How Caprice Young, CEO of Magnolia Public Schools, Is Creating The Next Generation Of Brilliant Minds

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Dr. Young goes into what it takes to create a great group of graduating students as well as giving us her advice on what it would take to keep our schools safe. This one is not to be missed!

Resources from this interview

[00:00:01] Voice over: Welcome to the Ignite Podcast, where we help marketers and CEOs learn the latest tips and tricks to help ignite growth in their business. This isn’t your typical marketing podcast. We push beyond platitudes to deliver you real-world stories from the trenches. Are you ready to learn? Are you ready to grow? Are you ready to have fun? Well, then buckle up, because you are about to enter the Ignite Podcast.

[00:00:32] Alex Membrillo: Hey, everybody. Thanks for tuning in to Ignite. Today, I’m really, really excited. We’ve interviewed various CEOs and various marketers in the private sector and today we’re going to hear a different angle. It’s something I’m really passionate about, because it surrounds education and a different way to bring a new educational model to public schooling and that’s something I’m very passionate about. I know all of you CEOs that are out there are looking to hire workers that are more prepared for today’s challenges. So we’re really excited.

We’ve got Dr. Young on the line with us today. Dr. Young, you have had a super illustrious career. I don’t want to steal your thunder, but kind of run us through, how did we ended up getting to Magnolia? We’ll go through the model there, but give us a little bit of your background of how we got to Magnolia in the first place.

[00:01:19] Dr. Caprice Young: Hi. Well, thank you. I actually had a career in technology before I got in to education. I was working for IBM and a local school board seat came up in Los Angeles. Some friends said, “Hey you should run for the school board.” I spent four years on the school board in Los Angeles, including a couple of years as president and found, boy, that our traditional public school system is really difficult to navigate because there are just rules upon rules upon rules.

In 2003, I shifted over to the charter school world. Charter schools are public schools where we’re free from a lot of the bureaucratic red tape in exchange for being held very strictly accountable to making high gains and student achievements.

Since 2015, I’ve been the CEO of Magnolia Public Schools. We serve about 4,000 kids in 10 schools throughout Southern California. Our focus is on science and our kids just thrive becoming scientific thinkers and civically engaged. So that’s the quick story.

[00:02:33] Alex: Okay. So we ended up in Magnolia. We are focused on science, but as I understand that Magnolia positions itself as a STEAM, right? Is that a little different than STEM, because we have arts as well?

[00:02:45] Dr. Young: Yes. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. The arts part is actually really important. If you think about it, you really can’t be an inventor unless you have a creative imagination. So, making sure that our kids have a great underpinning in the arts, particularly arts as it relates to freeing your mind to have it become more creative. Also having the discipline to develop excellence is really where the arts comes in.

[00:03:15] Alex: Okay, I get you. I don’t want to lose that point there. I think you made a really great point Dr. Young. You can’t be an inventor without having somewhat of an art and creative background. That’s so interesting. I’ve never thought about it like that, because I’ve never considered myself an artistic person. I am a creator and I do like to innovate and invent new things. So you’re saying the best entrepreneurs really need to be somewhat grounded, at least have a mentality to understand how to think creatively. That’s what you’re trying to educate people on there.

[00:03:44] Dr. Young: That’s right. Science, technology, engineering, and math really require that creativity in order to take it to the next generation, the next level. If you look at some of the most successful inventors and scientists throughout time, they often had hobbies in music and the arts, and really had grounding in how to think differently and how to come up with creative solutions. Even if the art wasn’t turned into something that they used to make a living, it certainly had an influence on the way they thought.

[00:04:20] Alex: Absolutely. Dr. Young, do you ever watch Shark Tank?

[00:04:23] Dr. Young: [laughs] I have to admit I’ve never watched Shark Tank.

[00:04:26] Alex: Oh my God. Okay. So one of the sharks on there, his name is Kevin O’Leary and they call him Mr. Wonderful. He’s super snarky and offers really terrible deals to most people, but he’s super sharp, runs a big hedge fund. One of the interesting things a lot of people don’t know about Kevin O’Leary is that he’s a photographer at heart and practices going around and doing tons of photography on the weekends as he disengages from the core businesses. Some of the greatest inventors have to be grounded in other ways. I’ve never heard that perspective, and now I totally understated it.

