Purpose Prize Fellow 2007
Improving schools by empowering teachers as decision-makers.
Dennis Bakke is Co-Founder and CEO Emeritus of the AES Corporation, one of the world’s largest providers of electricity. Key to his management philosophy – captured in the bestselling book, Joy at Work – is a belief that the best business decisions are made by the employees, often on the lowest levels, who have critical hands-on knowledge. When Bakke left AES in 2002, he thought he could improve failing public schools with this approach. With his wife Eileen, Bakke launched Imagine Schools in 2003. The nonprofit operates 51 public charter schools and independent schools serving 25,000 students in ten states and the District of Columbia. The schools put a premium on decentralized leadership, freedom with responsibility, utilizing each person’s gifts to their maximum, and eliminating middle-management to give most decision-making power to people closest to the action – a radically new concept in the world of public education. To help the schools succeed, Imagine Schools provides start-up funding and help in purchasing facilities. Early results show that students who enter below grade level make impressive gains every year they are in an Imagine School. Bakke plans to create 100 schools serving 50,000 students within five years.