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Businessman, father & founder of Global Educational Excellence
For many students, the most critical part of a successful education occurs far beyond the four walls of a classroom, and extends outside their school. Their access to resources at home, the relationships between their parents and their educators, and their ability to relate and communicate with teachers all have significant impact. And for students who have extra baggage and unique needs, those impacts are even more amplified.
In the mid 1990’s, Mohamad Issa was a successful businessman and proud father. A first generation immigrant to America, his focus was on building a future for his family in Ann Arbor, Michigan. When it came time, his sons enrolled in the local traditional public school, and he hoped they would begin discovering their own success. But by sixth grade, it became clear that his son, Marwan, was beginning to fall behind. Eager to help Marwan get back on his feet, Issa met with the school counselor, but left feeling frustrated - he wanted to do more.
Having attended Huron High School in Ann Arbor himself, Issa remembered some of his own educational struggles; the cultural and social elements of the school were vastly different from what he experienced at home, and the educators were disconnected from his parents - something he was experiencing in that very moment with his own son. Gathering a few other parents, Issa began investigating opening a private school, which would focus on cultural appreciation.
Then he discovered the charter school movement.
In 1996 the Issa Family opened a charter school in Ann Arbor, Central Academy, which has grown an impressive legacy of academic success, diversity and family support. In 1998, Mohamad and Said Issa founded Global Educational Excellence, a brand new educational service provider in Michigan, with a mission to provide an environment where students can learn and be comfortable with their unique heritage, regardless of their color, religion, race or background.
Reaching beyond Ann Arbor, GEE’s schools have made critical impact for families in Detroit, Dearborn, Hamtramck, Ypsilanti and even Toledo. But the success is reflected in far more than test scores. GEE schools have become a shining beacon of hope for refugee and immigrant students and families. Their unique educator training emphasizes cultural awareness and understanding, while individualized learning plans help meet every student where they’re at - even if they’ve spent the last year in a refugee camp.
For the dedicated educators that work in these schools, that also means accommodating the unique needs of families, whether it’s coordinating with local officials to help parents learn their legal rights, holding classes on transit, or even helping parents learn English. Educators at Central Academy even created an “Exchange Station,” where families in need can anonymously collect donated household toiletries, food, coats, clothing and more necessary essentials, completely free of charge.
For Issa, this was his original vision - he was no stranger to those same challenges. “I experienced it when I came to America,” said Issa, “It’s a struggle the first year - a struggle to learn the language, culture and even how to get around.”
And for many parents, simply having educators who speak their language and understand their culture creates a whole new level of comfort - and ultimately helps students be more successful. For other parents, those additional support systems make a world of difference. “It was amazing timing, finding Central Academy when we came to this country,” said Mr. Aboud, an immigrant father from Egypt, “My family needed the help they provided, and that made them our first and only choice for school.”
Reflecting on over 20 years of service to Michigan students and families, Issa is simply happy to have created such opportunity for so many young people who might have been overlooked had it not been for GEE’s schools. “Had my son continued on his same path, I think the chance that he graduated high school would have been very slim. He needed something more, and now he has gone on to be successful in college and beyond,” said Issa, “Now, we get to do that for other families and help them realize their dreams.”