After receiving approval for a new kind of charter school in Colorado Springs in 2014, Patrick Cush and his brother, David Cush, CEO of Virgin America Airlines, enrolled 40 students in Launch High School in 2016.
Now 75 students are enrolled in the school’s second year and that number is expected to increase to 120 next year, according to Patrick, head of Launch and former assistant principal and dean of students in Colorado Springs School District 11.
Launch High School, which is focused on entrepreneurship and innovation, uses curriculum shared by Virgin Unite, a nonprofit branch of the Virgin Group owned by Richard Branson that provides resources for entrepreneur ideas and opportunities.
David helps fund the school and also sits on the advisory board and on the building committee for Launch High School’s downtown facility, which is expected to open in August 2019.
Patrick Cush spoke with the Business Journal this week about Launch High School and entrepreneurship.
How did the first year of Launch High School go?
The first year was tough. We stumbled a little bit out of the gate, but I guess that happens with every startup, even education ones. We purposely wanted to do things differently and not follow the well-worn paths. A friend of mine told me, ‘If you didn’t have any problems, if it went perfect — you waited too long.’ You have to strike while the iron’s hot. But we recovered, we kept calm and carried on and rebounded really well. I feel like now we’re poised to do some special stuff. It was about survival last year, and this year is about that upward trend on the proverbial hockey stick.
What challenges have you faced since opening the school?
Several people told me early on, ‘You’re kind of a fool — education and entrepreneurship are like polar opposites.’ One is very tried and true, [but] that’s the reason for innovation charter schools and those sorts of things, especially Launch. And educators don’t quite get the risk-taking. The biggest challenge has been finding the right people who will share the vision with you, that get it, that can participate in what we’re trying to do because it’s purposefully difficult to do things differently, to take risks.
How did you overcome these challenges?
Having a core of a few folks who said, ‘We’re in it, we’re with you.’ That allowed us to weather the storm. Not just people on staff, but the people who helped us start; the folks at the [Colorado] Charter School Institute in Denver are instrumental in our success. People who are personal in my life, and a few people in the community as well. … There were people in the startup community who asked, ‘Hey, how’s it going? Let me know how I can help.’ Just words of support like that [and] knowing that it’s there feels like you don’t even have to tap into it.
How is Launch funded?
Generally it’s local funds that run through the state and come back. … For us it’s that same money, but it follows the student, so if a student is enrolled in D-11 they get that set of funds for that child, but if they enroll here we get those funds, minus some off the top for administrative fees. … There are [also] a few people who really wanted this to happen, they think it’s important, so there’s some outside funds with donations and grants and things of that nature that have been sustaining us.
Will Launch High School see more funding thanks to D-11’s mill levy increase?
To a degree. First of all, [school districts] don’t have to share their mill levy with any charter school, even the ones they charter, but they do. They’re pretty good about that. They’re not supposed to share with us because we’re not a D-11 school by any means. [Colorado] just passed a law that says schools that are chartered by the Charter School Institute, basically state authorized, shouldn’t suffer. They’re creating a fund (it’s not funded yet), but it says we would get same amount as if we were a D-11 school.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Get help, ask for help — bounce ideas off of people. I started out trying to do this on my own, I was in a bubble to some degree and it was a little bit of a mistake. I stayed in there too long before talking to people and asking for help. … That’s probably personality driven as well. I feel like I should do things all on my own, but it was a mistake. It’s hard to do anything all by yourself. … Once you start something, things start happening for you. You take that first step and suddenly people are helping you along.