Not many PE’s hang up their investment hat & switch sides to start a business from scratch.
But Cameron Smith did it. And here’s how.
With a decade of Private Equity experience & Kellogg MBA in-hand, Cameron had a big idea: Create an innovative way to educate students.
And he’s done it with Bennett Day School, one of Chicago’s premier private schools.
In this 20-minute interview, Cameron reveals why he made the switch, the things he’s learned about recruiting & building a team, and the mistakes he’s made.
“Whether they are using innovative smartphone apps or teaching kids face-to-face mediation techniques, schools around the Chicagoland area are finding innovative ways to help students. At Bennett Day School, students and teachers work together to create a digital portfolio that goes beyond a traditional report to create a holistic look at the student’s academic progress.”
“Lunch is still important, judging from the Bennett Day School, a new private elementary on West Grand Avenue.
‘It’s part of a dialogue between the students and teachers,’ said director of admissions Amanda McQuade, noting teachers eat with their students, teaching them how to converse and conduct themselves. Eating is carefully integrated into the curriculum; for instance, kindergartners eat in their room.”
“Heather Boran is the mother of twins, but they’re not very much alike. Her daughter is passionate, spirited and sensitive, while her son is fun-loving and deliberate. She wanted a school for her children that would treat them like individuals.
Boran was lucky to find just such a place at Bennett Day School, a relatively young and quickly growing private school in Chicago focused on learning through experience.”
“Martin Moran discusses how to create a high school where adolescents can be creative and motivated. Lead designer and Director of the Upper School at Bennett Day School in Chicago This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.”
“The atmosphere at Bennett Day is “unabashedly progressive,” Cicchelli said, both in its pedagogy and outlook. Under the Reggio Emilia approach, questioning and willingness to change are imperative. “In a new school, we constantly have to look at what we are doing and how it will lead to skill-building,” she said. “We have a set of developmental milestones, but we don’t have a fixed curriculum we repeat every year. It’s a lot of work because you are constantly reinventing but it means you are constantly responding to the people in the room.”
“Bennett Day school programmed the interior shell of a historic Chicago building to serve as their flagship school.
The flagship campus building, formerly known as Chicago Commons, was built in 1900 as a settlement house. It now houses one of the most progressive educational environments in the city.”
“What happens when some of the brightest minds in the country sit down with elementary school students to problem solve? Sometimes, they learn something. At least, that’s the goal of Northwestern University’s new partnership with Chicago-based Bennett Day School, which Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) posted an article about last week.”
“The partnership is led by SESP Prof. Michael Horn and Bennett Day School teacher Frances Judd, who are both part of TIDAL Lab, a group that researches innovative, technology-based education. Northwestern faculty and students work with children to teach them technology skills and test prototypes for educational devices, Horn said.”
“City kids need learning spaces where they can feel in control, and where they can innovate to solve problems. At Bennett Day School in Chicago’s Fulton Market District, we embed early robotics, coding, and STEM investigations into our TinkerLab explorations. We also take neighborhood walks and navigate our city grid in a manner that is similar to the onscreen programming grid in Osmo Coding.”
“Bennett Day School founder and CEO Cameron Smith describes the school as the kind that families knew they wanted but it did not exist. “School is meant to be a community where students and teachers construct learning together,” Smith said.”
“Parents shouldn’t expect school to be like it was when they were students. “What we’ve learned about the young brain in the past 20 years is amazing and has flipped the experience,” says Meg Fitzgerald, early childhood director at Bennett Day School in Chicago. “Good teaching is about learning processes, not just fact-based learning. And we know that real-world experiences are more beneficial than worksheets, because what’s personal to kids is what gets ingrained.”
“What happens when inventive children work side-by-side with university students on a design problem? Northwestern University researchers are testing the idea with Chicago’s Bennett Day School, an innovative partnership that aims to redefine what a traditional laboratory school might look like.”
“There’s a school out there for every family,” Smith says. He notes, however, that “it is hard for a school to be all things to all people.” He recommends that families make a list of their own top five priorities and use that to guide their search. Finding a school that does those five things exceptionally well will be a better fit than a school that tries to do everything.
Bennett Day School provides a nurturing environment and learning community that fosters depth of knowledge, adaptive academic and social skills, physical well-being, and drive to ask and answer questions. The curriculum is designed to advance development in five primary educational outcomes: academic skills; communication and collaboration; innovation and meta-cognition; social responsibility; and advancement to continued education.”
“It’s difficult to know exactly what the future will look like,” says Kate Cicchelli, principal at Bennett Day School in Chicago’s West Loop. “Tomorrow’s leaders will need to be nimble, adaptive and strong collaborators.”
“Over a year later, I know I am a better mother because of the work I do. I try to teach Bea to love what she does, to seek what she wants from life, and to find the people who can help her make that happen. Now I have Bea, the love of my life, and Bennett Day, the professional opportunity of a lifetime. I go to work every day ready for the challenges. Every day isn’t perfection, but I’m not interested in perfection. I like the mess….” – Kate Cicchelli, Principal and Co-Founder of Bennett Day School
These are exciting times in the field of early childhood education. Creative teachers are discovering effective ways to offer children a healthy blend of sensory-rich tactile investigations, artistic creativity, meaningful collaborations, and high-tech tools geared toward problem solving and documenting a child’s work/play.
“Imagine a school where children as young as three can tinker with and master materials aligned with STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, & Math). That ideal drove former venture capitalist Cameron Smith and veteran independent school educator Kate Cicchelli to open Bennett Day School…”
“Bennett teachers are using a Montessori-like approach to education, called Reggio Emilia. The school also has a TinkerLab – a Silicon Valley trend that emerged from the Maker movement that believes people should be creators, not consumers…”
“Bennett Day School is growing very quickly, adding a grade a year through eighth grade. They’re currently in Fulton Market, but they’re converting a giant, beautiful old building on Grand Avenue into an awesome high-tech school. (PDF)
Creating an Extraordinary Education, Chicago Life With the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, Chicago Life
“In the spirit of Malaguzzi and Progressive Education, Chicago educator Kate Cicchelli and visionary Cameron Smith co-founded the Bennett Day School, an independent, Reggio inspired, K-8th grade school…”
“When he was named to Oy!Chicago and JUF’s Young Leadership Division’s inaugural 36 under 36 list, Cameron Smith had only dreamed of what the next great Chicago day school would look like. Two years later, the school has not only opened its doors, but quickly become a bustling learning environment…”
“Bennett Day School, which opens late this month in Chicago’s West Loop, plans to offer the self-guided Reggio Emilia learning approach to students in early childhood through middle school…” (PDF)
“Smith plans to open the flagship campus by the fall of 2016. Like the Grand location, it will use the Reggio Emilia approach to learning. The approach was developed in post-WWII Italy and gives students some control over their course of study, gets parents closely involved, and makes sure students have access to lots of natural light and common areas called piazzas. In addition, the building will have a full-size gym, multiple TinkerLabs, and over 10,000-square-feet of green space…” (PDF)