Propel America

As a high school student, Chad Rountree was more sure about what he did not what to do than what he did want to do.

“I was adamant about not pursuing college right out of high school,” Rountree says. “I didn’t have a strong understanding of my strengths and assets, and I didn’t have strong conviction for what I wanted to do after I got a high school diploma. The financial commitment couldn’t be justified.”

However, Rountree’s history teacher at his high school in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Ms. Clark, did feel strongly.

“What you won’t do is nothing,” she told him again and again. She encouraged Rountree to follow his passion for cooking by instead enrolling in culinary school. “Commit to this, and inevitably life will happen.”

Chad Rountree in 2010, when he was an 8th-grade world history teacher in Jacksonville, Florida.

Sure enough, after building an early career in the culinary arts profession, Rountree’s purpose became more clear and he realized he wanted to be a teacher.

“The impact that this teacher had on me made it clear that I was uniquely positioned to support young people, particularly Black and Brown students who had a similar experience as I did,” Rountree said. “The sustaining belief and way this teacher invested in me forced me to see things in myself that I would not have seen otherwise.”

Rountree began taking college classes while managing restaurants, and he continued to work in the culinary industry the entire time he earned his bachelor’s degree. Then he began teaching 8th-grade world history in Jacksonville, Florida. He coached basketball and soccer and mentored students, many of whom he still mentors to this day.

“During my time in the classroom, I was able to achieve the level of impact that I initially aspired to have,” he said.

In time, Rountree began exploring opportunities to have a similar impact at greater scale, which led to roles in school leadership and district leadership that involved building capacity in educators.

“I could attempt to be Ms. Clark, or I could build a mass of Ms. Clarks to drive similar impact,” Rountree said.

His most recent stop before Propel was at OneGoal, a national nonprofit that supports high school students with enrolling in — and persisting through — college.

Rountree joined Propel in January 2021 as the inaugural Chief Program Officer. At the highest level, his charge is to help Propel’s “third way” model gain broader acceptance and reach more students where they are, in terms of employment and educational experience. The opportunity to legitimize a scalable, non-linear path to economic prosperity — just as Rountree’s personal path illustrates — is one he eagerly accepts.

Rountree said his efforts rely on a group of people he holds dear — the teachers who support Propel fellows during the Core-High School program.

“Our Core teachers are fellows’ adult champions,” he said. “They are the individuals who are helping our fellows understand their assets, gain access to different spaces, and solidify the vision they have for themselves.”

This Teacher Appreciation Week, our team at Propel America salutes teachers past, present, and future, and thanks them for their work to help young adults to build and achieve their goals.

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