Priscilla Chan Hired Superstars to Reinvent Primary Education

Codman Academy was one of the small high schools opened in Boston two decades ago. The commitment to physical and mental health and a partnership with a health clinic made it unique. When Dr. Priscilla Chan visited, she met Dean of Enrichment Meredith Liu.

A few years later, Chan returned to Boston to visit Match Education, the P-12 school famous for its high dose tutoring, and Liu, who had just finished a Harvard MBA and a turnaround tour at Mass Insight, was serving as Match’s CFO.

The two clicked and shared a passion for an integrated approach to childhood development. Liu moved to California and two years later The Primary School opened enrollment to children in East Palo Alto.

The holistic model integrates education, health care, and family support services to dramatically improve outcomes for underserved children. The goal is “lives that are meaningful and healthy – emotionally, mentally, and physically.”

Starting with children as young as 18 months, The Primary School serves 250 children and families through first grade. They will add a grade each year through eighth grade.

Three features make The Primary School unique:

  • They start young, providing early childhood care and learning. The school begins at age three.
  • They combine health care and education, building a holistic system of care around a child’s full needs. That includes a nurse and pediatrician onsite.
  • They believe in the power of parents and support them in creating stable and healthy.

A fourth feature is a well-developed approach to social-emotional learning. They use Conscious Discipline, a trauma-informed program designed by Dr. Becky Bailey that focuses on safety, connection and problem-solving.

The private school is available to families tuition-free and is funded by Chan’s philanthropy, The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Future locations will also serve low-income communities but will be publicly funded with philanthropic gap filling.

After 20 years of leadership in health, schools and afterschool programs, Courtney Garcia joined as The Primary School CEO in 2018.

The all-star team at The Primary School is well on the way to demonstrating the benefits of integrated health and education.

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This post was originally published on Forbes.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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