Brad Petersen never considered a career in teaching — not as a child, not in high school and not in college. He was geared to embark on a law career, but detoured to a path in education. He’s now creating his dream school.
“I’m committed to making the most successful school in Idaho and the country,” Petersen said.
The 28-year-old is an Idaho New School Fellow — enrolled in a two-year fellowship program focused on planning, developing and launching a unique public school in an Idaho community.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Petersen said.
Petersen turned to a career in education through his mother’s inspiration. While Petersen attended Brigham Young University-Idaho studying English and Spanish, his mother Jill Ross created Alpine Academy, a charter high school in Sparks, Nev.
During visits home from college, Petersen would vacuum hallways, write grants and clean classrooms at Alpine Academy. That is when teaching sparked his interest.
“I loved being around kids,” Petersen said. “I just knew I should be in a classroom.”
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Petersen killed the dream of working in law and got into education after graduating college in 2012. He joined the Teach For America program and taught fourth grade at Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) Shine Prep in Houston, Texas.
The Idaho New School Fellowship program
Petersen was teaching in Houston when he scrolled through his Twitter feed in 2015 and came across the Idaho New School Fellowship application. He figured it was the perfect opportunity to bring his family of four to Idaho, but thought his chance of winning one of the two fellowships was slim.
“The person I am today is because of attending college in Idaho,” Petersen said.
After an application and interview process, Petersen was accepted into the fellowship along with Amanda Cox, who also came from the Teach For America program. Cox worked in North Carolina, where she taught in a predominantly African American school for four years.
“I want to create more pathways for kids and give them the support they need,” Cox said. “Learning must be done differently.”
The fellowship is supported by Bluum, a non-profit learning organization and KIPP. Petersen and Cox are part of a two-year exploration into the development of new schools. The fellowship started in June.
“This is the first time something like this has been done in Idaho,” said Terry Ryan, CEO of Bluum. “Maybe in the country.”
They’re participating in leadership trainings, visiting schools across the country, including schools in Cambridge, Chicago, Denver, Houston and Idaho. The also are learning the logistics and laws on what it takes to establish a new school in Idaho.
“Visiting different schools helps create a vision of future possibilities,” Petersen said. “It’s been a humbling experience to see all the great schools that are out there and know it’s possible to create something great.”
The future public school
Petersen and Cox plan to open a public charter school in Boise called the Future Public School. The proposed K-8 school will open in 2018 and will start with K-2, adding a grade each year.
“We want to emphasize that our school is public and is the future,” Petersen said.
The school will focus on the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and preparing students for college and life beyond.
“Our vision is to develop engineers of our community and the future,” Petersen said. “We are marrying STEM future-focused education with commitment to social justice.”
Petersen and Cox plan to recruit children from a variety of backgrounds and target low-income families.
“Your zip code shouldn’t determine your destiny,” Petersen said. “Seeking diversity has to be a core value and mission of the school.”
Note: Bluum and Idaho Education News are funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.