Dr. Young, with STEAM we’ve included arts. How is this different? If we have Arts included, how are we different from my high school experience I had too many years ago?

[00:05:05] Dr. Young: I don’t about your high school experience, but one of the things that we’re seeing in a lot of high schools these days is a real narrowing of the curriculum. Things get focused on: Have you learned the Math? Have you learned the science facts? Nobody often is focusing on: How relevant is it to you? How are you getting both physically and mentally engaged? Why it’s important. How to actually make it happen.

What’s different about Magnolia is we recognize that teenagers really need to get physically involved with things in order to learn. They need to see how it’s directly applicable to their life. Frankly, they need to have fun. Fun for them is when things are going “Pop”, or they’re seeing cause and effect, or things are changing colors, or it’s becoming directly relevant to their lives. We really focus on that connection to make the difference.

[00:06:05] Alex: I love that. It’s so much more hands on and much more fun. You’re trying to get the students to enjoy their education?

[00:06:11] Dr. Young: Yes. If you come to our Science Expo, you’ll see kids riding around on hovercrafts. Our robotics team is going to the National Championship this year. It’s all really about, how do you get physically involved with your learning.

[00:06:27] Alex: They’re riding around on hovercrafts?

[00:06:28] Dr. Young: Yes. They make them themselves.

[00:06:30] Alex: [laughs] My God. That’s awesome. Cool. And they’re going to the robotics– That’s phenomenal. You’re being modest because Magnolia has something else that’s very interesting and very different from most schools. Did I read it right that teachers are visiting students in their home so that they can get a better understanding of that’s student’s life?

[00:06:50] Dr. Young: That’s exactly right. We have a part of who we are as Magnolia. That is that our teachers go and visit at least 25% of the homes of our kids every year. It’s mainly to get the parents involved. I’ll tell you the thing that we’ve learned is that once a teacher has gone and visited a kid’s home and really seen the context that the kid lives in on a day-to-day basis, when challenges then come up in the classroom, the teacher has a real personal understanding and can often turn things from being pretty negative to being positive. Because here she has a real understanding of the challenges that the kid is facing.

For our kids that’s especially important because 85% of our kids are coming from high poverty households, where they’re struggling economically. Those can sometimes be a real challenge that gets brought into the classroom also. Because our teachers have actually gotten to know the parents and have been in the kids homes, now they’re able to see the strengths of those families’ situations as well.

[00:07:59] Alex: Yes, and have a bit more sympathy when something may happen, because they now understand the parents’ situation and how things may go there. God, that’s huge. And they try to visit 25% of the homes every year?

[00:08:11] Dr. Young: We visit at least 25%. That’s even including Santa Ana School, where 20% of our kids are homeless. We visit whatever their home situation is, whether it’s living on a cousin’s couch or whatever. That really, really helps to be able to create a closer bond with the family.

[00:08:33] Alex: Magnolia is taking a step further to for parents that are working after hours and things like that. Don’t you guys have– You have aftercare and even Saturday care?

[00:08:41] Dr. Young: Yes, we have Saturday school. We also do a month of summer school in most of our schools every year. Summer school is especially a good time because that’s when students traditionally forget what they learned during the school year. During our month’s long summer school, the students not only don’t forget stuff, they learn even more. Our teachers especially like it, because they can kind of go off of the curriculum and do some of the more fun things.

[00:09:11] Alex: I think that’s so phenomenal, that you guys are providing a continuum of education across the spectrum. That’s so interesting. With that kind of rate of poverty that you guys are having to deal with and the students are going through, how have you maintained a 0% dropout rate?

[00:09:26] Dr. Young: Well, the main thing is to remember that just because somebody comes from a household that is struggling economically, doesn’t mean they’re struggling in spirit. What we find is that by really capitalizing on our kids’ strengths, their resilience, their creativity, and seeing them as whole people, the kids know that they have a place in our school where they belong. Even if their home situation is chaotic, school is a place where they can find peace and affirmation.

