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Exec Suite: Gerry House, Institute for Student Achievement

Gerry House, president and chief executive of the

Gerry House, president and chief executive of the Institute for Student Achievement. (May 24, 2012) Credit: Barry Sloan

When mortarboards are tossed into the air at Wyandanch Memorial High School on June 29, more than a few students will be saying a silent "thank you" to the Institute for Student Achievement.

Wyandanch is one of 80 ISA partner schools in New York, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Texas, serving 20,000 students each year. Founded in 1990, ISA, headquartered in Carle Place, helps underserved high schools help students succeed.

"We provide the personal, social and academic support they need," says Gerry House, of Port Washington, ISA's president and chief executive since 2000.

The results speak for themselves. In areas where less than 35 percent would have been expected to graduate from high school, ISA graduation rates are 90 percent, House says, with 90 percent of graduates going on to attend college.

When House joined ISA, she brought with her experience as a teacher, guidance counselor, principal and superintendent. She also had chaired the Educational Testing Service.

"It's like all paths lead me here," she says.

What initially attracted you to ISA?

The idea that ISA was focused on high school reform was intriguing to me. A lot of people shy away from high school. They say it's too late. But I knew that one can effect change at a high school level.

How does ISA create a culture where students will graduate and attend college?

Our expectations are high, and the curriculum is based on inquiry-based thinking, not remediation. We show them that they can do high-level work, and that supports are available if they're struggling.

What do you personally bring to the mix?

"Passion and commitment. My life's work is making sure that students who are underserved get a quality education. I also bring experience in education at every level.

What is your greatest challenge?

The difficult part is to know that there are many students who deserve what our 20,000 get and not being able to address all their needs.

Tell me the story that you will always remember.

There was a student who lost both parents to AIDS in senior year. He was ready to give up. But a team of teachers and advisers wrapped around him and gave him the support he needed. They worked with him to make sure he met the academic standards. The student wanted a family member at graduation, so they found an uncle who was homeless. They prepared him for the graduation and made sure he was there, sober and clapping. It was heart-wrenching for me, but also a moment of affirmation of what ISA does.

CORPORATE SNAPSHOT

Name. Gerry House, president and CEO of the Institute for Student Achievement in Carle Place

What it does."High school is not too late" to help at-risk students succeed.

Employees.30

Roles they play. Program development and administration, business development, grant administration and communications

Revenues. $6 million

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