Select Page
2021 BES
annual report

BES identifies and prepares excellent leaders to transform education in their communities.

letter from our chief executive officer
Aasimah Navlakhi

BES started its Fellowship program 20 years ago to support school leaders with the preparation and professional development they needed to design, found, and lead an excellent public charter school.

When I stepped into the CEO role in 2018, I heard a common refrain from many leaders who had participated in our training: While BES was founded to help create equity and access for the students most in need of a quality education, there was a gap between our stated mission and our lived values. BES was part of a movement that promoted a singular approach to school design based on “best practices”—instead of engaging authentically with communities to envision a school that reflects its values and meets its unique needs.

After seeking feedback from our leaders, we made a necessary pivot over the past three years. We’ve revamped our training and practices to truly embed our commitment to equity in the way we operate internally, train leaders, and work with communities to serve students and families. Though this work is in no way complete, our approach today is much more community-centered, anti-racist, and supportive of leaders to leverage their lived experience and voices in the process of founding and leading schools.

I chose to do this work because we desperately need more excellent and equitable options for students that are liberating and culturally affirming. The leadership development that BES provides must also be affirming. We are committed to ensuring that it is.

We talk a lot about community in our work — the importance of engaging with and including the voices of the people who care most deeply about our kids and who are closest to what they need to succeed. Community is what I miss most being this far away from “home” (Bangalore, India, where I grew up and where my family still lives) and what I wish for most, every day, for my daughter, and for children across the country who are deserving of all the love and energy that parents, families, community members, and educators can provide.

The last two years have taken a personal and professional toll on our educators. I want to share gratitude for the BES community – our partners, our alumni, our board, and our team, who never fail to show up for the school leaders we work with – and for those leaders who pour endless love, energy, vision, and dedication into their schools each and every day.


Our beliefs about what makes an excellent leader and an excellent school reflect our expanded measures of student success, and our commitment to practicing anti-racism in our work and supporting leaders to practice anti-racism in their schools.

An excellent school leader…

  • Believes that all students can achieve at high levels and ensures equitable and robust supports for learners of all backgrounds, needs, and abilities.
  • Ensures that all school systems, resources, and people align around a clear vision for an anti-racist learning environment.
  • Builds, equips, and inspires a mission-driven team.
  • Identifies and takes full advantage of coaching and support for themself and intentionally develops a leadership bench.
  • Holds themself and their team accountable for the academic results and social-emotional health and development of all students.
  • Builds authentic partnerships with the community, families, and students and actively seeks out and incorporates input and feedback into the school’s design and operation.
  • Advocates on behalf of the school in the community at large.

An excellent school…

  • Prepares all students for self-determination and success in college, careers, and life.
  • Fosters an inclusive, joyful culture that nurtures students’ whole selves and celebrates academic and personal achievement and growth.
  • Is organized around core values that affirm students’ identities, support student leadership and agency, build character, and teach students the skills and mindsets needed to deconstruct systems of oppression.
  • Has an engaged, mission-driven board focused on academic and fiscal accountability.
  • Employs a diverse teaching staff that is knowledgeable and engaging, develops and cultivates teacher skills and leadership, and supports teachers’ personal well-being.
  • Uses rigorous, culturally relevant curriculum, and leverages assessment data to inform instruction, leading students to master critical habits, skills, and content.
  • Ensures that time and learning opportunities are intentionally and flexibly designed and organized to prioritize student experience and learning goals.

9 out of 10 charter applications submitted by BES Fellows have been authorized nationwide.

According to NACSA, only 34% of freestanding charter applications across 19 states and Washington, D.C., were approved in 2017-18.


BES (Build. Excel. Sustain.) started its Fellowship 20 years ago to support school leaders to design, found, and lead an excellent public charter school.

Two decades later, we’ve expanded our support to serve even more communities in ways that are responsive to and reflective of local need.

BES Fellows have founded over

schools in

cities across


and Washington, D.C.



2021 BES Fellows have been hard at work designing public schools for families in Colorado, Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. The proposed school models, crafted and honed through ongoing community listening and engagement, include a Montessori school, a dual language school, a school focused on creative arts, and a school designed for the Gullah Geechee community in Beaufort County, SC.


qualify for free or reduced lunch


are English language learners


have special needs

In public schools nationwide, 52% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, 10% are English language learners, and 14% have special needs.

