Teach For America South Carolina 2015
Dean of Academics, Compass Collegiate Academy
Rachel Brailov always knew she would be a teacher. She had a passion for teaching and learning as a babysitter, a swim instructor, and a camp counselor. At the University of Iowa, she earned a four-year degree in elementary education.
But what she learned about teaching – and herself – as a teacher for Teach For America South Carolina (TFASC) vaulted her purpose to a whole new level.
“My training taught me how to teach, but TFASC taught me to be an advocate for scholars, families, and communities,” said Brailov. “They helped me realize the power I have as an educator – partnering with families and transforming communities.”
For this revelation, she first had to face the unknown. Orangeburg County, South Carolina was a different universe from Deerfield, Illinois, the Chicago suburb where she grew up.
“I had never lived in a small town, but in 2015, I made a firm commitment to Orangeburg even knowing I was moving across the country without my family and friends,” said Brailov.
The Palmetto State became her home very quickly.
“I always tell people that I’m not from South Carolina, but now, South Carolina is my home,” smiled Brailov. “It’s because of the strong and welcoming community I found with my staff, and with scholars and their families.”
Year one proved to be a challenge. But Mellichamp Elementary School embraced her.
“My school community made up for anything I was missing,” said Brailov. “The greatest educators I know are at Mellichamp, and they helped me love what I do every day. It was there I found my passion for teaching reading and writing. The experience of teaching someone to fall in love with a good book and to find their voice as she or he writes … it was an amazing opportunity that I am always grateful for.”
Brailov told her colleagues that she would never leave Mellichamp unless her “dream job” came along.
It took six years. In 2021, she is in Charleston leading a “mighty team of 10 staff members” in the launch of Compass Collegiate Academy. The public charter school will start with kindergarten and first-grade students, then grow classrooms all the way to eighth grade.
“We want to transform Charleston,” said Brailov. “Everyone is welcome here – there are no testing admissions and no zoning. We’re diverse, reflective of our community in downtown Charleston. As dean of academics, I manage all curriculum and coaching. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Brailov will make sure building community is always a top priority.
“Our school is a choice for all our families, and I take their commitment very seriously,” she said. “Scholars will be with us from their start through eighth grade, which means families invest some serious trust in us to do right by their children.”
She added, “It’s so exciting to build relationships here. Our families come from communities all over the Charleston area and across many lines of differences. We are able to welcome everyone to our school community, which is grounded in our values: Scholars. Team. Excellence. Effort. Respect. Anti-Racism. Inclusion.”
“Our school is special,” Brailov stressed, “because we prioritize building community and leading with our values to create a place where scholars have a memorable experience with other scholars they may not have met otherwise.”
Her commitment rests on a bedrock belief in her newly adopted family of South Carolinians.
“I truly believe the people in South Carolina are what South Carolina needs,” said Brailov. “I think the state’s ready for work.”
She added, “We have strong communities and amazing families, local businesses, and places to visit. We sometimes forget what’s here. I honestly think right now we have the elements that we need to make schools great and scholars successful.”