What we find is that every kid is a unique individual with amazing strengths. It’s really our job to find those strengths.

It’s funny, we also do this by reaching out and having community partners. One of our greatest community partners is the Mt. Wilson Observatory up at the top of Mt. Wilson in Los Angeles, which is the place where Hubble discovered that the universe was expanding. Our kids get to go up there and look through these massive telescopes and sleep in the dormitories where Einstein and Shapley slept. We thought, “Oh these telescopes are the coolest thing.”

The first time we went up there was in February. Our kids, now remember this is Southern California, our kids who were going up that day were 15 years old and we jumped off the bus and I said, “Hey follow me to the a hundred-inch telescope.” They said, “Snow, there’s snow on the ground. Holy cow, there’s snow on the ground.” For our kids, it was their first experience of snow.

We forget sometimes that something that’s a normal reference for anyone else, that our kids haven’t had those experience. We get them experience with snow as well as the stars.

[00:11:14] Alex: That’s phenomenal. What’s the observatory called?

[00:11:19] Dr. Young: It’s Mt. Wilson Observatory. It’s the place where, basically, all the major astrophysical discoveries from the last century were made.

[00:11:29] Alex: What’s the observatory on by [unintelligible 00:11:32]?

[00:11:33] Dr. Young: You’re thinking of the Griffith Observatory.

[00:11:36] Alex: Yes, the Griffith. That’s where I took my son. Okay, so those are two different things, right?

[00:11:40] Dr. Young: Yes. Mt. Wilson is, think about Griffith Observatory on total steroids.

[00:11:44] Alex: Really? Very cool. I can imagine these students just think it’s the neatest thing. Man, that’s where so much of our view of astrophysics has changed because of the observations made at the Mt. Wilson Observatory. They get to experience that and they get to see snow.

Dr. Young, you said something there that I don’t want to get lost. It’s your job to find the strength in everybody. Everybody has some kind of, I call it superpower. It’s your job to find that strength and just really play that up as much as possible. I’ve always thought that. I’ve met people with dyslexia and I tell them Richard Branson is dyslexic. Like, “You have a superpower now, you think differently than other people.”

[00:12:23] Dr. Young: That’s exactly right. What we find is that when the kids recognize that the teachers are looking for what’s good in them, not constantly nitpicking what’s not good, that the kids are happy. They want to stay, they want to be there, they want to learn. The parents, even the most disengaged parents recognize that.

What we found is our best form of marketing is word of mouth. It’s kid to kid and parent to parent. When we’re doing a good job, they do a good job of doing the marketing.

[00:12:57] Alex: We’ve grown, Magnolia has 10 schools now, correct?

[00:13:00] Dr. Young: That’s right. We started with one school in 2002 and we’ve now grown to 10. Just in the last two years we’ve grown by 500 students.

[00:13:10] Alex: That’s huge. You came onboard two school years ago, correct? I think it’s 2015.

[00:13:16] Dr. Young: Yes. I’m in my third year.

[00:13:17] Alex: Okay. What are your plans now? What are the big plans?

[00:13:20] Dr. Young: The big plans, really are just that we are working on expanding the existing schools that we have and getting more students to come to the existing schools that we have. We’re looking forward in 2019 and in 2020 to be able to open new schools, particularly around our existing schools because we want to get kids off of the waiting lists.

We’re required to take any kid that wants to come to our schools, but sometimes, there’s not enough space and so then we have to have a lottery. What we’re trying to do is to open new schools around where our existing schools are so we can get the kids off the waiting lists.

[00:13:56] Alex: But there are some schools that are not full yet, did I understand that in the first part?

[00:13:59] Dr. Young: That’s right. We have a school in Santa Ana that we just reopened in a larger space a year and a half ago. We have space for about a hundred more kids in our Santa Ana School. Then there are two schools in our Los Angeles area that have space for more kids. We’re actively getting kids off of the waiting list and recruiting more kids.

