For almost twenty years, they worked at desks that faced each other, a physical representation of their dedication that each was an equal owner in the movement they founded together.
In Fall 2015, Raj and Eric passed the baton of leadership to Lesley Poole, their second hire at SEED and a longtime leader of the organization at both The SEED School of Washington, D.C. and the Foundation.
Before 1997, Eric Adler and Rajiv Vinnakota did not know one another. However, they each had the same dream—to open a public boarding school for underserved children. By chance of fate, Eric and Raj had a mutual friend with whom they shared this dream. The friend introduced them to each other, and shortly after meeting each other to discuss the possibility of opening such a school, Raj and Eric quit their jobs and started The SEED Foundation. Their stories, as well as the story of SEED’s success, are ones of taking risks, defying the odds, and giving their lives to serve others.
about eric adler, co-founder
Eric grew up in Washington, D.C., and his passion for the city and its community started at a young age. After graduating from Swarthmore, Eric taught high school physics at St. Paul’s School in Baltimore, Maryland. It was during his time at St. Paul’s that Eric began to focus his attention on urban students. A few bright, lucky students from inner-city Baltimore were brought to St. Paul’s on academic scholarships, but Eric noticed that even with the same teachers, books, and classrooms as all the other students, the scholarship students seemed to struggle. It was this observation that caused Eric to ask himself “What would it take for these students to be able to succeed?” The idea of an urban, public boarding school planted itself in Eric’s mind. Eric went on to earn an MBA in finance from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He worked as a management consultant to Fortune 500 clients, the principal of an investment advisory firm, and an adjunct faculty member of the Johns Hopkins University Graduate Division of Business and Management. Today, Eric is co-founder and board chair of The SEED Foundation.
Eric serves on the boards of Swarthmore College and The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region. He is an Echoing Green fellow for his work at The SEED Foundation, a past recipient of the Manhattan Institute’s Social Entrepreneurship Award, and received Oprah’s Angel Network’s Use Your Life Award on the Oprah Winfrey Show. He was named a 2002 Washingtonian of the Year by Washingtonian Magazine. Eric is married with two children.
about Rajiv Vinnakota, CO-FOUNDER
Raj is the Executive Vice President of the Youth & Engagement division at the Aspen Institute, a new venture focusing on youth leadership development, civic engagement, and social justice. Raj remains on the board of The SEED Foundation. Raj is a board director for Colfax Corporation (NYSE: CFX) and he recently was elected to be a Director of The Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation. Raj is also a founding board member of Path Forward, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to get people back to work after they’ve taken time off to care for a loved one. He is also a former trustee and executive committee member for Princeton University, former national chair of its annual giving committee, and former executive committee member for its Aspire capital campaign.
Raj is an Echoing Green fellow and an Ashoka fellow. He is a graduate of Princeton University, where he majored in molecular biology and also earned a certificate of studies from the Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs & Public Policy. In 2009, Raj received the Woodrow Wilson Award, the highest honor that Princeton bestows on an undergraduate alumnus. Raj is married and has one daughter.
ABOUT LESLEY POOLE, CEO
Lesley Poole is the Chief Executive Officer at The SEED Foundation. Lesley was one of The SEED School of Washington, D.C.’s founding faculty members. For 11 years she held positions ranging from Director of Admissions to Director of Parent & Community Relations to Head of School for student life. Since transitioning from her leadership roles at SEED DC to The SEED Foundation, Lesley served in several management positions at the Foundation, including Director of Outreach, for six years before becoming CEO.
Lesley began her career in education as a mathematics instructor. She later served for two years as the service area director of the School Division of the San Francisco Educational Services (SFED), where she oversaw five programs working with inner-city children with special needs in San Francisco. She has two bachelor’s degrees – one from San Diego State University/San Francisco State University in chemistry and engineering and one from Patten College in organizational management.
Here are a few highlights of our growth and history.
1997: Rajiv Vinnakota and Eric Adler meet by stroke of luck, quit their management consulting jobs, and launch The SEED Foundation.
1998: The SEED Foundation opens the country’s first urban, college-preparatory public boarding school, which was no easy feat. Eric and Raj successfully lobby the U.S. Congress and the Council of the District of Columbia to amend the education budget to provide additional operating funds for boarding schools in the District of Columbia. Then they obtain a provisional charter from the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board.
2000: After running The SEED School of Washington, D.C. at a temporary site for two years, The SEED Foundation secures a long-term lease from D.C. Public Schools for the permanent campus of The SEED School and begins renovation and construction of the new campus.
2002: The Oprah Winfrey Show and Nightline feature stories on The SEED School. SEED's founders receive a "Use Your Life" award from Oprah’s Angel Network, in addition to a donation of 300 computers, dormitory furniture and bed linens.
2006: The SEED School of Washington, D.C. is designated one of four high-performing charter schools by D.C.’s State Education Office. In this same year, Maryland Governor Ehrlich signs House Bill 1432 into law, which secured annual operating funds for a public boarding school in Maryland.
2008: The SEED School of Maryland opens its doors, welcoming 80 new students.
2009: President Obama visits The SEED School of Washington, D.C. to sign into law the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. During the ceremony, he called SEED a “true success story.”
2011: SEED is awarded a three-year investment of up to $3.5 million, with a first-year award of $2 million, from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (EMCF) and the federal government’s Social Innovation Fund (SIF). The grant will help SEED build the field of public boarding schools and expand our program to other cities across the country.
2012: In both Ohio and Florida, SEED is selected to serve as the state operator for a public boarding school.
2013: The SEED School of Maryland’s state-of-the-art Patricia & Arthur Modell Academic Center opens.
2014: The SEED School of Miami opens on the Florida Memorial Campus with 60 sixth graders.
2015: The SEED School of Maryland graduates its first class of seniors on May 30, 2015. 100% of graduates were accepted at four-year colleges.
2015: After 18 years at the helm of the organization, Raj and Eric pass the baton of leadership to Lesley Poole, their second hire at SEED and a longtime leader of the organization at both The SEED School of Washington, D.C. and the Foundation. See the tribute video shared at a ceremony held on October 2, 2015 in their honor:
2016: Topher Kandik, a nine-year teacher at The SEED School of Washington, D.C. is named as the 2016 District of Columbia Teacher of the Year by State Superintendent of Education Hanseul Kang.
2017: SEED celebrates its first doctor! Ayana Gallego (SEED DC ‘08, Brown University ‘12) earns her D.D.S from the University of Maryland.
2018: Entrepreneur and SEED graduate Antwain Coward (SEED DC ‘06, Case Western ‘10, Business & Management Professional Certification Georgetown ‘14) is the first SEED graduate to join The SEED Foundation Board of Directors.
2019: SEED celebrates the 20th and 21st graduating classes from SEED schools.