Impact Coffee with Mark Claypool

By Lauren Dekleva & Katie Scholl



We started off the morning of Friday, June 17th, with inspiration and information at our Impact Coffee Event!  June’s Impact Coffee featured Mark Claypool, the President and CEO of Chancelight Behavioral Health, which offers high-quality, research-based solutions for children and young adults with a wide range of diagnoses, including autism spectrum and other behavioral disorders, and pediatric developmental and physical disabilities. Mark had an incredible story of creating impact through his successful and industry-leading education company.

Mark Claypool founded Chancelight in 1999.  With a background in social work, he had become disillusioned with the state of the foster care system and public education.  He saw the long term effects of the holes in these systems: 90% of the people in prison at that point had also been in foster care.  Thus, Chancelight [then called Education Services of America (ESA)] was formed with the intention of providing educational solutions to children with behavioral problems and disabilities.  They had 4 rules: first, to help kids; second, to make money; third, they would have no residential programs; and fourth, Southwest Airlines had to fly there.

The problem initially boiled down to children, particularly at-risk youth or those in foster care, believing that they were stupid. As Claypool said, “People who think they’re smart are less likely to do stupid things.  People who don’t think they’re smart walk around thinking, ‘why not?’  If they have no hope, why think image1about the consequences?”  To combat this, ESA/Chancelight developed an education program and opened in 26 schools in 9 months, targeting every foster care facility in the state of TN.

17 years later, Chancelight operates in 28 states, serving 18,000 kids in 250 schools each day, earning $134 million in annual revenue.

Over time, Claypool noticed the growth of autism and the lack of attention paid to special education in public schools.  Autism spectrum disorder affects 1 in every 68 children, and unfortunately, the underfunded public school system (which on average spends only 37 cents per dollar in the classroom) was the only resource available for their education and therapy. Many families were stuck in ineffective education plans and the belief that their child would be unable to learn or progress in the face of their disorder.  To help solve this, and to serve children and young adults with autism spectrum and other behavioral disorders, Claypool developed Spectrum Center Schools and Programs, which partners with over 100 districts to operate in-school programs to provide individualized education and social skills development for special needs students.  Chancelight is thus able to spend 80 cents per dollar in the classroom.

In addition, to further advance Chancelight’s work with at-risk youth in schools, Claypool implemented Ombudsman Educational Services, which also partners with more than 100 districts to serve at-risk students.  They provide “alternative education programs for middle and high school students who have dropped out or who are at risk of dropping out of school.”  The blended teaching style incorporates technology and emphasizes mastery of concepts, and has been very successful.  In fact, in some places, the program saw a higher graduation rate than nearby high schools!

As awareness of autism grew, Chancelight stepped in the political sphere to advocate for children with the disorder, and their education.  Since then, 38 states have passed autism insurance laws, to ensure that children and families get access to the affordable help they need.  Claypool continues the movement by constantly asking, “what do we want education to be in this country?  What does special education mean?”

To close, he offered some insight: “Entrepreneurs work best in the seams, so find something that no one else wants to do, and call it something else.”

Thank you again to Mark Claypool, not only for coming to speak with us, but for your dedication to providing education and resources to at-risk and special needs children!

Impact Coffee is a morning event designed to highlight individuals who are creating great impact through their work – and, of course, we’ll bring that coffee to kick off your morning right. Join us for our next Impact Coffee, featuring Dr. Turner Nashe: 8:30 am on July 15 at the EC!

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