Profile of Gabe Kuriloff ’90

By Kristin Sanderson

Miriam Rock ’04 is currently a junior at Yale University. Miriam’s brothers Aaron ’97 and Patrick ’99 also attended Miquon, as did her father Ed ’68 and his siblings Peter ’66, Amy ’72, and Rachel ’72. Her mother Andrea recently served on the Miquon Board. Last summer Miriam worked as a counselor at Miquon Day Camp and filled in some spare hours as a communications intern at the school office. She interviewed Gabriel Kuriloff and wrote the profile that follows.

Miquon Class of 1990 at their 20th reunion in 2010. Gabe Kuriloff is 5th from the left, in a white shirt. Miquon Class of 1990 at their 20th reunion in 2010. Gabe Kuriloff is 5th from the left, in a white shirt.

Gabe Kuriloff, Miquon class of 1990, opened his interview by expressing his belief in his “heart of hearts” that his Miquon family would be proud of the life that he has led. He has dedicated himself to going out into the world to help others understand that school can be what Miquon was for him, his siblings Aaron 86 and Shoshana 94, his wife Valerie Klein 88, her siblings Geoff 86 and Nick 91, and her mother Diane 61, – all Miquon alums. For Gabe, Miquon represents a way of schooling that honors both the child and development. He believes that learning is social and experimental; it is necessary that the learner interact with surrounding people and world.

Gabe recalled an incident at Miquon when he was in 5th grade. He approached Will Delamater, then principal of the school, expressing his belief that it had been far too long since Miquon held a pet show. Will agreed, and asked Gabe to plan and run a pet show himself. This interaction in which the administrator empowered the student to change his environment has stuck with Gabe through his life as he attempts to do the same for other children.

After Miquon, Gabe attended Friends Select School and then Brown University. All three schools progressive, expensive, very good, private institutions allowed Gabe to continue to develop his own passion for learning and to explore the subjects and areas which most interested him. During his junior year at Friends Select, Gabe interned with councilwoman Kathy Fernandez. As his internship progressed, he was forced to confront the fact that a lot of children, by virtue of bad luck, don’t get what he got at Miquon. He sat in on budget hearings that proposed cutting sports, music and art to a bare minimum from every school. For Gabe, this was a crime which underlined a great injustice in the world that not everyone received the “beautiful, wonderful,” empowering education that he had enjoyed at Miquon.

At age 17, Gabe began to care deeply about education and schools. Brown allowed him to continue to develop his interest. He majored in Urban Studies, writing his thesis on Philadelphia public school politics, and simultaneously earning a teaching certificate in English. After a year living in Florence and teaching English as a foreign language, Gabe found himself itching to return to public schools and to work where he could truly make a difference. He returned to Philadelphia and immediately began working at a charter school in Kensington. He treated his students as a Miquon teacher might, always questioning why they were learning something and, if he had no clear answer, not teaching that lesson.

From the day he started teaching, Gabe knew that he wanted to build a school; he systematically set out to learn the things necessary to fulfill this goal. He believes schools function differently than other work places because the product that they are trying to create is intangible. Gabe spent six years at the Mariana Bracetti Charter School; during this time, he taught; worked as both a teacher recruitment leader and later, an administrator; and contributed to a comprehensive school redesign to align the structure of the school to its purpose and mission. Miquon, Gabe explains, aligns everything to its mission of celebrating and honoring a child, and letting that child grow uninhibited into an agent of change. However, no matter how wonderful the school is, it’s not right for everyone. During the redesign at Mariana Bracetti, Gabe and his coworkers grappled with the question of what they were training their children to do.

For Gabe, the assumption that he has seen in many of his students that they are unable to affect things is a stunning and tragic limitation. His life calling is to figure out how to change this mindset. During the six years Gabe spent in Mariana Bracetti Charter School learning how schools functioned, he earned a Master’s degree in educational leadership at the University of Pennsylvania. He spent two years as a full-time graduate student at Penn, writing a dissertation on educational leadership. During that time, he began to work with a team of like-minded educators to found a company that started community schools. In community schools, students strive to return the community’s investment in them by engaging in civic entrepreneurship to solve local problems.

Gabe became involved with Arise Academy Charter High School, the first school in the nation that serves youth in the care of the department of human services. By emphasizing the importance of the three R’s Relationships, Relevance, and Rigor Arise supports the children in liberating themselves. Gabe joined Arise as CEO during its third year, while it was in the process of charter renewal. Gabe was forced to simultaneously re-envision Arise, figuring out ways to reshape it to better empower its young people, and to demonstrate for the school district how committed he was to this vision.

At Arise, Gabe is finally where he has always wanted to be: working with the most chronically challenged students in the city, and figuring out how to structure an environment which will do for them what Miquon did for him. The natural question, given how long his life revolved around getting to this place is now what? If he can manage to keep Arise alive, Gabe sees himself remaining with it for 15 years, building a model that honors Miquon in many ways, serving the kids who “have the least, and who, frankly, deserve the most.” If he can do something at Arise that involves working with the system and educating children in a more effective way, then it might be possible to imagine a transformative scenario with “a whole bunch of schools that look a lot like Miquon” in this country.

All power to you, Gabe!