[00:14:23] Alex: In 2019 and 2020, how many of these schools do you think you’ll open up near the ones that you already have?

[00:14:28] Dr. Young: We’re not trying to grow tremendously, because you don’t want to grow so fast that the quality goes down. Our goal is to open between four and six new schools over the next three years.

[00:14:42] Alex: That’s still 50% growth over three years. [laughs] That’s a lot.

[00:14:47] Dr. Young: There’s so many kids on the waiting list and so many kids who want to have a strength-based education. There’s a lot of work to do.

[00:14:55] Alex: Strength-based education, I haven’t heard that before. That’s really sharp. Do you guys use that internally or what?

[00:15:01] Dr. Young: No, I don’t know if anybody invented it before. I’m sure somebody else has thought of it, but that’s how we talk about our work.

[00:15:07] Alex: Very interesting. I love that. Dr. Young, were you ever an educator in one of the schools or did you rise directly to CEO and superintendent?

[00:15:17] Dr. Young: I came straight in as the CEO and superintendent. I’ve spent the last eight years helping different charter management organizations do turnarounds, and to improve, close gaps. When Magnolia CEO left three years ago, they were looking for somebody who had a real focus on improving internal systems. That’s how I ended up coming on board.

Normally, a turnaround situation, I would only stay for a year. We finished the turnaround and I just fell madly in love with the educators here and the students. I haven’t been able to leave. I’m just attached.

[00:15:55] Alex: You’re going to stay forever, I’m sure.


[00:15:58] Dr. Young: I hope so. It’s such a pleasure working with people who really deeply care about the kids and really want to innovate. I’m not saying that other educators of other schools don’t, I just have certainly found a home here.

[00:16:13] Alex: Would you say that your process orientation ability to run turnarounds in that kind of process, was that from helping to do the measuring consulting with IBM. Did you get that skill set then?

[00:16:24] Dr. Young: Yes. That was in the ’90s. It was that weird time where the Y2K was threatening everybody’s computers and there was a little independent band of us at IBM called the e-business teams. Our job was to go in and work with the CEOs of companies that were web-enabling their legacy systems. What a lot of people didn’t understand at the time was web-enablement didn’t mean faster, it meant different. It meant faster too, but it meant changing the whole way that you look at your business and how your business operates.

At that time, that was kind of a new thing. I learned a new way of looking at the world in the ’90s through the internet revolution. I’ve just brought that straight into education.

[00:17:11] Alex: That’s huge. Tell us, what goes into making a great educator that you love working with? I’m sure that we’re going to have some teachers and educators listen to this. I’m sure they’re wanting to know, what does it take to get better at my own profession?

[00:17:24] Dr. Young: Well, I can tell you that the number one trait that we look for when we’re hiring our teachers is we want teachers who really care about the kids. For whom, teaching is not just a job, it’s something that they’re really passionate about.

Particularly, educators who, when they meet a kid are looking for the strengths of that kid. They’re not thinking, “Oh well, this kid comes from a high poverty background, so I’m just going to help if I can.” We’re looking for educators who are willing to say,”Well, this kid has lived through some amazing challenges and has some tremendous resilience, let’s build on that.” It’s that kind of positive attitude and really looking for what’s good about our kids that we’re looking to make happen.

I’d say we’re also looking for teachers who are passionate about their subjects. If a teacher really, really loves chemistry, then that is going to show when they’re teaching the students. They’re going to make it from being kind of boring and memorizing the table of elements to something that is dramatic and exciting like learning spectroscopy and understanding red-blue shift in stars. That kind of excitement for their subject matter is really vital as well.

Everything else, we can teach. Those are two sensibilities that the teachers’ got to come with.

[00:18:49] Alex: Yes, everything else is teachable. What you said there. So there’s passion for the students and have passion for their subjects. It’s really somebody that’s not looking for a job, but it’s a way of life, they really want to change lives.

