Anyone will tell you that education is the key to what you eventually achieve in life and business. But is the type of education today’s minority students are receiving the kind they need to succeed? Aaron McCloud admits that he was not a good student growing up. And as a result, he slammed into barriers. He’s now not only turned that inauspicious beginning around in his professional life but is now dedicating his life to making sure today’s students get off to a better start than he did.
McCloud is the founder of the Houston-based online tutoring company Intervene K-12. After a childhood in a dangerous south central Los Angeles neighborhood and a high school career that netted him a sub-par 1.7 GPA, including two shots at the SAT, he was encouraged to take a military aptitude test. His excellent scores prompted U.S. Navy recruiters to come calling. As a result, he entered the Navy’s exclusive nuclear power school and served as a Nuclear Propulsion Plant Operator and Quality Assurance Specialist. While his achievement after a less-than-stellar educational experience could be applauded, he was eventually disappointed that no one else in his department looked like him.
He found the same at his next job as an offshore project manager at Shell Oil in Houston. After that experience, he decided to develop a school-based program that was designed to help minority students not just learn but excel. “My frustration helped me understand what was happening in K-12 schools. Even though at Shell, we were always hiring, I didn’t see many people of color in professional roles. The group I worked with was looking for people with experience and they just didn’t find anyone of color,” McCloud told Blac Finance. “Minority applicants were not qualified for executive positions. We were out there looking for geophysicists, engineers and architects, and finding minority talent that had those work experiences was a challenge in itself.”
The fact that he started the Intervene K-12 program in one of the more troubled urban school districts in America proves that McCloud has never selected the easy path in his life. The Texas Education Agency announced on March 15 that it would take over the Houston school district and appoint a new superintendent and a board of managers. The move came after a lengthy legal battle over the state’s intervention after one school failed to meet state standards for more than five years. Houston is now one of more than 100 school districts in the nation that have experienced similar state takeovers in the past 30 years.
McCloud entered the Houston schools long before the takeover, launching a unique online program that works alongside teachers in the classroom, paid for by the school district.
“What we do is not just tutoring, but also intervention. In a typical school or classroom, there are high performers and mid-range and low performers. Our teachers are already working on supporting the scholars, but the low performers need additional support,” he said. “In the communities we serve, those parents don’t have the funding to pay for additional off-site tutoring. Why do we have so many low performers in our community? I don’t want to blame the teachers because bigger, more systematic issues exist.”
While classroom instruction, tutoring and eventual grades are essential to students looking to go to college or find opportunities in high-paying trades, McCloud says the goal for the Intervene K-12 program is much broader than a good report card. “These kids have never seen a black engineer and didn’t know what one was. That was the catalyst to start this company. If the kids are low performing, they’re not getting high-paying jobs. If they don’t know what they’re learning, they’re not going to be motivated.”
McCloud’s Intervene K-12 program has now expanded from Houston to Detroit, New York, Dallas, Louisiana and Connecticut and later this year, schools in California.