Blog

Interview

Where Are They Now: Donald Hense

September 15, 2015

donald-henseTell us about Friendship Public Charter School (FPCS)?

Since its inception in 1997, Friendship Public Charter School has enabled thousands of students in underserved communities to become achievers. Today, Friendship is authorized to operate nine DC Charter campuses on six sites serving students from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade. The mission of FPCS is to provide a world-class education that motivates students to achieve high academic standards, enjoy learning and develop as ethical, literate, well-rounded and self-sufficient citizens who contribute actively to their communities.

Describe FPCS’ investment partnership with VPP.

Our partnership began in May 2006.

The investment of $2.5 million supported specific strategic initiatives related to Friendship’s plans for growth and for improving the quality of its existing schools. VPP previously invested $400,000 in May of 2005 for Friendship’s business planning process, which developed the roadmap for improvement and expansion. The investment allowed us to:

Identify leadership talent and organizational design for long-term sustainability with a focus on improving educational quality, financial management and resource development;

Develop a strategy and tactics for growth and expansion for K-12 International Baccalaureate and Tech Prep in grades 6-12 and advise on new schools educational program design and implementation; and

Build on and enhance current outcomes framework, financial planning, decision-making and accountability systems.

How did the investment relationship feel during the process? Were there moments of “tough love” or “growing pains”? Was it worth it?

Sure there were. There were times when it was hard to meet the demands, hear the analysis and take the advice. VPP could be difficult, but I was pretty willful myself. But at the root were good intentions. VPP is motivated to invest in good leaders. I knew VPP believed in me. If there were moments of difficulty, those moments passed because we trusted and believed in one another.

Looking back ten years after the initial investment, where do you think FPCS would be today if it had never engaged in this dynamic investor relationship with VPP?

FPCS started out at Friendship Community House, a service organization. The investment allowed us to become a school. VPP brought in McKinsey, who helped us develop the strategic plan that FPCS stands on today. The plan helped us create our central office structure, expand to multiple locations and adopt a rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Do you ever hear back from students who tell you how FPCS impacted their lives? What do they say?

Yes, all the time. Just a few weeks ago a former student, who is now a history and Chinese major at the University of Vermont, took the time to praise FPCS for helping him prepare for college through an academically rigorous Advanced Placement syllabus and for funding and encouraging him to take college credit courses at the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia.

We also hear back from parents who are thrilled with the impact we are having on their children. Just at the start of the school year, a parent wrote to say that she believes in our vision and knows that we are putting college within reach of her child’s grasp. One of my favorite quotes from the letter is:

“Since joining (FPCS), my son has really transformed academically and socially. The educators you handpicked to carry out your mission are nothing short of astounding! …I would like to take the time to say thank you for influencing my child in a positive direction and forcing him to reach the outer limits.”

It was an inspiring letter and reminds us all that the hard work we do is worth it. We strive to impact the trajectory of a person’s life. Both stories tell us that we are living up to our promise and mission. And that feels great.