Sarah Harvey

Sarah Harvey, 2021 BES Fellow, is working to found and lead Sankofa Montessori in her community of Atlanta, GA. The school will prepare students to be self-directed learners rooted in their culture and community. As a first-generation immigrant from Ghana, Sarah knows firsthand the power of an excellent education.

Alana Jenkins

Alana Jenkins is the first-ever BES Fellow to propose a school in the state of South Carolina, where she has familial and ancestral roots. She will work alongside families and stakeholders to found and lead Heritage Academy, a community-centered school in Beaufort County, SC.

Student Demographics




Latinx / Hispanic







On average, public schools across the country enroll 15% Black and 26% Latinx/Hispanic students.

Demographic data from 2020-21 school year


Our impact reaches beyond building new schools, providing leader support in a variety of public charter and district schools during each stage of a leader’s journey.

BES is committed to intentionally diversifying our cohorts of leaders. We know that diverse leadership, where leaders share racial and cultural identities with their students and communities, matters.

BES has trained over

leaders in

states and Washington, D.C. across two decades of operation.

Despite the extraordinary challenges of the last two school years, many BES Fellow-founded schools across the U.S. received accolades at the national, state, and local levels – accolades that this year include how schools showed exceptional dedication to serving their communities during COVID-19, in addition to outstanding performance, leadership, and commitment to equity.

Leader Accolades

BES Fellows Arielle Peterson (2018), Graham Browne (2015), Kayleigh Colombero (2016), and Isaac Rivas-Savell (2018), along with BES leader Dr. Khalil Graham, were announced as members of the Charter School Growth Fund’s 2021 Seed Portfolio.

ACE Prep (IN), founded by 2014 Fellow Anna Shults, was a recipient of the Indiana Quality Counts Charter School Program Grant and received unanimous reauthorization by the Indiana Charter School Board.

South Bronx Classical Charter School I (NY), founded by 2004 Fellow Lester Long, was named a 2020 Blue Ribbon School

Samantha Aponte, 2019 BES LENS leader, was named a 30 Under 30 Changemaker by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Vega Collegiate (CO), founded by 2015 Fellow Kate Mullins, was named a 2020 Colorado Succeeds Prize Finalist for its work “serving a high number of students eligible for free and reduced-priced lunch and a diverse immigrant community.”

Akeem Brown, 2020 Fellow and Founder of Essence Prep (TX), was named San Antonio Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 Man of the Year for 2021.

Purpose Prep (TN) founder, 2011 Fellow Lagra Newman, was named a 2021 40 Under 40 honoree in the Nashville Business Journal.

Charter Schools Development Corporation awarded the first Tom Nida Charter School Innovation and Academic Excellence Award to BES Fellow-founded schools Ethos Classical (GA), Futuro Academy (NV), and Bloom Academy (TX).

2019 Fellow Brittany Rumph was named a 2021 40 Under 40 honoree by the Rochester Business Journal.

Graham Browne

“We maintained over 90% attendance in hybrid instruction throughout the pandemic, and were able to successfully place our middle school graduates in high-performing high schools throughout the city and across the country.”

2015 Fellow and Founder, Forte Prep in Queens, NY

Beatriz Gutierrez

“BES Follow On Support has been absolutely critical to our school’s success. We were faced with unprecedented challenges over the last two years and I really could not have pushed through without the support of my coach. I feel honored to have a mentor who is accessible, relatable, and experienced.”

2016 Fellow and Founder, Soleil Academy in Lynwood, CA

Julia Meyerson

“There is no better organization to have prepared me to take on founding and leading a school.”

2011 Fellow and Founder, Vista College Prep in Phoenix, AZ

87% of Fellows in our last two cohorts identify as leaders of color.


BES is committed to ensuring schools across the U.S. not only excel, but sustain their growth over time, and remain responsive to the needs of their communities.

out of 10

LENS participants have moved into heightened leadership roles after completing the program


of Fellows who founded schools in the last 10 years are still leading their schools

of Fellows have expanded or replicated their original school


Josh Pinto Taylor, Ed.D.

