Wilson Willard III | Bachelor of Science in education, 1993; Master’s of Education, 2003 | Founder, superintendent, W.E.B. DuBois Academy charter school, Cincinnati
Major Decision | As a business major at the University of Cincinnati, Willard didn’t feel challenged enough. So remembering how much he enjoyed teaching Sunday school for his father, an Episcopal priest, he tried an education class and was sold. He switched his major—and his university.
The Boss of Me | Willard loved his first job teaching in a public school but missed being in charge. So he started a tutoring program for minority students with a grant from the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio. His students went from failing grades to mostly As. He ran it for three years.
Good Idea | “I saw the success with that tutoring program and realized I could do it on a larger scale,” Willard says. “My goal was to design a school that met the needs of the kids, not the adults. I designed a school where there’s no reason to fail. The school can make you successful.”
On a Limb | In 2000, Willard quit teaching and started planning. With financial backing from the diocese, he appointed a board of like-minded leaders and won approval from the State Board of Education to open a charter school for low-income minority students from Cincinnati’s urban core. Willard receives about $5,000 in tax dollars for every student enrolled.
Not Same Old, Same Old | His 255 students put in 10- to 12-hour days, do all homework at school, and come on weekends for special activities. They attend year-round—240 days compared to the state’s 185 days. They wear uniforms supplied by the school. No one pays any fees. And everyone takes martial arts, step dance, ballet, piano, Spanish and music. Advanced students receive extra instruction.
The Incentives | All teachers at DuBois start at $35,000. Those whose students surpass the Cincinnati Public Schools’ proficiency test scores jump to $60,000. Those who don’t raise their students’ scores significantly are not asked back. The test score charts for each teacher, including those who left, are posted for all to see.
The Payoff | After three years, DuBois’ fourth and sixth grade proficiency test scores are the best of all Cincinnati area charter schools and many local school districts, including the Cincinnati Public Schools.
No Excuses | “The excuse for why kids fail is not doing their homework. So why give them homework? It’s your job to make them not fail. You don’t just throw them away,” Willard says.