Spark Announces New CEO, Jason Cascarino

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Education and Nonprofit Veteran Jason Cascarino Seeks to Elevate Spark - a National Youth Apprenticeship Program - as Incoming CEO

“Spark’s success and growth have been inspiring,” said Cascarino, Spark’s incoming CEO. “In some of our nation’s biggest cities, we’re addressing critical education priorities, including student engagement, high school readiness and career preparation.”

Spark, a national nonprofit that provides life-changing apprenticeships to seventh and eighth graders, today announced that education and nonprofit veteran, Jason Cascarino, will lead the organization as CEO beginning January 1, 2014. The organization’s current CEO and co-founder, Chris Balme, will transition to Spark’s national Board of Directors on December 31.

“We are thrilled to have such an accomplished professional to expand Spark’s impact across the country,” said Spark Board Chair Holly Depatie, who led the organization’s CEO search. “The entire Board of Directors and I are grateful to Chris for creating and stewarding this remarkable organization and we all have great confidence in the future of Spark under Jason’s direction.”

Cascarino has dedicated his career to helping high-impact education nonprofits grow and become sustainable. Most recently, Cascarino served as Vice President for External Affairs at CASEL: Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, where he heightened the organization’s priorities in federal legislation and the national education agenda.

He previously served as Chief Operating Officer and Acting Chief Executive Officer of The Chicago Public Education Fund, a business-led venture philanthropy. There, Cascarino managed core operations and constituent relations, secured board investment in education start-ups, led strategic planning and oversaw The Fund’s work with Chicago Public Schools to advance teacher and principal quality.

Cascarino also served as the Director of Marketing and New Initiatives for Citizen Schools in Boston where he led new branding strategies and policy initiatives. He began his career in education with New American Schools, a Washington, D.C.-based philanthropy that invested in break-the-mold, whole-school reform models.

“Spark’s success and growth have been inspiring,” said Cascarino. “In some of our nation’s biggest cities, we are addressing critical education priorities, including student engagement, high school readiness and completion, and college and career preparation. Drawing from their apprenticeship experience with adult mentors in many exciting fields, thousands of students are committed to their own success in school and on track to accomplish big things. I am eager to work with the Board and staff to expand that impact.”

The transition comes at a good time for Spark, which has experienced significant growth. “Our strategic plan dedicates significant resources in 2013 and 2014 to focus on infrastructure,” said Balme. “This is an ideal time to reflect upon what we have built and welcome new leadership to elevate the organization.”

Spark’s staff includes more than 35 professionals and the organization’s national team is distributed across regional offices. Cascarino will be based in the Spark Chicago office.

Balme and fellow educator Melia Dicker founded Spark in 2004 in the San Francisco Bay Area. The program began with 11 students in Redwood City, CA and now serves students in six cities across the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia regions. Spark will serve more than 700 students in the 2013-2014 school year by matching them with a mentor in an industry or career area of their interest. Students meet with their mentors in the workplace to gain a new perspective on their futures.

To date, the organization has served more than 2,000 students thanks to support from more than 2,000 volunteer mentors. Spark is currently partnering with 31 schools nationwide. Data from earlier Spark students indicates that as many as 92% of Spark students have stayed on track throughout high school and graduated on time.

About Spark
Spark apprenticeships bring underserved middle school students out of the classroom and into the workplace for individualized mentoring that results in educational success and powerful career ambitions. The evidence-based program combats the high school drop out crisis and keeps students academically on track and invested in their futures by intervening during formative years. Since 2004, Spark has helped thousands of students explore careers and build new skills through tailored, hands-on apprenticeships with volunteer, working professionals. Throughout the one-year program, Spark students develop their identity, build community and explore their future, which leads to improved attendance, classroom behavior and course performance. Spark currently works in six cities across four metropolitan regions in California, Illinois and Pennsylvania. Learn more, mentor, partner and donate at sparkprogram.org

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