With the generous support of redefinED atlanta, Josh is co-designing his school alongside a team of local stakeholders.

“The two-year Community Co-Design Fellowship has given us the gift of more time to build a co-design team; to authentically engage the community; to include parents, students, and educators in our planning process; and to design a school that’s responsive to what we are hearing through the stories of young people and their families. There are not a lot of organizations that are invested in giving people the time and resources required to deeply engage with the community, to study effective school models, and to construct a comprehensive vision for school. The BES Fellowship gives us those resources.”

2020 Community Co-Design Fellow and Founder of The Anchor School, a proposed public charter school in Atlanta, GA

Yutaka Tamura

“BES has recognized that in order for a school to excel and sustain its excellence for generations of students, the leader must be highly prepared and continually developed. The BES Fellowship gives access to a team of qualified coaches and a network of like-minded colleagues, and pulls back the curtain on the practices of high-performing schools around the country. And, the program is doing all this with high fidelity on a national scale.”

Yutaka took part in the 2002 BES Fellowship, founding Excel Academy in East Boston, MA. Today, Excel Academy Charter Schools operates four public charter school campuses in Chelsea and East Boston, serving over 1,300 students across grades 5-12. In 2021, Excel Academy High School ranked in the top 3% of public high schools nationwide by the U.S. News & World Report. In 2022, the network will open its first campus in Rhode Island, serving fifth grade students. Yutaka currently serves as executive director at nXu, an organization that works with youth to equip them to explore, articulate, and pursue their purpose.

2002 Fellow and Founder of Excel Academy in Boston, MA

Ken Miller

When Ken Miller attended college, a Black female majoring in math was rare. She became a teacher and made it her mission to help children who look like her fall in love with math. This passion has inspired her to create Intellectus Prep, a school dedicated to STEAM education and teaching financial literacy with a trauma-informed focus on student mental health. She hopes that graduating mentally healthy students with business acumen can help create a new generation of entrepreneurs to drive economic development in Mount Vernon. Intellectus Prep will open in fall 2022, serving grades 6-12.

2020 Fellow and Founder, Intellectus Preparatory in Mount Vernon, NY


of our leadership team and board identify as people of color


of the BES team identifies as people of color

meet the team
Aasimah Navlakhi

Aasimah Navlakhi

Chief Executive Officer

Jasmine Fryer

Jasmine Fryer

Chief Strategy Officer

Gina Musumeci

Gina Musumeci

Chief Program Officer

Nicole Shaffer-Thomas

Nicole Shaffer-Thomas

Chief of Staff


The BES team is a diverse group of nearly 30 collaborative, talented individuals who are deeply motivated by our mission of supporting leaders to transform education in their communities. This year, we announced several external hires and internal promotions in order to grow our team, ensuring our training and coaching is high-quality, sustainable, and led by coaches with a diversity of perspectives and experience.


The BES Board of Directors welcomes the renewed attention to issues of racial justice in American education and commits to advancing anti-racist work as individuals, as a board, and through BES as an organization.


Following the release of BES’s three-year strategic plan, we launched the BES Community Advisory Council to bring more community voices into our work and support us in meeting our ambitious goals. To ensure our work and priorities in regions across the country remain truly reflective of the needs in these communities, we invited parents, business leaders, civic leaders, educators, philanthropists, activists, and others committed to education equity to join our Community Advisory Council. The BES Community Advisory Council currently has three regional chapters (Atlanta, the Bay Area, and Charlotte) and one national chapter.

join us in our mission

BES equips leaders at every stage of their journey with the skills and resources they need to deliver for their students and communities.


Many thanks to the generous supporters and anonymous donors who make our work in communities across the US possible.

We are also grateful to the BES board members for their generous donations to BES.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Cedar Street Foundation

City Fund

D.W. Gore Family Foundation

Excellent Schools New Mexico

Fort Worth Education Partnership

Kern Family Foundation

Maslow Development Inc.

Mr. Arthur Rock and Mrs. Toni Rembe Rock

Mr. Jim Mnookin and Mrs. Wendy Mnookin

New Schools for Alabama

redefinED atlanta

Sid W. Richardson Foundation

Sidney S. Swensrud Foundation

The Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation

The Nashville Incubator

The Opportunity Trust

Walton Family Foundation