"Sisu”: The Finnish concept for stoic determination, grit, bravery, resilience, and hardiness

These are the exact traits that create success

Our school embodies “sisu” 

Sisu Academy is the first all-girls tuition-free, boarding high school, with an embedded incubator fueled by entrepreneurs and seed capital creating an immersive learning environment that funds all operational costs. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit for public good working to bring innovative education to San Diego Students in need. 

Many students lack the resources and support to become tomorrow’s leaders in our country. The skills gap is widening due to a system crippled by a lack of funding, rendering truly inspiring solutions cost-prohibitive. These students need a place to learn, to fail, grow, build empathy and cultivate the values of sisu. We will expand beyond the prevailing education models and create something new. More, we will expose those in need to new ways of thinking, learning, opening up a new road before them.


Sisu is a growing high school that launched in 2019 and will eventually enroll, educate and house a total of 350 young women from the local community. Providing an environment with wraparound support services for those in need, including healthy food, farming, project-based learning, skills training, STEAM education, and counseling. All of these programs are viewed through an entrepreneurial lens to address social and business-related challenges impacting both the students and the community at large. We teach students to embrace failure as a catalyst for growth and future success. These efforts also provide the revenue-creating structures allowing Sisu to sustain its model.


Enrollment at Sisu is at no cost to the student. Program fit and a student’s need is what matters. Although we are an independent school, we believe in continuing to support public education. We started with a smaller freshman class of young women in the 2018-19 school year, each year we will add more students, reaching a full capacity of 350 students in five years. We are beginning as an all-girls school while leaving the door open for future projects that can also impact young men from our community.  


Check Out Our New Podcast
26.1 - Getting All Students
Over the Finish Line

Philanthropy Magazine Spring 2018 Edition:

Featuring Sisu Academy as an innovative approach to addressing the needs of certain children... 

Click Here For More

Sisu Academy in Philanthropy Magazine

A Little About Our Board

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Jabez LeBret, Chief of Schools at Sisu Academy, Chairman of the Board (Business) 
A former business owner, financial analyst, and management expert, Jabez is one of the co-founders of Sisu Academy. He brings an extensive business background to the operations and planning of Sisu Academy. 


Jenny Darroch, Dean of the Drucker School of Management, Claremont Colleges (Education) 
As an educator, author, and presenter, Jenny brings both extensive knowledge of post-secondary schools and a strong business acumen. Her position at Drucker School of Management gives her unique perspective on the future of both higher ed as well as workforce needs. 

Caroline Vander Ark, President Getting Smart (Education) 

As president of Getting Smart, a learning design firm, she oversees client engagements, the day-to-day operations of the company, and business development. Caroline specializes in storytelling, strategic communication, professional learning and organizational management.


Rocco Cortese, Principal, The Heritage Group (Financial & Land)
With experience in building both a company and a fund, Rocco provides valuable business guidance. His company focuses on commercial real estate and this has helped Sisu Academy navigate the process of securing a location. 


Jennifer Raffard, JD, and Manager at Salesforce (Legal) 
Jennifer brings a strong legal and business background to the group, and her focus on intellectual property is important as we grow our school model. 

Glynna Hoekstra, Executive Vice President, Balfour Beatty (Facilities) 
In 2015 Glynna was named San Diego’s Power Woman of the Year. She has extensive experience in school construction in California and is well connected to the school ecosystem in the state. 


George Bailey, Consultant, former executive at Sony and IBM (Executive Leadership) 
From IBM to Sony, George has run large divisions with a focus on innovation and expansion. This experience helps guide our process and structure as we build this organization. 

Nancy Batterman, CEO, E&CO (Nonprofit) 
Nancy brings almost 25 years of experience as the CEO of a large nonprofit in California that focuses on helping adults with developmental disabilities become independent through work training and housing support.  


Welcome to our Newest Board Member Jack Berkman

CEO & President Berkman Strategic Communications Jack Berkman has become an established influencer in his chosen profession. Highly regarded as one of the most respected Public Relations professionals in San Diego, Berkman has for over 40 years worked strategically representing exceedingly recognized companies and organizations locally, regionally, and nationally. Many of San Diego's most accomplished, recognized, and influential companies have sought his “strategic communications services" to develop and implement decidedly effective and results-delivered Public Relations campaigns. 

During his career, Berkman has served on the Board of Directors of over 40 organizations for a plethora of endeavors including major special events, preforming arts, health care, business improvement, youth development, military support and city recognition and awareness. His proficient crisis communications capabilities have been sought after and engaged for an abundance of public and private companies both regionally and nationally. 

Earlier in his career, Berkman earned his National Accreditation standing with the Public Relations Society of America and was recently accepted into the College of Fellows of the Public Relations Society of America. This organization is comprised of only 4 per cent of practicing professionals nationally. He was the first public relations professional ever to be selected President of the San Diego Press Club, and last year received the PR Professional of the Year Award for 2018. 

Certainly a highlight of his illustrious career has been to serve, for the past five years, as Rotary Club #33 Chairman of the 4-Way Speech Contest. This enormous undertaking involves nearly 200 students from across San Diego County, 20 Rotary Clubs and 18 High Schools. His commitment to this service has resulted in a highly dramatic speech learning experience for students of our County. Rotary Club #33 efforts have been primarily focused on Hoover High School, where an average 30 High School students annually participate in this major transformational speech preparation responsibility. 

His personal hobby has been serving as an emcee and auctioneer for major organization fundraising events. For the past 30 years, Berkman has raised over 3M for charity organizations locally, regionally, and nationally. 

Our Board

Our Advisors