Founder, GO Public Schools
A Different Kind of Disruption
Jonathan Klein, MBA 06, is passionate about improving public schools in low-income communities. His first job after college was as a schoolteacher in Compton, Calif. In the nearly two decades since then, he has been a fundraiser, community organizer, and political advocate on behalf of children, parents, and public schools in Oakland.
Today, he is co-founder and director of Great Oakland Public Schools (GO Public Schools), a five-year-old non-profit coalition that has become a powerful force for increased school funding, accountability, and better governance.
GO is not his first venture as a social entrepreneur. In 2003, Klein co-founded what is now the Oakland Schools Foundation, a non-profit organization that has helped hard-pressed schools raise $20 million for special programs and extra teachers. Before that, he was the Bay Area director of Teach For America, which raised $5 million to recruit and train 400 new teachers in Bay Area public schools.
Along the way, Klein completed an MBA at Haas in 2006. Why? The harder question, Klein says, is why not? "K-12 education accounts for about 10 percent of GDP," he remarks. "These are major organizations. They require leadership and management – strategy, human relations, finance, organizational development, change management – with high stakes and consequences for children. Haas offered an opportunity to build my toolkit as a manager, advocate, leader, and entrepreneur."
At Haas, Klein says, he found ways to connect the worlds of business management and social change. Working with Nora Silver, faculty director of the Center for Social Sector Leadership, he even helped create two experiential courses in education management while studying for his own MBA. He also helped write the first business plan for Revolution Foods, a for-profit start-up launched by two Berkeley MBAs during their years at Berkeley Haas. Revolution Foods now provides healthy and appealing meals in schools from California and Texas to New Jersey.
Last but not least, Klein crystallized a strategy for the Oakland Schools Foundation and had it running by the time he graduated. The idea: help cash-strapped schools raise money for special programs, in part by serving as a "fiscal sponsor" that provides management support and keeps track of the money for donors.
Klein didn't stop there. Upon graduating from Haas in 2008, he signed on as a special assistant to the state administrator of the Oakland Unified School District. Two years later, he joined the Rogers Family Foundation and began overseeing $2 million in annual investments for education projects in Oakland.
These days, Klein spends most of his time on GO Public Schools. Last year, the group raised money and organized 300 volunteers to campaign for a ballot measure that would provide $475 million for new school facilities. Oakland voters passed the measure by a landslide. Meanwhile, GO's community coalition struck a blow for tougher accountability by shaking up the school board elections – most of which were never contested -- and helping elect three student-focused, results-oriented members.
To Klein, the challenges of providing high quality education to all our children aren't all that different from those in business.
"Leadership in the social sector has a lot in common with the private sector," he says. The cause may be different, but they both require vision, organization, and persistence.
And like many other entrepreneurs, Klein would love to scale up. Communities across the country are now exploring how they might replicate GO Public Schools' model to catalyze better educational outcomes for their own children and youth.