The Greater Dayton School takes home top startup award at The Dayton Business Journal Awards.

GDS takes home top startup award

Founding principal A.J. Stich addressed the crowd of hundreds at the Schuster Center and tried his best to sum up the work it took to get The Greater Dayton School up and running.

“Elon Musk said doing a startup is like chewing glass,” Stich said. “That’s pretty accurate. … So this is for all the glass-eaters out there.”

GDS took home The Dayton Business Journal’s Startup of the Year award at its annual black-tie gala. Stich attended the event with some of the staff that made the vision of GDS into a reality. The endeavor, planned and funded by The Connor Group Kids & Community Partners, is Ohio’s first private non-religious school exclusively for under-resourced students.

Research for the project began in 2018, as entrepreneur Larry Connor and his associates with his non-profit entity, Kids & Community Partners, scoured the country to study the most innovative educational models. Along the way they enlisted the most innovative people they met to join GDS’s advisory board. The advisory board consisted of Connor and two members of Kids & Community Partners. Joining them were Harvard PhD and charter school network founder Bobbi Macdonald, Dayton-based charter school network superintendent Dave Taylor, Meeting Street Academy (Charleston, SC) principal Dirk Bedford and Meredith Liu, who had co-founded Mark Zuckerberg’s school, The Primary School, in Palo Alto, CA.

The group met quarterly, in all-day Saturday strategic planning sessions – mapping out everything from core values to hiring, curriculum, wraparound services, transportation, marketing and more.

Connor and his colleagues had experience in this type of work. His real estate investment firm, The Connor Group, placed a premium on strategic planning and the plans it produced helped lead the company to record-setting years throughout the Great Recession and COVID-19 pandemic. That said, Connor and his colleagues were education neophytes. In 2020, after interviewing more than 175 candidates in the U.S. and abroad, they hired Stich as founding principal. He joined the group for the final stages of strategic planning, then spent two full years building the model and implementing it.

GDS finally opened in 2022. This year it will serve 105 students in grades PreK through fourth. Eventually it will grow to more than 500 students in PreK through eighth. But already the school has posted impressive results. After just one year at GDS, students are more than twice as likely to be advanced in an academic subject. At the beginning of the school’s first year, roughly half its students were proficient or advanced in academics and fitness. Just nine months later, 83 percent were.

Earlier this year USA Today featured the school’s innovative approach to behavior management. This winter the school will move from its temporary location to a state-of-the-art facility overlooking downtown Dayton.

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