Haslam 3 Foundation makes $1 million donation to Breakthrough Schools

From three, to 10, to 20 in 2020: Breakthrough Schools' mission has been clear since it was formed five years ago.

When Jimmy and Dee Haslam recently visited one of the non-profit network's 10 schools across the Cleveland area, they were sold on Breakthrough Schools' plan to provide more children in the city with a high-quality, college-prep education.

On Tuesday, Breakthrough Schools announced the reception of a $1 million gift from the Haslam 3 Foundation that will put the organization another step closer toward its goal of 20 schools by 2020.

"There's been people way before us that have given lots more to Breakthrough to get them started. We're playing a tiny, tiny role in a story that's been established for a long time," said Dee Haslam, President of the Cleveland Browns Foundation. "We're excited to be coming into this community and welcomed in this community. We love it. Cleveland is just an incredible place to live. We have found that one of the best experiences we ever had was moving here. As far as being in a community, we love it. In a small way, if we can give back and help out, we feel like it's our obligation to do that."

Breakthrough Schools received that obligation with open arms.

"The fact that an out-of-towner just coming to Cleveland and kind of seeing what we're doing and appreciating what we're doing so quickly, it was gratifying and deeply appreciative," said John Zitzner, President of Friends of Breakthrough Schools, which serves as the network's fundraising and advocacy organization. "They didn't have any Cleveland roots and making an investment like that, they're an inspiration to others who have been here for a long time.

"In a city with over 30,000 kids in failing charter and district schools, we need other corporate and foundation leaders to follow the Haslams' generous example."

The opening of an 11th school is right around the corner, as Citizens Academy Southeast in the Lee Harvard neighborhood will be ready by this summer. Breakthrough Schools is raising a $15 million growth fund to make sure the next nine can be up and running in the next five years.

"Education is something we've just always believed in," Haslam said. "We were really lucky to have a good education and our kids have been really lucky to have outstanding education … At the end of the day, what we're passionate about is transformation of a community or a city and to being what it's supposed to be, thriving. The children should be thriving."

"I think if people will donate and help out, they can grow quickly and really transform Cleveland along with the other educational programs that are going on. The combination of the different efforts in the community are going to make all the difference in the world."

Breakthrough Schools' schools are currently divided into four categories: Citizens, Intergenerational, Preparatory and Expeditionary. It is the highest-rated network of public charter schools in Cleveland and the students, on average, outperform the Ohio state testing average in all subjects.

The network currently serves more than 3,000 students. That total is expected to grow bigger and bigger in the years to come, with a goal of 7,000 set for 2020, Zitzner said.

"This transformative gift by Dee and Jimmy Haslam will help us provide many more of Cleveland's children with a brighter future," Zitzner said.

(Photo credit: Fritz Pollard Alliance)

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