“We’re In This Together”: Mark Claypool Interview with The East Nashvillian

“We’re In This Together”: Mark Claypool Interview with The East Nashvillian

Nashville entrepreneur, Mark Claypool, is the founder of Educational Services of America, a private organization leading the nation’s behavior therapy and alternative special education for children and young adults. Before Claypool daringly began ESA, he was a social worker, watching foster children suffer from being pulled from school to school. Claypool’s first hand experience compelled him to his social work: “Frustrated by the lack of resources for these children, I founded ESA”. Claypool recently collaborated with John McLaughlin to write, “We’re In This Together: Public-Private Partnerships in Special and At-Risk Education”, a well-researched book that raises awareness of the advantages of public-private partnerships to ‘save’ the nation’s educational system. The book’s message compels school systems to foster the importance of their educational programs and assures that they don’t have to “got at it alone.” 
You can purchase “We’re In This Together: Public-Private Partnerships in Special and At-Risk Education” here.
Don’t miss a reading with Mark Claypool of “We’re In This Together” at Parnassus Books on July 28, 6:30pm.
Interview with Mark Claypool, CEO and President of ESA
Your foundation with Educational Services of America is incredibly impressive and not only a noble feat, but also a very successful one. Why did you choose to be based in Nashville and does this location have an affect on your business or procedures?
As a native Nashvillian with deep roots in the city, it made sense to make this the headquarters for ESA. Nashville also happens to be a great place to live and work. It offers many advantages as a base of operations for our organization: the cost of living is reasonable, and the skilled labor force is deep. Also, Nashville is centrally located which, is important for a company that conducts business in twenty-seven states. Having our corporate headquarters here in Nashville has allowed us to recruit and retain great people while having great flexibility to take advantage of opportunities that spread over a broad geographic footprint.
What inspired you to write your book, “We’re In This Together: Public-Private Partnerships in Special and At-Risk Education”?
The inspiration for the book comes from our long experience in laboring to bring our expertise as a private company to public school systems across the U.S. We offer highly specialized programs for non-traditional students and we have great outcomes across the board. We offer our public school partners a great value proposition as well. However, as a private company there remains a great challenge in several markets for the opportunity to work with public schools. We hope that our book brings attention to the advantages of public-private partnerships and opens the door for school districts to realize that they do not have to “go it alone” and that it is acceptable to ask for help from the private sector.
Where can Nashville residents purchase a copy?
The book can be purchased from Amazon.com and local book sellers such as Parnassus Books and Barnes and Noble.
How have you, and/or your co-author John McLaughlin, seen the benefits of public-private partnerships in Tennessee’s school systems?
Unfortunately, my home state is not a place where public-private partnerships play a significant role in public education. There is a prevailing culture among public educators here in Tennessee, as well as many other states, that asking for help from the private sector is an admission of failure. In every other facet of our lives asking for help from a specialist is considered a best practice, not a failure.
The book provides well-researched evidence including over 48 regional and national experts statements on the matter. Do you have a personal story or account for the success of the program?
Before ESA, I was a social worker, interacting with some of the most neglected kids in the education system – foster children. I saw these kids bounce from school to school, sometimes multiple times a year, suffer from lower standardized test scores, undiagnosed learning disabilities and they were twice as likely as their peers to drop out of school before graduation. Often times the same children landed in jail. Frustrated by the lack of resources for these children, I founded ESA. Today we work with more than 14,000 students every day across our three divisions, providing behavior therapy and alternative and special education programs for children who may otherwise “fall through the cracks.”
The book’s story line states that, “where they live makes a great deal of difference for children with disabilities.” How can Nashville in particular benefit from this program?
In an ideal world, every community would have strong education as a core value. Unfortunately, the level of special education can vary greatly between states, cities and even school districts. Public school districts in Tennessee should compete with one another to have the very best, most cutting-edge special education programs. A school district with a model program for autism would be well positioned to have people move into its community from other areas. That represents growth for the community, an asset for employers wanting to attract top-flight employees, and progress for chambers of commerce wanting to bring new industry to the community.
What advice would you give a Nashville parent of a special needs child or young adult that wants to become involved with this movement?
Being the parent of a child with special needs is the hardest job in the world. Not only do these parents have the responsibility of providing for the needs of their children, but they also have to become experts in their child’s rights under federal law, particularly the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). I would encourage parents to know and understand these rights and demand that the school district make available every service that is necessary to meet the needs of their child, even if those services are not currently available in the district.

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