Interview by Elizabeth Presse
Andy Boy is the founder of the United Schools Network, a partnership of four charter schools in Columbus with the goal of providing excellent educational opportunities for today’s urban youth. The Bellefontaine, OH native leads (and teaches) through a combination of passion and experience. Currently, there are 720 students enrolled at USN schools and they are expecting to hit 1,200. While it is difficult to keep priorities balanced with family, work, and travel (and that many students), Andy has established his organization and himself enough that he can unplug and change focus to his faith and family after work hours. He is impacting the education experience – including landscape and quality – in Columbus and beyond one student at a time.
Are you originally from Columbus?
I grew up in Bellefontaine, OH and attended undergraduate school at the University of Cincinnati. After obtaining my master’s degree from Xavier University and five years in the classroom, I was accepted into the Building Excellent Schools Fellowship. Because of the poor perception of charter schools and lack of support from our state leaders, we decided to launch our school in our state’s capital to show them what was possible when this work is done right.
Give us a snapshot of your career path:
2001-2006: W.E.B. DuBois Academy, Science Teacher
2006-2008: Building Excellent Schools, Fellow
2008-2013: Columbus Collegiate Academy, Founder & Executive Director
2013-present: United Schools Director, Founder & CEO
Tell us about your current job role:
As CEO of USN, I am ultimately responsible for driving the strategic direction of the organization. I spend the majority of my time on governance, fund development, strategic planning/implementation, external communication and relationships, and managing our executive leadership team and financial service provider.
What advice has helped guide you in your career?
“Never miss an opportunity to say nothing.”
Tell us about the United Schools Network:
United Schools Network believes that every child should have access to a high quality education regardless of the zip code in which they are born.
Describe some of the major differences between a charter and a public school:
Charter schools are, in fact, public schools, which many people might not know. Our schools are open to any student in Columbus, Ohio who desires or requires a different kind of learning experience. While we have fewer restrictions than district schools, we are still held accountable by the Ohio Department of Education.
Major differences include uniforms, adjusted curricula and flexibility to meet and teach children where they are, and bring them up to grade level or beyond. We also have longer school days and less funding than traditional district schools.
How many students are enrolled in Columbus?
What is the age range?
How many schools are a part of the network?
Our network consists of four schools – two elementary and two middle schools located from Columbus’ most vulnerable areas (the Near East Side and Franklinton).
What is your plan for the future?
Over the next 3-5 years we will increase enrollment to 1,200 students across the network and we will grow our social enterprise, School Performance Institute. With this growth, we will dramatically increase our impact on the education landscape in Columbus and beyond.
Explain some of your work-life balance challenges and how you achieve success in spite of the hustle and bustle:
Work has always consumed the majority of my time – especially early in my career. I have done my best to have my priorities in place – my faith and my family come before my career. I haven’t always been able to keep my priorities where they belong and I consistently have to pause and realign. Needless to say, I am still trying to find that work-life balance.
What do you do or where do you go to unwind?
I unwind by spending time with my kids and traveling with friends. Now that our organization is more established, I generally disconnect fully when I am with my family or traveling.
When you were a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up?
I was passionate about education equality at a young age, but I really wanted to be an entrepreneur. My father is a business owner and I really liked the idea of building something from the ground up. Fortunately for me, I was at the right place at the right time to marry my passion for education with my desire to create a business.
What books or podcasts are you reading/listening to right now?
The Broker – John Grisham
Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism – Derrick Bell
What would your autobiography be called?
Most Likely to Fail: From High School Slacker to Charter School Founder.
What are among the top places you’d recommend to someone who is visiting or new to Columbus?
Franklinton during Franklinton Fridays, the Columbus Zoo, and Woodland Tavern or Ace of Cups for some great live music performed by our local musicians.
What’s the coolest thing about Columbus right now?
The smart and open mantra in Columbus creates an opportunity for young passionate professionals to flourish and has encouraged a vibrant downtown area.
What are three things that you think Columbus needs (or wish Columbus had)?
Mass public transit, mass public transit, mass public transit.
Which organization(s) are you involved with around the community?
Actually, I focus all of my time on United Schools Network. I would love to be involved in other organizations, but there is still so much work to be done for educational equality.
Tell us about an upcoming initiative that you’re passionate about?
School Performance Institute (SPI) is our new social enterprise that gives participants an inside look into why our schools are different and how our students perform at the highest levels, consistently.