Evan Rudall’s accomplishments grow directly from the hurdles he faced in his youth. He grew up on Chicago’s South Side and attended a large high school that he describes as neither rigorous nor safe. He was acutely aware that low-income students in his school and others were not getting a quality education. In fact, more than half of his classmates dropped out. A mile down the road, the University of Chicago’s private high school was sending students to top colleges.
“That disparity seemed very problematic,” he says.
While he had a sense that his life’s work would revolve around these polar opposites, he had no idea that, within a few years, he would turn his negative academic experience into a positive one for hundreds of children.
After graduating from Wesleyan in Middletown, Conn., in 1992, Mr. Rudall landed “a dream job” of teaching seventh-grade history and running Summerbridge, a nonprofit educational organization in Louisville, Ky. He then became a middle school vice principal and fell in love with the work. After three years, he left for Harvard to earn a master’s degree in educational administration. At the same time he worked at an excellent public middle school in Roxbury, Mass., again profoundly aware of the educational disparities among Boston’s rich and poor.
While in graduate school, Mr. Rudall became determined to start a school that offered low-income urban students the rigorous college preparation typically provided by private schools. His application for a charter school was approved by Massachusetts in February 1998. Over the next 18 months, he raised more than $600,000 in public and private funds, found and renovated a building, hired teachers, and recruited students and families. Roxbury Preparatory Charter School, a public middle school for 175 students, all African-American and Latino and predominantly low income, opened its doors in September 1999.
“It’s so clear to anyone who walks in that students, teachers, and parents love the school and its college prep mission. Everyone works incredibly hard and the expectations are extremely high, but the payoff is tremendous,” says Mr. Rudall. Not only has the school closed the achievement gap, he adds, but the students are outperforming the state’s white students.
Not content to rest on his laurels, Mr. Rudall started to think about how he could further his commitment to educational reform, and all signs pointed to the law.
“I wanted a better understanding of how law and public policy are made and how they affect children and families,” he says. “It seemed clear that a law degree would do that for me.”
In 2002, when Mr. Rudall’s wife, Lisa Stulberg, was offered a position teaching sociology of education at New York University, he pulled up stakes. Not surprisingly, he was offered another dream job, working on the Children First project for Joel Klein, the chancellor of the New York City Department of Education. That experience served to confirm his view of law as critical to educational reform.
“Seeing Mr. Klein and the other attorneys in the department who develop policies that affect millions of children and families was very inspiring. Ultimately, I’d like the chance to do the same,” he says.