Magazine Feature / People

Educators run high school for troubled youth

A lawyer and an MBA married, ready to conquer the world. Sounds like the set-up for a Wall Street success story.

Instead, this lawyer and this MBA focus their talents on an unlikely and incredibly challenging goal: taking society’s most troubled youths and turning them into high school and college graduates.

Andre Adeli (JD ’89) and Lili (Zanganeh) Adeli (MBA ’01) run Boulder Preparatory High School in Boulder, Colo. The school was founded in 1997 by Andre and four other juvenile justice experts with a mission “to help youth-at-risk transform into college-bound youth-of-promise.”

Andre says one moment in a class lead by DU law professor William Beaney set him on his path.

“Professor Beaney was explaining how people below the poverty level get free counsel, free appeals, free transcripts,” remembers Andre. “A kid in class said, ‘It seems to me that poor people get a lot of breaks.’ Professor Beaney said, ‘That’s okay because poor people don’t get a break anywhere else in life.’ That was like a two-by-four over the head for me.”

After a successful career as a criminal defense attorney, Andre dedicated himself to Boulder Prep full time in 2001.

Lili and Andre’s paths crossed in 2000, when Lili was just beginning her MBA. After three months of dating, they were married. Yet, Lili still saw herself on the corporate track.

“After graduation, I was a financial consultant for JD Edwards,” she says. “I quickly realized that I was sitting in a cubical staring at massive spreadsheets trying to help billion-dollar companies save money.”

She left to volunteer as a grant writer for Boulder Prep. A year later, she became the school’s development director and, to date, she has raised more than $1 million.

Ninety-five percent of the high school’s students have had adjudications, expulsions, drug addictions or trouble at home. Yet the 12 faculty members (including Lili and Andre) achieve outstanding results: 70 percent of their students eventually graduate, 60 percent of those go on to college, and 54 percent score at or above the national average on the ACT.

While they admit that the job is challenging, they see themselves with the school forever.

“I’ll never burn out,” says Lili. “Their lives are so much harder than any lives should ever be. It would be easy for them to give up. I won’t give up on them.”

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