Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

Social Capitalists

By Jennifer Vilaga

New Leaders for New Schools

New York, New York

Founded: 2000
Field: Education
Budget: $5 million

Who wants to go to the principal's office, much less end up there full-time? With its mostly administrative role juggling unruly kids, frustrated teachers, and angry parents, the post comes with little glory and numerous challenges -- especially in urban schools. Add a looming principal shortage and the problem gains even greater urgency. New Leaders for New Schools aims to address the challenge by training the next generation of school principals to be effective leaders who can turn around poor-performing schools in urban areas.

  • Entrepreneurship: A-
  • Innovation: A-
  • Social Impact: A+
  • Aspiration: B+
  • Sustainability: B+

Founded in 2000, NLNS is the brainchild of Jon Schnur, 37, a former education-policy adviser for the Clinton administration. His six-year service left him with a powerful impression, which further research supported: Great principals make great schools. He wanted to create a national program that would invest in and train principals as leaders, but he knew the White House wasn't the place to do it. "The federal level was too clumsy to drive the kind of change I was interested in," Schnur says. So he headed to Harvard Business School.

There, he met his fellow "co-travelers," Monique Burns, an education-reform advocate specializing in charter schools, and Benjamin G. Fenton, a former management consultant at McKinsey & Co. Their backgrounds in education and business complemented Schnur's experience in federal policy and helped put his vision on paper. In May 2000, their submission to HBS's annual business-plan contest became the first nonprofit to win an award. Funding offers followed, and by the end of June, New Leaders for New Schools was incorporated with Schnur as CEO, Fenton as COO, and Burns as chief curriculum officer.

The organization offers a three-year program that includes intensive leadership training, a yearlong residency, and on-site coaching. Every year, NLNS selects a new city for expansion and partners with the school districts in that city. Its goal is to place 25 to 30 leaders per year by the third year of partnership.

Recruitment for the program is highly competitive: Since its founding, about 100 candidates were accepted out of a pool of 1,600. Their commonalities are few: people in their mid-20s to late 50s, two-thirds of whom are people of color, about 60% being women, and less than 50% coming from traditional education backgrounds. What they share -- and what NLNS looks for in every candidate -- is a deep, driven commitment to every child's academic success.

Early results are beginning to surface, even though Schnur says he doesn't expect to see substantial results until two or three years from now. Regardless, 20 school districts nationwide have adopted the program, and participating students' test scores are improving. By the end of next school year, NLNS will have placed more than 200 principals in Chicago; New York; Washington, DC; and the San Francisco Bay Area -- affecting the education of almost 100,000 kids. By 2012, NLNS hopes to have changed those numbers to 2,000 principals and 1 million children nationwide.

That will pave the way for an even broader, nationwide impact, as NLNS's success counters skepticism about what low-income children can achieve. Says Schnur: "Our hope is that adults will look at schools that aren't performing at high levels and instead of asking 'What's wrong with those kids?' they'll ask, 'What's wrong with us?'"

Jon Schnur, Founder and CEO

Before founding New Leaders for New Schools, CEO Jon Schnur was a policy adviser on K-12 education in the Clinton administration for six years. He served as the White House associate director for educational policy, Vice President Gore's senior policy adviser on education, and special assistant to U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley. Schnur spent several months at Harvard designing the business plan for New Leaders for New Schools while taking coursework at the Graduate School of Education, the business school, and John F. Kennedy School of Government. He graduated cum laude from Princeton University in 1989.

Learn more about the Fast Company Social Capitalist Fund.

Return to the Social Capitalist Awards directory.