kindergarteners files to class after lunch.
They’re all wearing Rocketship’s signature
green or purple T-shirts. At the door, their
teacher welcomes them one by one with a
warm greeting and a grown-up handshake.
The practice, called “threshold,” aims to
create a mental transition back to the
classroom while reinforcing manners and
“It’s not just about achieving,” Smith
explained. “It’s about making awesome little
In the next building, a roomful of
second-graders works intently on their
humanities lesson, a blend of language arts
and social studies. Some fill in worksheets;
some interact with individualized tutorials
on notebook computers; and some cluster
around their young teacher. They’ll spend
half the day here and later rotate to other
classrooms for math and science, tutoring
and enrichment activities, including art and
Smith jumps right back into the
classroom vibe, squatting among a group
of students, asking about their lesson and
rewarding them for their answers with high
fives. The teacher interrupts the class to call
attention to a particular student’s exemplary
display of persistence, one of Rocketship’s
“He’s been so consistent all day since he
walked into the classroom this morning.
He’s been trying and trying, and he’s never
given up,” she says. “Do you think he
The class responds in practiced unison:
“Absolutely!” and the little boy breaks into
a shy smile.
The second decade
That’s the kind of classroom experience
Maritza Leal and her husband, Enrique
Esparza, wanted for their children, too. But
their neighborhood school in Redwood
City, about halfway between San Francisco
and San Jose, just wasn’t delivering.
“When my older daughter was in
second grade, her teachers were telling us
everything was fine, but she was barely
reading,” Leal said. “We knew we had to
find a better school.”
Their search led to a Rocketship
Omar Currie ’ 13, assistant principal at Rising Stars, where college banners adorn the courtyard. Some Rocketship schools have opened after par-
ents asked for them; one planned school was blocked by parents. Smith’s upbringing in Rialto, he says, prepared him for criticism.