Skip to main content

Teaching the Business of Education

August 27, 2006

As a graduate student, Dr. Eleanor Perry wanted to create positive changes in education. Years later as an ASU researcher studying charter schools, she noticed a common problem facing charter school leaders across the nation.

“People kept telling me there was no Master’s program that gave them the educational and business skills they needed to sustain a charter school – and that they wanted one,” states Perry, who adds that charter schools – legally independent public schools – can fail when educators do not know how to manage school budgets, tackle legal issues, or handle other business-related tasks.

In response, Perry founded the Leadership for Educational Entrepreneurs (LEE) program – a two-year Master’s program housed in Arizona State University at the West campus that offers a mix of business and education courses for working professionals involved in the charter school industry. She now co-directs the program with College of Teacher Education & Leadership associate professor, Nancy Haas. 

Funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Education and supported by a network of local and out-of-state educational consultants, advisors, mentors, and faculty, LEE delivers instruction to its students – called “protégés” within the program – through online courses, summer institutes, and regional sites. Courses train protégés in skills crucial to running a school, including writing business plans, applying for funding, and evaluating teachers. Protégés also participate in internships and design action research projects to further develop their skills as practitioners/scholars.

“The LEE program gives each protégé the confidence to become the leader that is so needed in education,” says Perry, adding that this ASU program’s online courses educate protégés across the nation, creating a network that spans 41 states and the District of Columbia. Thanks to this network, LEE now benefits more than 300,000 children nationwide. 

By the end of the five years of federal funding, LEE will have graduated three classes of protégés. The following stories illustrate how protégés from each class are using skills gained at LEE to positively impact schools across the United States and become the business and education savvy leader Perry calls “the educational entrepreneur.” 

Anita Mendoza – 2002 LEE Fellow

“LEE gave me the confidence to be an advocate for charter schools,” states Anita Mendoza, who serves as Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction for charter schools in Yuma, Phoenix, Camelback, and Tucson. Upon graduating from the LEE program, this confidence inspired her to volunteer for the Arizona State Board of Education where she currently holds the first seat representing charter schools. 

The workload is considerable. “They’re both basically full time jobs,” says Mendoza. As a member of the State Board, Mendoza helps present a more positive image of charter schools to the Department of Education by showing how the independence of such schools allows them to be a valuable asset to public education.

“As long as charter schools meet state standards,” she explains, “they have the freedom to provide more personalized instruction to students than just textbook learning.” 

Mendoza helps demonstrate this in her own charter schools by developing curricula that create partnerships between the worlds of business and education. Her charter school in Tucson, for instance, offers engineering and construction seminars that let high school students learn applied math and physics by working on actual construction projects – including a project that lets them benefit the community by building composting toilets at a daycare in Nogales.

“Our courses help prepare students to become successful members of the community,” says Mendoza. Having learned more about the business world through LEE, she now looks beyond just preparing students for college and makes sure her schools also teach skills that will help students thrive in the economy. 

In the future, Mendoza believes charter schools will continue to improve since they are driven by a market system that holds them accountable for retaining and properly educating students. Because of the business skills she has gained from LEE, she knows she can help her schools succeed in such a system.

Marcus Delgado – 2002 LEE Fellow

When high school teacher Marcus Delgado was accepted into the LEE program in 2004, he was also hired as vice principal of Fairhill Community High School, an independent public school contracted by the School District of Philadelphia to give at-risk students a chance to earn their high school diplomas. 

While many would balk at the work involved in running a school while earning a Master’s degree, Delgado found his two responsibilities often supported each other.

“The courses I was taking in LEE all related to the experiences on my job,” he says, noting that since Fairhill was just starting up when he entered LEE, he frequently applied his new education and business skills to his school as he learned them. 

Accounting classes helped Delgado develop a budget for Fairhill. He also gained the legal knowledge for rehabbing a building and administrative skills for evaluating teachers. On occasion, he created programs for his school through LEE projects. 

“[Fairhill] needed to design a program so we wouldn’t lose students during the summer months,” he recalls, “and LEE required us to develop an action research project that would make a positive change in the educational system.”

So Delgado tied both projects together, using his business skills to obtain the funding for a summer program that would pay students to observe their local community and document their perspectives through drawings, poetry, and photography. The program not only kept students focused on their education during the summer but also helped them develop better research, communication, and computer skills. 

LEE also required that Delgado perform an internship at a charter school near Fairhill where he honed his administrative skills under the charter school’s Chief Academic Officer. Although he describes managing his internship and work duties as a “balancing act,” the training paid off – upon graduating from LEE, Delgado became Fairhill Community High School’s new principal. He was only twenty-eight years old.

“There’s a shock when [new faculty] come in and see me – they expect to see an older guy,” he states, noting the program helped him go from teacher to principal in less than five years. “But I’ve learned to be a better leader by working with LEE – I know how to operate a school, manage a budget, and talk to teachers. So eventually people come in and just see a good leader and an organized school.” 

Jason Guerrero – 2005 LEE Fellow

While many LEE protégés are educators seeking to build their business skills, Jason Guerrero spent five years in corporate America exercising his abilities in business administration before becoming Chief Financial Officer for two Colorado charter schools – Caesar Chavez Academy and Dolores Huerta Preparatory High.

“I wanted to get into a business where I could see the rewards of my decisions on a daily basis,” states Guerrero. To improve his knowledge of education and better serve students, Guerrero enrolled in LEE, investing 15-20 hours a week in the program while maintaining a 60-70 hour work week at his charter schools. Despite the hectic schedule, he found the experience very rewarding. 

“Everything I learned at LEE has a practical application – I could implement what I learned in the program the next day at work,” he says.

Guerrero credits the LEE program with teaching him how to evaluate educational models. Assessing which models will provide the highest quality instruction for his students lets him decide which programs he will purchase for his charter schools on an educational and financial level.

He recalls how his understanding of educational models led him to purchase a reading program for Caesar Chavez Academy that included on-site professional development support for teachers, research-based curriculum materials, and one-to-one tutoring. Although the program was more expensive than others, it helped raise student test scores 10-30 points above state and district averages. Such smart financial and educational decisions helped earn Caesar Chavez a ranking as a Title One School in Colorado. 

“LEE gives you a great understanding of how financial expenditures in a charter school are tied to student performance and achievement,” states Guerrero, who is currently helping his schools systematize their educational models so they can develop new academies with the same curricula. Next year, he will help open two new charter schools in Colorado Springs and plans to open four more in the future.

The Future of LEE

Although LEE’s federal funding is coming to an end, ASU's College of Teacher Education & Leadership will offer a program patterned after LEE and will institutionalize it into their graduate program at the West campus. 

Dr. Perry feels the university, campus and college’s support is vital to the program’s past and continued success. “You need support from the decision makers in a university to make a program like LEE happen and I was very fortunate to have this support,” she states. “In turn, LEE is bringing national recognition to the university – it’s such a neat feeling to know we are advancing President Crow’s University as Entrepreneur initiative by reaching out to the community in ways never envisioned before.”

For LEE’s faculty, mentors, educational consultants, and advisors, the impact their protégés make on the educational system remains a huge inspiration that drives them to continue their unique Master’s program.

“In the business world [LEE graduates] would be executives – maybe even CEOs,” says Dr. Bob Maranto, a political science professor at Villanova University who piloted the program’s Politics in Education course. “But they’ve decided to use their talents to help kids. They are truly exceptional people.”