UW Bothell magic inspires charter school founder

Jacob AllenBy Douglas Esser
Jacob Allen (society, ethics and human behavior ’12) credits University of Washington Bothell professors for the inspiration behind a school program in Chicago that earned him recognition on the Forbes “30 Under 30 Who Are Changing the World in Education.”

The magazine publication Jan. 3 brought national interest from teachers and potential donors to the after-school program called pilotED. Allen, 28, and co-founder Marie Dandie, 27, are preparing to grow the program into a charter school.

Allen, the CEO, and Dandie, the principal, are building a new kind of elementary school with a curriculum based on sociological identity, academic excellence and civic engagement. The name pilotED comes from students who said they wanted to pilot their own education. The concepts come from UW Bothell.

Allen says he was fired up by School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences courses taught by lecturer Georgia Roberts, the late Leslie Ashbaugh and Janelle Silva, assistant professor of community psychology. He valued classes grounded in scientific inquiry taught by Bryan White, senior lecturer in biological sciences.

Allen still rereads books he first opened at Bothell, such as “The Autobiography of Malcom X.” Silva’s teachings about gender, race and women aligned with his own passions. He felt “you have the ability to go out and do something about it.”

“It was complete magic what was happing in that class,” Allen says.

“Jacob Allen’s commitment to social justice, community engagement and enacting socially-just change is a stunning example of how theory can be brought into action,” says Silva. “His continued success is proof of what students are capable of when given the tools needed to foster change. Whenever students ask me if I have seen people radically change a community for the better, I always point to Jacob Allen.”

Marie Dandie and Jacob AllenAllen says the K-8 charter school he and Dandie are developing will introduce gender issues in kindergarten and race in grades 3-4. By the time eighth-grade students are entering high school, they’ll be able to engage in civic life, speaking with volunteer organizations and local politicians.

Allen and Dandie founded pilotED in 2013. They were both disappointed with what they saw as an insufficient response in Chicago public schools to poverty and violence. Allen was a Teach for America eighth-grade educator for two years. One of his students was shot in the back by another teen who wanted his jacket.

“It was the most crushing time since I’ve been here,” Allen said.

Allen started an hourlong after school program, inviting about 20 students to talk about home, their neighborhood and the future. When Allen and Dandie realized they were onto something they formed the nonprofit. Now an after-school program run by five people at two schools, pilotED has increased attendance there by 28 percent and reduced suspensions by 88 percent – factors projected to improve graduation.

After a run-in with the teachers’ union in Chicago, Allen is working to win a charter school license in another Midwest city. Allen and Dandie pounded out the curriculum at a Starbucks (Allen’s favorite drink: black iced coffee). They plan to open the K-8 pilotED school in 2018 with 500 students.

When Allen travels through Seattle on his way to visit his parents who live in Winlock in southwest Washington, he returns to UW Bothell to see friends.

“I care a lot about that school,” he says.

(Photos courtesy of pilotED)