2007.
“Many of our kids come from neighborhoods or homes where they’re put in a box and don’t see the possibilities in their problems,” Zitzner says. “That’s what entrepreneurs do, they look beyond the box they’re in and start thinking of new ways to look at life.”
Funding has followed the numbers. To date, the school has raised more than $3 million. But its financial and planning support initially came from the Civic Innovation Lab.
“We were able to give John the money because we believed that he had the drive and the passion and was able to take the risk to address a type of brain gain,” says Jennifer Thomas, director of the Lab. “This is an attraction and retention of talent even at the sixth-grade level that is really going to pay off for Greater Cleveland.”
Specializing in ideas that will have a positive impact on the region, the Civic Innovation Lab began in 2003 and was funded by the Cleveland Foundation. With $30,000 grants and mentoring support from its expert panel of community leaders, the Lab gives edgier ideas the opportunity to take flight.
“The Lab fuels creative innovation,” Thomas says. “Innovation that has a twist, a new twist on an old problem or something new.”
Since 2003 the Lab has received more than 650 applications and awarded 37 individuals with funding. Chosen individuals — or champions, as the Lab calls them — work one on one with mentors on turning their creativity into workable business models. Zitzner used his Lab grant to study what worked in other schools across the county. With this he was able to design an aggressive college-prep curriculum, which also promotes entrepreneurial traits such as self-discipline, perseverance and responsibility.
One of the Lab’s main objectives is to create a stronger culture of innovation in Northeast Ohio, Thomas says. The program offers free seminars to all applicants on writing grant proposals and business plans and how to communicate ideas effectively.
“That’s a really important part of what we’re trying to achieve,” Thomas says. “We want people to be comfortable bringing ideas forward.”
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