CharterFolk X Vol 19 – Gary Jacobs, Not Just Funding CharterFolk, but Becoming One

Good morning, CharterFolk,

Today it is my pleasure to recognize Gary Jacobs, the Board Chair of High Tech High, as CharterFolk Extraordinaire.

Gary was among the group of 40 business leaders in San Diego in the late 90’s who met to discuss the need to improve public education in San Diego so that more students would acquire the skills needed to fully participate in high technology fields. Over time, the group’s discussions began to coalesce around the idea to make a demonstration school that would have impact across the entire San Diego region. At that point, the group invited Larry Rosenstock to share his thoughts. Larry had recently completed a national study to identify new approaches being adopted by effective urban high schools.

The story goes that after that meeting, Larry went to visit Gary, where he asked Gary what the chances were that that demonstration school would actually happen.

Gary answered, “50-50.”

To which Larry responded, “And what would you say if I told you that I am interested in becoming the director of that school?”

“Well,” Gary said. “That would make it 90-10.”

And so came together a partnership of two people from very different backgrounds who ended up uniting behind a common vision. Here Gary talks about how the business leaders’ study of international models had led them to identify a category of schools in Denmark that integrates technical and academic education.

As it so happened, in crossing paths with Larry Rosenstock, they had come across one of the people in the United States most knowledgeable about how to do that very integration. A year later, Gary and his wife Jerri-Ann gave the funding needed to allow the first school to open.

Larry became CEO. Gary became Board Chair. The rest as they say is history.

I came along a few years later. What I saw in Gary was a person whose commitment to the school was as deep as anyone’s. He was also committed to making sure that High Tech High’s impact would continue to spread. Among the projects that I worked on was looking for a buiIding that would allow High Tech High to establish a presence in the Bay Area. I had found what I thought was the perfect property, a building at the corner of Broadway and Charter Streets in Redwood City. The only problem was that I had run the numbers, and it simply wasn’t pencilling out. I distinctly remember Gary coming into my office. My daughter Tess was a toddler at the time. She charmed Gary into giving her a banana he had with him, and then he sat there for a long time considering. Finally, he said to go forward anyway.

It was a decision from a High Tech High perspective that didn’t turn out the way we planned. Several years later we actually closed that school, but in the process Gary made sure that the building went to Summit Prep, something that helped that remarkable organization achieve the stability it needed to go on and do many incredible things.

It’s a mindset that Gary has had in all of his years of work at High Tech High. Yes, a steadfast commitment to the organization itself, but also trying to help other great things happen for young people in a number of other contexts.

Like creating a program designed to foster greater understanding amongst youth from different cultures in the Middle East.

Creating a scholarship fund for student athletes at UC San Diego.

Or supporting his daughter in her recent successful run for Congress, making her the youngest person in California’s Congressional delegation.

All the while, never wavering in his commitment to High Tech High. This past year, Larry Rosenstock retired as CEO. Who continues to serve as Board Chair supporting Rasheed Hakim Meadows, the new CEO of High Tech High, in his critical early years of leadership?

Gary Jacobs, who along with fellow founding Board Member Kay Davis …

…now represent the two longest continuously serving people at High Tech High.

It shows a truth about our movement, which is that many people who have made generous financial contributions to our movement are not just funders who support CharterFolk. They have become, in fact, CharterFolk themselves.

Which is yet another reason why I am delighted today to recognize Gary Jacobs as CharterFolk Extraordinaire.