Funding to Design a Private STEM School: My Experience as a Drexel Fund Fellow

May 16, 2018
Sala Sims, a current Drexel Fund Fellow

The Drexel Fund Fellowship is designed to facilitate the development and launching of a high-quality private school for children from low-income families. The one-year fellowship provides financial resources for fellows with extensive backgrounds in educational leadership to found their own schools. In addition, fellows receive a living stipend and an individualized learning plan. Other highlights of the fellowship include coaching leadership sessions, school visits across the country, and cohort training sessions. The fellowship culminates with an application for start-up funding from the Drexel fund.

We talked to Sala Sims, a current Drexel Fund Fellow, to learn about her experience and get some application tips!

1. What inspired you to apply for the Drexel Fund Fellowship?

For most of my education career, I have had the privilege of serving the children and leading adults on the west and south sides of Chicago as a teacher and school leader. I am a proponent of school choice and believe that high quality traditional public schools, charter schools, and private schools should all be viable options for families.  I was inspired to apply to the Drexel Fund Fellowship because it provides the opportunity to plan and begin to operationalize an innovative private school model. There are not many funding sources to start up private schools, so I saw this as an amazing opportunity. While the fellowship does not guarantee that fellows will receive start-up funds at the end of the fellowship, fellows have an opportunity to present the school model and vetted business plan to The Drexel Fund for start-up funding.  For all of these reasons, I decided to apply for the fellowship.

2. How has the fellowship experience influenced your current work?

Prior to becoming a Drexel Fund Fellow, I was the founding principal of two charter schools within the Catalyst Schools Network in Chicago, Illinois. Most recently, I worked as the Lead Faculty and Transformation Partner for school improvement through a multi-year School Improvement Grant (SIG) within a Chicago Public School. I have since relocated to Tampa, Florida to plan and launch STEMSpring Academy, a K-8 STEM-focused school. The Drexel Fund Fellowship has provided the context for me to focus full-time on planning the school, building a Founding Board, and fundraising. Relocating to a new city to launch a school can be challenging, as you have to build new relationships that will help support the new school endeavor, but the fellowship has opened doors for me to build these connections.

3. What tips would you give others applying to the Drexel Fund Fellowship?

The best advice I could give future Drexel Fund Fellowship applicants is to have some written components of your school model complete prior to applying. Although I did not have my school planned out fully, I had a clear and compelling vision for my school. I think this helped me stand out in the application process. I suggest applicants take a look at charter school requests for proposals to use as a design template. Submit your 501c3 application right away because it can take up to six months to obtain your Letter of Determination for tax-exempt status. This status is crucial in fundraising. This is a very autonomous fellowship and the year goes by quickly, so be prepared to hit the ground running!

Sala Sims is currently a PhD Education Leadership-ECE candidate, ABD at Concordia University Chicago. She began her career in education in 1996 as a teacher and has National Board Certification. In 2007, Sala incubated and was the founding Principal of Catalyst Circle Rock Charter School in Chicago. Working with the Catalyst Schools, she also served as Chief Academic Officer and founding Principal of a third campus. She has wide-ranging experience with high fidelity program delivery, project management, school and network level leadership, managing partnerships, providing professional development (both locally and nationally), as well as leading, managing and building the capacity of adults to improve their practice within schools.

Interested in applying? Bookmark the Drexel Fund Fellowship to your ProFellow account.

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