Word just came across my email from Joe Bruno that after founding Building Hope twenty years ago he plans on retiring as president and CEO in 2023. Bill Hansen will succeed Joe at the organization.
I have known Joe for most of the two decades that he has led Building Hope. The period that I worked most closely with him was around 2012 during the acquisition of a permanent facility for Washington Latin PCS. At the time, Washington Latin was operating in three temporary sites, two of which were churches. As with any charter school facility project there were many ups and downs to being selected to take over the former Rudolph Elementary School in Ward 4 when I was chair of the school’s board. I remember going to visit former Ward 4 Councilperson Muriel Bowser at the Wilson Building with him to convince her that our school should be awarded the building through a Request for Proposal. Mayor Vincent Gray had another group in mind for the property. With Joe’s help we prevailed.
However, that was only the start. For weeks our board of directors and school leaders could not figure out the finances to cover the cost of the approximately $20 million dollars needed to renovate the former DCPS structure. I recall like it was yesterday being summoned over to Building Hope’s headquarters on 17th Street N.W. where Joe presented to me his out-of-the-box financial structure so that we could make our dream a reality for over 600 students from all eight of the city’s wards.
What he did for Washington Latin he had accomplished, and would continue to accomplish, for charters throughout the nation’s capital. It is really impossible to understate his contributions. When our movement started over twenty-five years ago banks could not understand what a charter school was much less imagine lending them money. Joe was able to convince them that not only should they provide funding but demonstrated that charters were one of the safest places to invest their resources.
His large warm Italian personality was always prominently on display at his home in Potomac where he held his annual Christmas parties for those of us involved locally in this exciting and critical mission to provide every child in D.C. a seat in a high quality classroom. I am sure he viewed what we were doing as one of the last civil rights struggles in America. However, I do not think he would ever mutter those words. He just kept doing what he did, finding buildings for schools that had little or no prior history, reputation, or cash. They simply had bold visions.
So many individuals I consider my heroes made the pilgrimage to Joe’s abode during those cold and dark winter nights, a coat in hand for the less fortunate kids in our community that was the admission price for the holiday event. It was not something you questioned doing. We went, to be a part of a celebration of Joe’s efforts.
Bill Hanson appears to be perfectly qualified as the next head of Building Hope. From today’s press release announcing the appointment:
“Mr. Hansen comes to Building Hope with extensive experience in the corporate, government, investment, social impact, philanthropy, and policy sectors. While serving as President and CEO of the Strada Education Network, he created the $2 billion national social impact fund, an organization that is dedicated to helping learners build more purposeful pathways to and from postsecondary education and into rewarding careers. Mr. Hansen was initially appointed as President and CEO of USA Funds, the nation’s largest guarantor of student loans, which he successfully managed and transitioned from its legacy business, and in doing so, created the platform to launch Strada.”
For a short period I went weekly to Joe’s house to join in a three-on-three basketball game held on his indoor hardwood playing field. I had to stop because afterwards I returned to my residence completely physically exhausted. It was impossible to keep up with Joe, on or off the court.