Our colleagues at WLRN sat down with Charter Schools USA CEO Jonathan Hage to talk South Florida business.
Jon Hage heads the for-profit charter school management company, Charter Schools USA (CSUSA), based in Fort Lauderdale. The company operates 58 schools in seven states across the country, including Florida.
Hage grew up in middle-class Oakland Park near Fort Lauderdale. He served in the United States Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserves as a commissioned officer in the Special Forces (Green Berets). After then doing policy work in Washington D.C. and Tallahassee, he founded CSUSA in 1997.
Q: What was your first job?
A: I was a custodian at Nova High School between 10th and 11th grade. I cleaned toilets, mopped floors and scraped the gum off the bottom of desks. This taught me early on to respect property (I still have a pet peeve of making sure kids don’t stick their gum under a desk!) and to never be too proud to do any task required of me.
Today, CSUSA places a lot of pride on the look of each of our schools because I believe these details count. There are a lot of people inside our organization who work hard every day to improve the look and feel of all of our schools.
Q: What do you look for when you hire?
A: I look for a commitment and passion to our mission that all students can learn and that education is the most effective way for all students to become successful citizens of our nation. CSUSA is impacting communities, schools and students and it is important for our team to buy into that.
Q: What’s your favorite job interview question to ask?
A: If I worked for you, what would I say I admired most and what would I say you needed to improve on?
It’s a simple twist on the classic question of identifying a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.
Q: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
A: Any entrepreneur knows that it is critical to take bits and pieces of advice from many people along the way. Both of my parents were teachers and offered me tremendous advice when I launched Charter Schools USA.
I asked my father, a life-long educator, if making CSUSA a company that would actually manage schools would be a good move.
He said if I was focused on quality and helping kids, people wouldn’t focus on the politics of education, only on the benefits for students. For the most part, my father was right.
Q: What’s the biggest misconception about the business climate in South Florida?
A: That it’s just a tourist economy. It’s actually a world-class environment for entrepreneurs and innovators at the intersection of a diverse and highly mobile metropolis. As a fourth-generation South Floridian, there’s no better place to be!