As the founder of the Golden Apple Awards and the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), Martin “Mike” Koldyke is probably the most effective education reform philanthropist in Chicago.
He shares credit for this with his wife, Pat.
Twenty-five years ago, as they watched the Academy Awards in their Kenilworth home, Pat commented that society should similarly honor great teachers. Mike agreed.
According to Pat, having a son with cerebral palsy also helped develop their shared passion for “fair and appropriate education for all.”
Mike founded private investment firm the Frontenac Company in 1971, and had a natural affinity for collaboration. With board ties to Northwestern University and WTTW, Mike quickly convinced those institutions to launch the Golden Apple Awards as “a real classy event and one-year sabbatical” for recipients. Today, hundreds of teachers have been recognized at the annual telecast and thousands more have benefitted by the Golden Apple Scholars program.
AUSL is even more ambitious; it takes over some of the worst performing local public schools in Chicago and implements a turnaround model that includes a specially trained staff and new school culture standards. Started in 2001, the results have been excellent—the program now includes at least 19 CPS schools.
Critics charge that the turnaround program is costly—$60,000 per year to train one staff member. Koldyke’s response is that without AUSL or other effective programs, “the city will still spend $450 million over ten years with rotten results.”
But education isn’t this close couple’s only passion. Gun control is also on their agenda and was an early success.
Pat says, “In 1974 or ’75 four kids were shot in one weekend. We needed to do something, and we started with our Christmas Card list.”
The couple eventually succeeded by filing a lawsuit asking the US Product Safety Commission to regulate guns as hazardous to consumer’s health.
“We had them!” she grins.
All in a day’s work for a couple enjoying a long-term, effective love affair with each other and the ideal of good education.