Cool ‘Cats: Jacob Wertz (SESP ’09)

Jacob WertzAfter several years working with charter schools in Chicago, Northwestern University alumnus Jacob Wertz will soon be creating his own.

Wertz recently won the Building Excellent Schools (BES) Fellowship, which will allow him to design, found, lead and sustain a charter school in an underserved area of Los Angeles. A 2009 graduate of the School of Education and Social Policy, Wertz said he had long dreamt of leading a charter school and jumped at the opportunity offered by the BES fellowship.

“When I learned about the amount of training and resources that BES will put into helping me become the kind of leader I want to be, and to help me run the kind of school that I want to run to ensure success for low-income students, I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” he said.

BES is a trailblazing nonprofit that raises the quality of urban charter schools by supporting entrepreneurial individuals in a year-long, comprehensive training program in urban charter school creation and leadership. The fellowship program has established more than 50 schools in 20 cities and 12 states. Fellows receive more than 100 days of training across the country and in Boston, where BES is headquartered.

Wertz’s fellowship year runs from August 2013 to June 2014. While completing his training, Wertz will also craft a charter school proposal outlining his plans for the school, assemble a board of directors and begin fundraising so he can continue the project once the fellowship year is complete.  After his proposal is accepted, Wertz will find a building for the school, finalize the curriculum, hire staff and enroll students. In the third year, the school becomes operational.

“It’s a huge challenge to run a game-changing school in a high poverty area,” Wertz said. ““I am passionately curious about how we can get better, how I can learn and improve my own skills, and how we can solve this problem.”

Wertz said his Northwestern experience was fundamental in preparing him for the challenges he will face during his fellowship year. As an undergrad, he formed the Northwestern Political Union with his friend Sam Kleiner to give students of opposing political outlooks an open forum for discussing policy issues.

“There wasn’t anything on campus where liberals and conservatives were talking, so it was the first time in my life that I felt I had identified a problem — a challenge in a community that I was a part of — and that I could actually be a leader in creating and making a solution to it,” he said. “Northwestern is the kind of place where my passion for learning things, identifying challenges and wanting to solve them really grew.”

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