A Behind-the-Scenes look at the IMPACT Grant Selection Process

It’s easy to apply for one of the 12 grants awarded to charter schools at Building Hope’s annual IMPACT Summit and Awards program.

It’s not so easy to decide which entries should receive some part of the $175,000 in grant money that is distributed to the 12 charter school finalists during the IMPACT Summit and Awards program May 3 & 4.

For this year’s awards, 131 schools completed applications in one of four categories:

  • Education Innovation
  • Community Engagement
  • Student Empowerment
  • Model Charter School


Building Hope’s team of professional educators, nationally-recognized business leaders, current and former charter school administrators and students had the challenge of reviewing entries and selecting applications that best meet the focus of the IMPACT Summit and Awards: Excellence in Education.

The process eventually trims the field to three finalists in each of the four categories. The winner of each category receives a $20,000 grant while the remaining finalists each take home $10,000 grants to be used at their school.

“Often schools are only recognized when they get an ‘A’ on their school grade, but we know that every day there are teachers, administrators, office staff and volunteers who make a great difference in the lives of children,” said Trish Leitem, who leads the IMPACT Summit & Awards Ambassador Team that starts the application review process.

“We are here to shine a light on the little things they do every day as we know that each positive action adds a ripple to the pond of greater success in each child’s life.”

There are so many deserving schools providing excellent education that it requires a rigorous process to select the best-of-the-best. The finalists in each category are each doing something truly extraordinary and providing an education that meets the specific gifts of each child.

Here is a look at how that process unfolds.


H2 Who Is Eligible to Enter the IMPACT Summit & Awards?

The IMPACT Summit & Awards are open to all 7,800 charter schools in the United States, but there are conditions that schools must meet to qualify:

  • Be open for at least one year and be in good standing with their authorizers.
  • Complete an application form that includes questions about school location, demographics, mission, teaching model, and topic-specific questions.
  • Demonstrate they are a model in their category they applied for.

Schools applying in the Model Charter School category must also have passed their first charter renewal, a history of academic achievement, and have clean audits. This category celebrates schools and small school networks of less than nine schools.


H2 What Happens Next?

Building Hope’s Ambassador Team, comprised of former school principals, front office staff, parents of students, accountants, and business people, review applications to be sure requirements are met.

Once this is verified, each application is reviewed by at least two Ambassadors.  The team uses a baseline IMPACT Awards rubric to guide their rating and ensure that evaluations are normalized and fair.


H2 What Criteria Do Ambassadors Use in Measuring the Schools

The ambassadors are asked to consider five standards when reviewing each application:

  • Program: What kind of program did the school implement and how much success have they had with it? Are they able to adapt it to student’s needs? Are they accommodating and evolving in a measurable way that improves their student’s education? Are students growing and benefiting from the program?
  • Impact: Did the school create something that moves the needle among students? Is what they are doing helping their education and by how much? Are they able to seamlessly integrate it at the school? What is the ripple effect from what they’re doing? Is there data that backs up the impact?
  • Growth: Is this part of continuing growth at the school? Are they nurturing growth among students, faculty, and administrators? Are they improving the education model at the school? Do they stick with one model and improve that every year, or do they keep adding programs that sustain growth?
  • Leadership: It’s not always about power, it’s about sharing power. Are leaders willing to step aside and allow students to control some elements of their education? Can they provide leadership while working behind the scenes, as well as when they are standing out front?  Is the school leader engaged in all aspects of the school?
  • Support: Can the school show support from a variety of sources and over a span of time? Are there testimonials from students, parents, alumni, or local businessmen through letters, emails or social media that reinforce what they’re doing is working?


When the first round of review is over the Ambassadors trim the field to 10 applications for each category.  The entire team meets to review each of the top 10 and go into a deeper review of each school, ensuring that the application and mission of the school aligns with the focus of the IMPACT awards.

The Selection Committee Chair conducts an online 30-minute interview with each of the schools on this “short list.” The interview, along with an ambassador-created summary of each of the top 7 schools and the full packet of application materials, are presented to the selection committee for review.

They then prepare summaries of the top 7 schools in each category and present them to the Selection Committee for the next round of review.

“As ambassadors and committee members, we take our responsibility of selecting high-quality applicants, seriously,” Leitem said. “Charter Schools have done so much to ensure that students’ needs are met and that they are given opportunities to shine in areas where they succeed.”


H2 How Do You Choose Selection Committee Members?

The Selection Committee members all have some connection to education, either as a teacher, administrator, parent, business partner, thought leader or volunteer. This year, a charter school student who was part of a Student Empowerment winner in 2022, joined the  Selection Committee in that category.

The larger Selection Committee is divided into category-based Cohorts of 4-6 members. All viewpoints of the education spectrum need to be represented and having a fresh set of perspectives to review candidates creates another layer of considerable dedication and deliberation. The Selection Committee chair serves on each Cohort to provide a constant among the groups.

The Selection Committee members review the applications, supporting materials, the ambassador summary, and the 30-minute video interview, along with a rubric to independently assess the schools.  They narrow the field to three finalists in each category.

Those three finalists will all be grant winners and are invited to the IMPACT Summit & Awards.  The finalists prepare and present a 10-minute IMPACT talk about their school and why it’s the best choice in that category as their final round to determine the grant award amounts. The audience for the IMPACT talk includes ambassadors, Selection Committee members, and other charter leaders and industry partners who are attending the Summit.

After the IMPACT talks, the Selection Committee gathers one more time to determine who will be awarded the $20,000 grant, while the other two finalists receive $10,000 grants.  Every school that makes it to the IMPACT Summit and Awards is truly deserving, but the committee determines which one champions their category most effectively.

The Summit is capped off with an Awards Gala, where all of the finalists are honored for their powerful impact on education, their communities, and their students.

We are so excited to be able to expand the Summit this year to showcase and be inspired by these amazing schools, but also to connect, collaborate and be able level-up education nationwide.

William Fay

William Fay

Bill Fay is a freelance writer supplying content for the communication outlets Building Hope uses to promote and expand charter school programs in the U.S. Bill started his career as a sports writer for the Tampa Tribune and Associated Press. He has written about Super Bowls, NBA Finals and college football, basketball and baseball championships. He has turned his attention to more serious subjects like public transportation, personal finance and now, education. He welcomes opportunities to learn more from the charter school audience and become a voice for their community.