Charter school envisions educating over half of North Mpls children

Harvest Network called ‘a beacon of hope for the community’

Students received certificates of achievement at the end of the last school year.
Students received certificates of achievement at the end of the last school year. (Steve Floyd/MSR News)

The Harvest Network of Schools promotes community development and education. These concepts are not something new to the schools’ founder and president Eric Mahmoud and his wife, co-founder and executive director Dr. Ella Mahmoud. For them these concepts have always been fundamental.

According to Eric, he has always had a passion for community development and Ella has always had a passion for children. “Being raised in a community that was 99 percent African American that really didn’t have any [African American-owned] businesses in the community…I felt was a serious inequity,” Eric explains.

“I went into engineering with the idea that I was going to start a business. [I was] going to go to the University of Wisconsin and start a business in my community in Philadelphia to really provide economic development in the community.

“But my wife turned out to be the smarter one,” continues Eric. “She told me that education is the foundation for community development.”

Upon graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1983 and then moving to Minneapolis, Ella became a director of a childcare center. After a year, she decided that she wanted to start a school. The couple started their first school in 1985. It consisted of 10 students, which included three of their adoptive children.

The school came out of a need in the community. Instead of complaining about what society was not doing for their children, the Mahmouds asked, “What can we do for ourselves? We have a responsibility not only to our families, but to our community. We have a responsibility to change these outcomes.”

Eric Mahmoud
Eric Mahmoud (Steve Floyd/MSR News)

In 1992 they went from Seed Academy, a preschool program, to an elementary program. Mr. Mahmoud told the MSR, “Prince made a $20,000 donation, giving us the opportunity to expand even more. Then we began to add even more programs under our overall umbrella.”

The elementary program, Harvest Preparatory, started as a private school and became a charter school in 1998. Best Academy was born in 2006 to address the needs of African American boys in particular.

“In 2012, in partnership with Minneapolis Public Schools, we thought we would create a program that would focus on the unique needs of boys and girls. That is called Mastery School,” explains Eric.

“[At] the Network [we] want to use education as a lever for change,” Eric adds. Harvest Preparatory school was their first school, which Eric considers their legacy organization. To be efficient, all the schools’ administration was combined.

Fundraising, financial management, and other administrative duties are handled by a charter management organization, what they call the Harvest Network of Schools. This school year, The Harvest Network of Schools will have a combined enrollment of about 1,400 students.

On August 1, the doors of the new Mastery School opened with children from kindergarten through fourth grade. It moved from its location at 1300 Olson Memorial Highway to 40th and Thomas North in Minneapolis. Early this summer, the MSR spoke with James Burroughs, who was the schools’ start-up coordinator.

“As we continue to grow, we…want to grow in a very methodical way,” explained Burroughs. “We want to make sure that as we grow, each young person is still getting the academic support they need.

“We don’t want to be a large school doing okay with our students,” said Burroughs. “We want to be a school that matches the needs of the students. So if it is a smaller school for a while, and all of our students are successful academically and socially, then we will settle for that.”

This summer Burroughs was appointed as Governor Mark Dayton’s chief inclusion officer.

“We are excited about our move for a couple of reasons,” says Eric of the Mastery School’s new location. “One, we are expanding our reach in North Minneapolis. Two, as part of the expansion, we want to add new elementary schools. The Network works towards giving their students a rigorous academic foundation, where they can continue to build on their educational experiences as they go into high school and college. Ultimately, they will be able to make a contribution to the community.”

Currently, The Harvest Network of Schools has “alumni of the Seed Academy and Harvest Preparatory School…working as science teachers and social workers at our school,” says Eric. “An alumnus of Harvest Preparatory School just received her ‘white coat’ from the University of Minnesota Medical School. Those are some of the things we have been able to accomplish from a psychological and a practical standpoint,

“The Harvest Network of Schools offers hope, in a climate — not just in North Minneapolis, but around the country — where they are always talking about the achievement gap,” says Eric. “This has almost become a self-fulfilling prophecy. What we have been able to do is really puncture that narrative [and show] that African American children can achieve at high levels.

Their website, www.harvestnetworkofschools.com, identifies five gaps that create unequal outcomes between White and affluent students and lower-income students of color.

They are:

  • “Time gap: We have a longer school day and school year. Our scholars experience more learning than the typical school offers.
  • “Leadership gap: We empower our principals as instructional leaders.
  • “Teaching gap: We instruct, assess, reflect. Our job isn’t done until scholars master the skills and material.“Preparation gap: We support early learning to give kids a strong start.
  • “Belief gap: We know that 100 percent of our scholars want a great life, are capable of academic success, and have gifts that will benefit our community.”

Eric explains, “This is our greatest contribution to families and community, that we can get their children achieving at high levels. We are a beacon of hope for the community. Hope is very important.

“Because we offer hope, I think we impact the belief gap. We get families to believe because we give [the community] examples, even if they do not have children at the Harvest Network.”

North Minneapolis was specifically chosen for the location of these schools, because, “In addition to being great for many families, it also has some of the widest inequities in the state and in the country,” explains Eric Mahmoud. “[It also] has some large social challenges, such as high crime rates and racial employment gaps. So, we want to use education as a lever for change in North Minneapolis in particular.”

This year, the Network received “Minnesota’s 2016 Teacher of the Year” award. “We are proud to say that we have a teacher that has been with us for about five years,” says Eric. “He’s the first African American male recognized in 52 years…in the state of Minnesota as the Minnesota Teacher of the Year.

“[He is also] the first teacher from a charter school, the first teacher from North Minneapolis, and the youngest teacher to ever be recognized for teacher of the year.”

“Our number-one role in the classroom is to serve our young people and is to serve our community to make them better and stronger,” said Abdul Wright, Minnesota’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, in a YouTube video called “Mr. Wright’s Secret Sauce.”

The Harvest Network of Schools’ goal is to reach 51 percent of the students in the North Minneapolis, which is about 7,500 students in kindergarten through 8th grade. “We want to get to about 4,000 students by 2025,” says Eric.

 

For more information on Harvest Network of Schools, contact them at 612-876-4105, or go to www.harvestnetworkofschools.com.

Brandi D. Phillips welcomes all reader comments at bphillips@spokesman-recorder.com.