Alex Hernandez was one of the top students at his high school in Stockton, CA – a high school he says is still in the bottom 20% of all California schools 20 years later. When he got to college, he was told that he didn’t know how to write and then placed in the lowest level math class.
“I realized I was not prepared for college and that experience was shocking and eye-opening,” he recalls. “Fortunately, I was able to catch up and get a world-class education, but that began my quest for better schools.”
After college, Alex worked in finance and private equity, but then left the private sector to teach high school math in South Los Angeles. He’s been in education ever since. Today, he is a partner at the Charter School Growth Fund, a non-profit that invests philanthropic capital to support the growth of the nation’s highest-performing public charter schools.
“We have committed more than $200 million in charter schools where students dramatically outperform their public school peers,” he explains. Founded in 2005, the Charter School Growth Fund now supports over 40 school networks that serve over 135,000 students. “I’m really lucky I get a paycheck for working with incredible educators – I love what I do.”
Alex leads the Charter School Growth Fund’s “next generation” schools practice where he works with educators who have new ideas for personalizing learning for students. “Instead of telling students what they have to learn because they are eight years old and it’s January, let them go at their own pace with the lessons they need when they need them,” he explains. “Let’s trust them to own their learning and find ways to support them as individuals. School doesn’t have to be 30 similarly-aged students in a box with an adult six hours a day, thirty hours a week.”
“Everyone talks about basic skills,” he continues. “But that’s just the bare minimum. We need to get children to create, engage with the world around them and share their ideas. It could be coding an app for their school, writing a play or supporting clean drinking water in Asia. Imagine the possibilities that open up if students spend three hours a day on core skills in personalized learning environments and we give them the rest of the time to explore their passions. This is not pie-in-the-sky. We can build these schools.”
For Alex, a passion for education was deeply ingrained. Both of his parents were career educators. As an immigrant, his father saw education as an entry into the middle class and a secure profession. Alex’s interest began with questions about why educational institutions were not serving the community the way he thought they should. When he became a parent of twin boys, he found out first-hand how even “high performing” local schools can fail to serve students with different learning needs.
Because of Alex’s Coca-Cola Scholarship, he was able to get an “amazing” college education and gain the confidence to tackle complex issues, such as education, with innovative ideas. “Being awarded the scholarship helped make me feel like my ideas and contributions mattered – that wasn’t the narrative where I grew up,” he says.
“These days, we need millions of heroes, not just one or two,” he adds. “The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation helps people discover their inner hero.”