[00:18:58] Dr. Young: Yes, nobody goes into teaching for the money. It’s really a job that you do because you just really love seeing the growth of the students, and that’s huge. We do our best to pay our teachers as much as the state will allow. State funding for education in California is about half as much as it needs to be. That’s part of the reason why the passion for it is so important. At the end of the day, you can make a whole lot more money doing something else, so you better love the teaching.

[00:19:29] Alex: We’ve got to change that eventually in this country to where people are going into it somewhat for the money is at least justifying the effort. It is crazy to me that these people are educating our next generation and we don’t value them nearly enough. That’s nuts. Now, this Trump-crazy ass wants to arm everybody. What’s that? [laughs]

[00:19:48] Dr. Young: I don’t think any of the insurance companies are going to insure any of the schools that have armed teachers in them. I think a lot of people also don’t realize that teachers actually do make a decent living. A teacher in our schools, our average teaching salary in the coming school year is 61,000$ per year, plus they get full benefits fully paid. After they retire, they get their full salary forever. That’s not just true in our school, that’s true in a lot of school district schools as well.

No one gets rich being a teacher, but you do get financial stability. That’s an important message for people to get out.

[00:20:32] Alex: How many years of experience to get the 60?

[00:20:34] Dr. Young: it depends on which school district that you’re in. We’re in the state pension systems, so it’s about 20 to 25 years.

[00:20:43] Alex: Dr Young, I do want to ask you while I’ve got you because this is such a hot topic. I would love to hear your opinion on, what should we do to make school safer? I have my own opinion and Trump definitely has his. What do you think, because you’re actually living it? What’s going to work?

[00:20:59] Dr. Young: The absolute number one thing that we have to do to make sure our kids are safe is to know our kids really well. Having more mental health work and more social work in our schools will help an awful lot. What it really does come down to is knowing our own individual kids well enough to know when they’re having challenges.

Most of the people who have gone on these shooting sprees have been kids from within the school or who have recently gone to the school. Taking every single student seriously and taking all of the threats seriously, is absolutely vital. If we don’t know our kids and if our kids are not really supported in their mental health, then we’re going to continue to see these challenges. That’s part of what we need more and new funding for.

There was a report that recently came out that said that every single student, 12 years and above, should have a thorough mental health survey done of their mental health the same as you would get a physical survey of your physical health. We really agree with that and would love to see much better funding to support mental health in our schools.

[00:22:13] Alex: That is such an interesting angle. What would you like to see more therapists or counselors in the schools so that every 12-year-old is getting it once or twice a year?

[00:22:22] Dr. Young: We need more funding for counselors, for therapists, for social workers, for coaches. Our teachers are very well trained, but our kids have real needs. If I could have the resources to have about a third of our kids get at least half an hour to an hour of therapy every week, I can tell you our schools would be not just safer but happier places. With kids that really know how to interact with each other and not be bullies, and not allow themselves be bullied.

[00:22:56] Alex: I wonder if getting that to happen part of it is we have to raise the stigma with counseling. I’ve gone to a therapist every month for 10 years. I don’t have anything egregiously wrong with me, it’s to keep things flowing properly. I think there is such a stigma that people still can’t get over that you don’t go there when something’s wrong, you go there to prevent anything.

[00:23:18] Dr. Young: Nowadays, most CEO’s or a lot of CEO’s are getting coaches. They don’t call them therapists, and genuinely, they’re often not therapists. However, they are coaches and help them deal with different conflicts and challenges that come up as being CEO’s. I figured something that’s good enough for a CEO is definitely good enough for a sophomore.

[00:23:41] Alex: It’s absolutely true. There’s something else I want to touch on. Everybody’s made it about gun control. We have the second amendment, we have the students that are marching and saying, “Let’s ban assault rifle.” You took a different angle and you said, “Listen, it really starts with getting to know the students.” Would you also say we need to know the students, but then we also should not have access to these assault rifles or you don’t think the gun control thing is an issue?

[00:24:04] Dr. Young: No, I think gun control is a huge issue. There was a student here in Los Angeles that brought a gun to school just because it happened to be laying around her house. It was a curiosity for her and she ended up shooting two of her classmates by accident. So just the access to guns, period, is not helpful. We certainly don’t need assault rifles.

