New S.B. Entrepreneurial High School Opens
By Dianne Anderson
Across the street from Waterman Gardens where Ray Culberson spent time growing up, there was something oddly familiar about the big box facility that would someday become an answer to his dream.
A building that sat as a vacant shell for years is now a full circle experience for Culberson, who thinks back to the 1970’s about how much he wanted to grow his business as a young boy selling ten cent newspapers for a quarter.
“I would be out there hustling newspapers,” he said. “It’s just kind of funny that I learned my entrepreneurial skills by selling papers in front of Kmart, and now I can teach my entrepreneurial skills at an old Kmart.”
The newly renovated tuition-free charter school is set to open to ninth graders in August, offering a full range of entrepreneur and college prep curriculum.
In the coming years, the 118,000 square foot facility will house 1,200 middle and high school students with numerous amenities, including a fully equipped gym and black box theater.
Years in the making, he said the process began with the desire to help kids cultivate their natural talent through basic business development concepts. He linked up with two like-minded “kid-friendly” connections, both with a strong background in developing charter schools. He said the idea to use the old Kmart building at 26655 E. Highland Ave. resonated with the funders.
Culberson holds two bachelors from UC Berkeley and three masters degrees, and is a long time education counselor and a successful local business owner. He said that giving back to the community has been his priority over the years, especially helping address restorative justice priorities for San Bernardino Unified School District.
Now that he and other advocates have chipped away at the pipeline to prison, reduced unfair expulsions and suspensions, and improved graduation for high-risk kids, he is ready to move on to the next phase.
“I thought what better way to help the kids than teach them how to be their own bosses?” he said.
From now until August, he is reaching out to local parents to get ninth graders enrolled. At its capacity over the next four years, he expects to accommodate 400 from the New Vision Middle School, along with 800 students coming into the REAL Journey Entrepreneur High School. By the time they graduate, they will have completed the UC/CSU A-G requirement.
Culberson, who grew up in the projects on the Westside, feels that his own background isn’t so different from many of the students he serves today. He feels they deserve the best tools available to emerge from the hard part of town.
Many have great potential, but he said traditional education strategies fall short.
“We started looking at fourth graders and they were off-the-chain smart, failing classes, but they still had high test scores,” he said. “The old antiquated educational system throughout the U.S. has de-motivated more people than it’s actually motivated. We have to find a way to open it up.”
Overall, the goal is simple. He is not willing to let kids slip by without completing assignments or fully understanding what’s expected of them.
“Whatever we’ve got to do, Saturday class, after school, computer-based programs, that’s the goal. We have to make sure every kid learns and we’ve got to figure out how they learn,” he said.
Programs and curriculum will introduce a wide range of entrepreneurial ideas across business sectors, including advertising and marketing, creating business plans and how to raise capital. Featured speakers and mentors will regularly visit the campus to talk about their areas of expertise.
The school has counselors, teaching assistants and a school psychologist. He said that all teachers are fully credentialed, and they are hiring more based on demand as the student body grows.
In many ways, the school is similar to traditional settings, except they will be taking a more proactive approach with incremental assessments to make sure students do not slip behind, and to catch them before they fall.
Other challenges are a concern. In talking with one of his old friends, who is now a successful lawyer, they reminisced on how one old high school counselor that told them they would never make it out of college.
Kids bullying kids are a problem, but he also worries about adults that bully kids.
“That’s what you have to steer away from — people pigeonholing kids. Let them rise to their level, and make the organizational structure around their levels,” he said.