YES Prep Public Schools
Chris Bertaut, Development Team

Following the cancelation of the Sixth Annual Leading Houston Forward Luncheon in November, YES Prep was able to secure guest speaker Geoffrey Canada to return to Houston to speak to supporters, community leaders and YES Prep principals. 

Geoffrey Canada has become nationally recognized for his pioneering work helping children and families in Harlem and as a passionate advocate for education reform. Canada founded the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) in the early 1990s, which The New York Times Magazine called “one of the most ambitious social experiments of our time.” HCZ’s model addresses the cycle of intergenerational poverty by providing high-quality educational programs where families need it most – right in their neighborhoods. 

Fireside chat about the education landscape 

Supporters and community leaders gathered at the Hotel ZaZa in January for a fireside chat with Canada, led by Ashleigh Fritz, YES Prep’s deputy chief schools officer. An education advocate herself, over the past 15 years, Fritz has had a tremendous impact on our organization and in the Houston community as a teacher, principal and head of schools before being tapped to become YES Prep’s first deputy chief schools officer. Regarding her experience of leading the conversation with Canada, Fritz shared, “We are grateful to Geoffrey for joining us and sharing his insights regarding the education landscape. His work is an inspiration for school leaders like me.”  

State of public education 

Opinions on the state of public education in the United States are prevalent and often polarizing. Canada is a strong believer that districts must adapt to the changing opinions on the role and value of teachers in order to retain top talent. “I’ve been in this business for 45 years and I’ve never seen anything even close to this. We are in a different period in this country. We’re going to have to think differently. We’re going to have to do things differently. We’re going to have to think about our data differently, and we’re going to have to have the kind of leadership that gets us to take these challenges,” notes Canada. 

Public charter school movement 

The Public Charter School Movement began as an experiment in the early 1990s as parents, teachers and families sought to improve the quality of public education options – focusing resources on communities that need them the most. YES Prep was part of that experiment 25 years ago. Building on our humble beginnings, we are now a network of 24 public schools serving nearly 18,000 pre-K through 12th students from under-resourced communities across Houston. 

Canada left YES Prep with some powerful closing comments. “You can’t be afraid to fail. You can’t be afraid to go out and do something innovative. It’s a tough job but we have to continue to show up every single day. When you choose this profession, you are choosing the future.” The room filled with applause as Fritz affirmed this statement, “It’s the collective responsibility of all of us to level up and do right by our kids, because they are our future.” 

In attendance were this year’s 2022 Leading Houston Forward Luncheon chairs Michol and Mike Ecklund, as well as Ann Vaughan, chair of the YES Prep Advisory Council; and YES Prep board members Janet Clark, Carla Knobloch, and Rev. Leslie Smith. We were also joined by Starlee Coleman, CEO of the Texas Charter School Association. 

About the Sixth Annual Leading Houston Forward Luncheon 

As mentioned above, while our Sixth Annual Leading Houston Forward Luncheon was canceled due to the Houston Astros World Series Victory Parade, which took place in downtown Houston where our luncheon was going to be held, we were still able to raise nearly $800,000 in sponsorship dollars.  

The luncheon was going to recognize our incredible educators for their tireless work to ensure our students are college-ready and prepared to pursue lives of opportunity. Though we were not able to celebrate them at the luncheon, we did honor our campus staff throughout the week of November 7, 2022. To learn how we celebrated our educators, click here

About the author

Chris Bertaut (he/him) joined YES Prep in 2022 as the Donor Communications Manager. Chris holds a BA in Sociology from Sam Houston State University, a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Houston and is a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE). Prior to YES Prep, Chris spent nearly a decade working in fundraising operations and special events at Rice University. In his free time, Chris serves as a board member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals – Greater Houston Chapter and is a senior volunteer at Friends for Life Animal Shelter. Chris is a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community and has two adorable cats, Annabelle and Rowan.

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