The $20 million charter school, fully funded by Indian American entrepreneur and philanthropist Kiran Patel, will open in August 2019.
TEMPLE TERRACE, FL: A new state-of-the-art charter school funded by Indian American entrepreneur and philanthropist Dr. Kiran Patel in this northern Tampa suburb will provide free quality education to students from the area and beyond.
The construction of Dr. Kiran C. Patel High School will be completed in the summer of 2019 and classes will begin in August. Ground for the more than 60,000-square-foot school, which will include a 11,000-square-foot gymnasium, was broken on December 13. The $20 million high school building, located on a 32-acre plot near the University of South Florida, will be funded fully by the Tampa-based philanthropist.
The groundbreaking in the waning days of the year marks the end of a hectic 15-month period for Patel and his wife, Dr. Pallavi Patel, during which they committed approximately a quarter-billion dollar for various philanthropic causes and made their second billion-dollar-plus exit from health insurance business in a decade and a half.
In September 2017, the Patels had committed a whopping $200 million — the single largest donation by an Indian American to date — to Nova Southeastern University (NSU) in Fort Lauderdale. The gift, the largest in the university’s history, will impact healthcare delivery in the United States, India and globally.
Like the NSU donation, the latest philanthropic commitment also focuses on an area that’s close to the Zambia-born Patel’s heart, education. In fact, a vast majority of Drs. Kiran & Pallavi Patel Family Foundations’ works globally — including in the United States, India, Africa and the Caribbean — have been in healthcare and education.
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“The best gift that anyone can get is education,” Patel told The American Bazaar in an interview at his home, on the banks of Lake Carrollwood in a northern Tampa suburb, after the groundbreaking ceremony. “Whether you will consider health as a primary requirement, or education, they go hand in hand. That is where the Nova investment was great — because we were able to train doctors and paramedical who are going to touch the world in a different way.”
The philanthropist said his latest investment is driven by the fact that high school education, occurring in a child’s formative years, is crucial and vital. “If you can produce a child out of high school prepared to face the world, you have given him the best position to go to great universities, colleges, etc.,” he said. “So the idea of getting involved in a charter school was very simple.”
A charter school is an independently run school similar to a private school, but one that does not charge fees from students. “Our kids have lots of options but unfortunately kids with no means have one choice and that is a public school system,” he said. “Whether that is good, bad or indifferent, it doesn’t matter. If you have a great student that is stuck in a public system, his potential will not reach the highest. Now, there are exceptions to everything. There are kids who will flourish no matter where they are. But to create an environment, where an average student now accelerates to a place where he can have these types of opportunities open to him, is what we are trying to achieve.”
The Kiran C. Patel High School will be “like a private school, except that it is a tuition-free public school,” said Indian American Ash Bagdy, who came up with the idea of the school, along with his wife Kavita Jain. “You have a nice environment. It is well run. We have some independence to run it. We work under the Hillsborough County high school board requirements.”
Three year in the making
Bagdy, an executive in the healthcare IT industry who lives in the Tampa area, said he and Jain began nurturing the dream of a charter high school more than three years ago.
What inspired the couple was their firsthand experience with a charter middle school in their neighborhood. The local charter middle school, because of the impressive quality of its education, has a waiting list of 500 to 600 students, including a lot of Indian American students, he said.
Bagdy, who has known Patel for nearly two decades, approached the philanthropist after doing “leg work on what it takes to build a school.”
Patel, who prefers to fund projects where partners drive and sustain them, found in Bagdy and Jain the right kind of partners.
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“Three years ago, we had a dream, but we didn’t really think we could pull it off,” Bagdy said. “Once Dr. Kiran Patel came on board, things started moving fast. We [received] the funds and we were able to bring in consultants, attorneys and let them do all the hard work.”
With the entrepreneur and philanthropist announcing his commitment to the project, it was easy to bring local communities on board, including the cities of Temple Terrace and Tampa.
“He has been everything for us,” Bagdy said. “We had an idea, but we needed resources. He has provided us that support.”
Bagdy commended Patel’s work in the area of education. “He surprises us every day,” the Indian America said. “You hear every day that he donated to this cause, that cause. Recently he built a pre-K at an elementary in the area — the Shaw Elementary School. He is very, very supportive of schools, especially schools where there are disadvantaged children. He truly gives back to the community in the most meaningful way.”
Wide ranging spectrum of students
Jain, the school board president, said the school will enroll 150 students each for the 9th and 10th grades for the academic year beginning in August 2019. “We are going to ramp up to 600 students by year 3,” she said. Even students outside of Hillsborough County can apply to the school. However, county residents will get preference.
School officials say a wide-ranging spectrum of students from the county, among them many who might be considered below poverty line, will benefit from the Dr. Kiran C. Patel High School.
“What we want to do is to offer an option for all the students in this area and throughout Hillsborough County who want this option, who want a collaborative learning environment, transformative education and also a place where they can learn through project-based learning and they can grow, just like we do in the real world,” Jeffrey Mitchell, secretary of the school board, told The American Bazaar.
He lauded the generosity of Patel, who, according to the board member, “signed on to continue to support the school in perpetuity.”
“People like him are what we needed throughout the country, throughout the society, throughout the world,” Mitchell said
Bagdy said although he expected the school to be self-sufficient, in year 3, “Dr. Kiran Patel’s support will always be there.”
Mo Kasti, vice president of the school board, said the institution will be a game-changer for the students in the area. “We are going to change the future of not only education, but the career of opportunity for a lot of kids,” he said.
He recalled that when he and other board members met Patel for a dinner meeting to discuss the school the topic of discussion was how they can “give kids in this area opportunity to have high quality education that typically you won’t get except if you send them to a private school.”
The Dr. Kiran C. Patel High School is the precise answer to that question, said Kasti, a healthcare industry professional and author.
The school’s curriculum focuses on fostering innovation and tackling real-life challenges, he said, adding: “I just came back from Silicon Valley, where we asked the tech giants [such as] Apple and Google, ‘What are you looking for in employees of future?’ They said, ‘We are looking for four things: Problem solvers, we are looking for agile kids, we are looking for collective creativity and we are looking for entrepreneurship.”
Kasti said the school’s focus will be on creating those types of students that will be future leaders.
“We don’t want a traditional classroom, where kids are passive,” he said. “What we want is a collaborative classroom where kids are sitting around a round table. They are collaborating. They have already done their research on topics and they will come with a lot of questions. That’s where the dialogue takes place. The teacher will be able to say, you guys have it under control, or let me help you, challenge you. Or she can, or he can spend time on the kids that are struggling. That is what we don’t have today in a typical classroom. Teachers don’t have the capacity to pay attention to such kids.”
The school will also use community and business leaders to mentor the students, which is why it chose to locate near the University of South Florida. “We wanted to be in a university area,” said Kasti. “[We want] access to community leaders, who can be mentors. We can pull them from university, from businesses. This is an ideal occasion for us.”