TheGrio’s 100: Dominique Lee, leading the way with teacher-led schools

Fed up with the troubled bureaucracy of inner-city schools, 25-year-old Teach for America alumnus Dominique Lee decided it was time for teachers to take charge. Last September, along with five other Teach for America alumni, Lee reopened Newark’s Avon Avenue School as the newly christened BRICK Avon Academy, a public school of 650 children now run by teachers.

Dominique Lee is making history … by revamping the public school system with one of the New York area’s first teacher-run schools. While teaching history at Newark’s Malcolm X Shabazz High School, the frustrated Lee realized how far his ninth graders had fallen behind — with many unable to name the continents. Recognizing a failing system in which teachers annually pay $450 out-of-pocket on materials, Lee and his partners developed the blueprint for BRICK — an academy to be run by a committee, largely composed of elected teachers, that dictates the school’s budget, curriculum, and hiring.

Lee asked Newark district officials for a school where he and his cohorts could put their innovative plan in action; their vision was rewarded with the opportunity to re-open historically underachieving Avon Avenue School. For Lee and other staff, this means an all-inclusive job – extending from teaching and administration to wiping down lunch tables — at BRICK, where their mission is in the name: Building Responsible Intelligent Creative Kids.

[MSNBCMSN video=”″ w=”592″ h=”346″ launch_id=”39400856^370^215452″ id=”msnbc2b31c8″]

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

What’s next for Dominique?

Lee and his team of teacher-leaders hope that BRICK’s collaborative environment, where teachers have more say over their lesson plans and more time with students, will raise morale and improve test scores. Lee also aims to prepare students for college and a global future — BRICK is currently in the process of launching a Mandarin language program. He says he also may have a plan for politics on the horizon.

In his own words …

“This is a fantasy … It’s six passionate people who came together and said, ‘Enough is enough.’ We’re just tired of seeing failure,” Lee told the New York Times in September.

A favorite quote …

“At the desk where I sit, I have learned one great truth. The answer for all our national problems – the answer for all the problems of the world – come to a single word. That word is ‘education’” – Lyndon B. Johnson

A little-known fact …

Nearly 50 percent of teachers quit their jobs within the first five years of working at a school. According to a study at the University of Pennsylvania, teacher turnover approaches zero when instructors are given more ownership over a school.