[00:24:27] Alex: I see absolutely no use for them. Gosh. Man, we’re just all pontificating. All of these outsiders are pontificating on how to solve the problem without going to the education system and asking them. All right. Dr. Young, this is huge, give me one more tip. I want to ask you one more question. If we look forward 10 years, is the education system going where you want it to go or are there a few things that you see in the future we need to start preparing for now to get our next generation prepared for the workforce?

[00:24:55] Dr. Young: I’m seeing so many positive signs. It’s not happening everywhere, but we really are seeing creative educators start to do things that are really inspiring our kids to take control over their own education and to begin to create their own education really dramatically. It’s in the same way that they’re going to be creating their own lives. I don’t think anybody’s going to have a job in the future. I think everybody’s got to be prepared to make their own job. That’s where our education system needs to go.

[00:25:27] Alex: I love that. Everybody will be freelancers, contractors/semi own my own destiny, something like that?

[00:25:36] Dr. Young: No, even somebody who has a quote job working for a company is still in a situation where they have to constantly reinvent themselves. I think the kids who are in school today are not really going to be applying for jobs. What they’re really going to be doing is starting companies, starting non-profit organizations, creating new products, becoming marketeers. They may happen to have a job at one point or they may be a consultant in another point in their lives, but the main thing that they’re all going to have to have in common is the ability to own their own destiny. That’s what our schools have to really become.

[00:26:16] Alex: Have to prepare for and they have to get students hands on learning to where they can start to think for themselves and learn applicable skills. Not just learn trigonometry for the sake of it, but how does it apply to the real world and maybe starting your own business. Did I put words in your mouth? [laughs].

[00:26:30] Dr. Young: Yes. Go ahead and put those words in my mouth because that’s what we’re seeing already, is this generation of people in their 20’s and in their 30’s are successful when they take responsibility for their own creativity in their lives and for their own work ethic. It’s not about creating widgets and workers anymore, it’s about developing creators.

[00:26:56] Alex: I love it, I’ve been preaching that for a long time and my work with Jay has done nothing but reaffirm that to me. I’ve gone back to my staff who I called the flock and I’ve told them over and over, “It doesn’t matter if you can do the hands work lever pulling. In 10 years, guys you have to be able to do the creative stuff and the strategy, because all of this will be commoditized or done by automation.” I love it.

Dr. Young, this was so insightful, so huge, so relevant to today’s conversation. Thank you so much for joining us on Ignite.

[00:27:26] Dr. Young: My pleasure.

[00:27:27] Voice over: Thanks for listening to this episode of Ignite. If you like what you heard, please leave us a rating and review, and before you go, please remember to subscribe to this podcast so you don’t miss the next episode. For more higher education marketing from this agency make sure you visit Have a great rest of the day and don’t forget that the most important part of your job is to ignite growth.

[00:27:56] [END OF AUDIO]

Caprice Young, Magnolia Public Schools

Alex Membrillo


Alex Membrillo is the CEO of Cardinal, a digital marketing agency focused on growing multi location companies. His work as CEO of Cardinal has recently earned him the honor of being selected as a member of the 2018 Top 40 Under 40 list by Georgia State University as well as 2015 and 2016 Top 20 Entrepreneur of metro Atlanta by TiE Atlanta, Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2016 Small Business Person of the Year,and the Digital Marketer of the Year by Technology Association of Georgia (TAG).

Cardinal has experienced exponential growth under Membrillo’s leadership, being consecutively named on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing privately-held US companies for the last three years. Membrillo’s innovative approach to digital marketing has transformed the industry and delivered remarkable results to clients of all sizes and markets. He has been featured in leading national publications including The Business Journals, Entrepreneur, Search Engine Journal, and The Wall Street Journal. He has also served as an expert speaker for conferences including the American Marketing Association, SouthWired, and Vistage Executive Leaders, where he spoke on his unique approach to Millennial Management to over 400 CEOs.

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