Taking a Chance; Public Boarding School Reaps Great Success

Roslyn Shorter, whose daughter Shamiyah is in the 11th grade at SEED, said, "She's learned a real sense of responsibility ... and was able to meet such wonderful people."

While at SEED, students live in houses of 10 to 12 each supervised by a "life skills counselor."

"We don't call them 'dorm parents,'" Inman said, "because they don't assume the role of a parent. They are truly a 'life skills counselor.'"

SEED prides itself of being small enough to foster strong relationships with the parents of all its students.

The 4-acre campus offers kids a peaceful retreat in the middle of the city with 24-hour security. And although students spend Monday through Friday on campus, they return home for the weekends.

Public Boarding Schools in Every Major City?

But how is it that the students are able to receive an education that costs $35,000 per year free of charge?

Startup costs, including the money to build the campus, are raised privately by the SEED Foundation. Once at scale, the operating costs to maintain and run the school are publicly funded.

The SEED school in Washington operates as a charter school, which enables them to tap into funding available for independently run public schools. However, Adler said setting up a school of this nature required legislative action for the District of Columbia to agree to pay the additional costs.

"There isn't a source of sustainable funding that pays for boarding in existence in most places," he said. "For example in D.C., there was a charter law that was used to the idea of paying the operating expenses for an independent public school but it was the regular day expenses. It required an act of Congress, in the case of the District of Columbia, to add onto that the boarding expenses."

SEED also operates a school in Maryland that is not a charter school, and students there must meet certain criteria to attend. Securing funding for that campus required Maryland to agree to pay the above and beyond costs for the students who live in circumstances where they have multiple risk factors working against them.

Given the success of the boarding school model, the SEED Foundation is eager to expand.

"This kind of a school should be in the portfolio of almost any major city," Adler said. "None of us believe that this is the solution. ... Lots of kids, if they just had a good after school program or a strengthened day school program, would be fine. But for kids who this would really make a difference, it ought to be available in each city."

SEED has looked into broadening the program to cities in Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin and New Jersey and they are about to begin work in New York.

"Should we have more SEED schools? Absolutely," Inman said. "Do I think everybody has to be at boarding school? No, it's not for everyone."

SEED Credits Students for Its Success

The Obama administration has highlighted SEED as an education success story and the president himself visited the school last year. The administration strongly supports charter schools as a model of reform and Education Secretary Arne Duncan has vowed on several occasions to back "what works."

The school has received national attention and is profiled in the upcoming documentary "Waiting For Superman," by the award-winning director of "An Inconvenient Truth," Davis Guggenheim.

Although the idea is revolutionary, the staff and educators at SEED are adamant that the credit goes to their students.

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