When he took over as CEO of Jumpstart in 2002, Rob Waldron inherited an organization that was already delivering results. Jumpstart was sending Americorps volunteers and college students from 33 universities to teach at HeadStart programs in cities such as Boston and Atlanta, reaching the children most in need of extra help. Jumpstart instructors halved the student-teacher ratio at those schools, and they brought with them a curriculum with measurable standards, so teachers and kids could easily track their progress over the school year.
Waldron's mandate was to make Jumpstart grow -- without losing the unique and personal touch that made its approach to early childhood education so effective. "This is the greatest management and leadership challenge I've ever faced," he says. That's saying something, since his previous job had been running the for-profit education company SCORE, which he took from $2 million in revenue to $50 million over five years.
But Jumpstart, which relies on dozens of partnerships, was a different beast. Waldron had to figure out how to balance multiple constituencies' interests on a very tight budget. "I had to learn how to lead people and persuade them to a common end," he says.
Waldron, 39, started by cutting staff at Jumpstart's headquarters by 25% -- and then raising salaries of the remaining employees by 40%, to attract the best talent available. He decentralized decision making, ceding power to regional centers and encouraging employees to bring their best ideas to the table.
In the two years since, Jumpstart has nearly doubled the number of universities from which it recruits work-study students. And it's deploying 1,600 Americorps volunteers, up from 1,200. Since both groups of instructors are federally subsidized, Jumpstart's own costs are low. In fact, Waldron achieved 33% growth in 2003 while keeping costs flat.
There's a longer-term effect too: Jumpstart is driving growth in the supply of teachers. It says that 20% of its college participants go into teaching as a career. And it has doubled the number of teachers with four-year college degrees in the preschool field.
Most rewarding of all, though, is the actual human impact behind the numbers. "Yesterday," Waldron says, "I learned about a sixth-grade teacher in the Boston inner city who, six years ago, was a Jumpstart instructor. She was partnered with a 4-year-old child who wasn't even talking. Well, this fall he walked into her sixth grade classroom -- and she tells us that he is the top child in her class today. When you see a child's life transformed -- wow. Our legacy is real social change. To have the joy of knowing your day-to-day struggles are turning into something that life-changing . . . I just wish everyone got to feel that way about their work."
-- Alison Overholt
= repeat winner