From the dual visions of Dr. Ella Gates Mahmoud and Eric Mahmoud, in 1985, the Harvest Network of Schools began as SEED Daycare, Inc. - a licensed, home-based childcare program emphasizing children’s culture through daily rituals, stories, field trips, and activities for children ages 3-5.
Guided by their vision for a community that empowered, enabled, and guided African American children to achieve superior academic, social, and moral development, the Mahmouds went on to establish: Harvest Preparatory (K-4), BEST Academy (K-8), and the Mastery School (K-5).
In 2015, The Harvest Network of Schools became a charter management organization: creating and managing public charter schools with a shared educational vision.
Our Founders' Story
Dr. Ella and Eric Mahmoud first planted the seeds for The Harvest Network of Schools more than 30 years ago. A generation of north Minneapolis children have since attended their schools, 80% of whom have gone on to college and many of whom have returned to give back to their community. Today, Harvest Network of Schools educates more than a 1,000 children each day, using best practices for instruction and a culturally affirming curriculum to transform north Minneapolis from poverty to prosperity.
Even as a child, growing up in inner-city Philadelphia, Eric was known for his self-discipline and rigor. His parents, a plumber and part-time carpenter and a Sears department store manager, instilled the spirit of self-determination and entrepreneurship in their children.
As a teenager Eric noticed that 99% of residents in his Philadelphia neighborhood were Black but none of the neighborhood businesses were owned by Black families. He sensed that something was wrong and spoke frequently about it with his middle school teachers, discussing issues of inequity, self-determination, and community responsibility. He decided to pursue engineering with the goal of building a manufacturing plant in his neighborhood.
In high school, Eric continued to be interested in self-determination and community empowerment. However, some harrowing experiences growing up around high rates of gang violence, drugs, and crime led Eric to move away from the city.
A football star and top student, Eric earned athletic scholarships from several colleges and universities but chose to attend a school that offered him a full academic scholarship: University of Wisconsin-Madison. In college, he immersed himself in learning more about African American self-reliance, the cultural and historic trauma facing Black youth, and the importance of culturally affirming education to community empowerment.
Eric graduated with a degree in engineering and began his career at Medtronic and Honeywell, but realized he could make an even bigger impact on his community through education. He teamed up with his wife and found his purpose: Harvest Preparatory School, the first elementary school in what is now the Harvest Network of Schools, was born. For many years, "Harvest Prep" outperformed neighboring schools but still lagged behind the city and state. Using his engineering lens, Eric traveled around the country, studying the practices of high-performing schools and distilling what he observed into a cohesive educational approach.
He designed a school model targeting what he perceived as the 5 Gaps contributing to the so-called "achievement gap": the preparation gap, time gap, teaching gap, leadership gap, and belief gap. He also implemented a sequence of instruction-assessment-reflection to ensure scholars mastered essential content day-by-day throughout the year. Eric implemented this new approach at Harvest Prep and the results were outstanding.
Soon, other schools were visiting Harvest Prep to learn best practices and civic and charitable leaders -- even the local school district -- supported him in replicating its success to benefit more children, primarily low-income African American children in north Minneapolis who were not being well-served by other schools.
Dr. Ella Mahmoud
Ella's family moved from Mississippi to Minneapolis in 1969. Due to a childhood speech impediment, Ella was placed in special education classes where she was isolated from peers and treated as incapable of academic achievement. The first teacher who believed in her, Mrs. Owens, was transformational. Her belief in Ella, the high expectations she set, and the nurturing she offered, increased Ella's self-esteem, put her on a path to school success, and inspired her to dream of becoming an educator.
Ella also received affirmation at home: in fact her father built a little schoolhouse in their alley, where Ella taught the neighborhood children. Ella's parents didn't get an education while growing up in Mississippi and deeply understood the importance and power of education.
In high school Ella was discouraged from enrolling in college preparatory classes, and instead was tracked into sewing and typing courses. After sharing her concerns with African American Principal Dr. Joyce Jackson, Ella was enrolled in challenging courses like Geometry, Chemistry, and Literature. She excelled academically and was accepted into college. She began her degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she met Eric Mahmoud. The two moved to Minneapolis where they married and adopted and fostered several children.
After earning her degree in organizational management, she worked as a reporter and editor for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder and and the Twin Cities Courier - two local papers serving the local Black community.
In 1985 Ella started a home daycare, to care for neighborhood children as well as her own. On a life-changing freelance reporting trip to Kenya, Ella made a few observations that would influence her and Eric's approach to education, including an emphasis on the history, culture, and promise of African Americans that's largely missing from traditional district schools. She incorporated this into the curriculum, practices, and even logo for the daycare. Children in the daycare experienced cognitive growth, increased self-esteem, and pride in their culture and word of mouth spread quickly among area families.
Called SEED Academy, Ella's daycare was truly the seed for The Harvest Network of Schools. Today, Ella has a doctorate from the University of St. Thomas and the network of schools she inspired are nationally recognized for educating thousands of children from low-income Black families with high expectations, strong academic results, and cultural pride and affirmation.