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Building a Better School

Alumnus Jacob Wertz wins fellowship to create charter school in Los Angeles

Inspired by a seminar that he took during his senior year at Northwestern, alumnus Jacob Wertz went to work in Chicago for his instructor Tim King, who also leads Urban Prep Academies, the nation’s first network of all-male charter high schools.

A 2009 graduate of the School of Education and Social Policy, Wertz now is in the enviable position of creating and leading his own charter school in an underserved area of Los Angeles.

As a recipient of the Building Excellent Schools (BES) Fellowship, Wertz will receive a $100,000 stipend and support for 150 days of intensive training on school design, leadership and operations. BES is a trailblazing nonprofit that raises the quality of urban charter schools by supporting entrepreneurial individuals in a yearlong, comprehensive program in urban charter school creation and leadership.

During Wertz’s fellowship, from August 2013 to June 2014, he will craft a charter school proposal outlining his plans for the school, assemble a board of directors and begin fundraising for the project.

“It’s a huge challenge to run a game-changing school in a high-poverty area,” Wertz said. “I am passionately curious about how great schools operate, how I can improve my own skills and how we can together solve the problem of educating students in underserved areas.”  

Wertz said he jumped at the opportunity offered by the BES fellowship “when I learned about the amount of training and resources that BES will put into helping me become the kind of leader I want to be and run the kind of school that will ensure success for low-income students.”  

After his proposal is accepted, Wertz will find a building for the school, finalize the curriculum, hire staff and enroll students. In the third year, the school becomes operational.

Wertz will draw upon his experience at Urban Prep Academies working under King’s leadership. While there, Wertz designed, launched and directed the Urban Prep Fellows Program, which was responsible for recruiting college seniors from around the country to spend a year working as mentors and tutors to high school freshmen at Urban Prep schools.

He stressed that the Northwestern experience, too, was fundamental in preparing him for the challenges he will face during his fellowship year. As an undergrad, he formed the Northwestern Political Union with his friend Sam Kleiner to give students of opposing political outlooks an open forum for discussing policy issues.

“There wasn’t anything on campus where liberals and conservatives were talking, so it was the first time in my life that I felt I had identified a problem -- a challenge in a community that I was a part of -- and that I could actually be a leader in finding a solution,” he said. “Northwestern is where my passion for learning things, identifying challenges and wanting to solve them really grew.”

His talents align perfectly with BES, as the fellowship program has established more than 50 schools in 20 cities and 12 states. Fellows receive more than 100 days of training across the country and in Boston, where BES is headquartered. During this time, fellows will visit more than 30 high-performing urban charter schools across the nation, including many BES-founded schools. In December and January, fellows will complete an extended residency in a successful no-excuses, urban charter school.

For more information on the fellowship program, visit

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