Portal Schools promises pathway to workplace, with help from Belkin
A new ninth through 12th grade school will offer academics and work experiences, simultaneously
by Donald Morrison
The excitement one imagines Chet Pipkin feeling when he was a 17-year-old inventing cables that enabled Apple computers to talk to non Apple printers could be heard in the Manhattan Beach billionaire, father of seven’s voice as he talked to parents on a Zoom call in February about inventing Portal Schools.
Pipkin is the publicity-adverse founder of the computer accessories company Belkin International, which he sold two years ago to Taiwan-based electronics giant FoxConn for close to $1 billion. Portal is a new, ninth through twelfth grade school located on Belkin’s Playa Vista campus, where students will intern and have an inside track on Belkin jobs when they graduate.
Pipkin described the school’s curriculum as based on research that shows experience-based learning is superior to traditional, sequential learning.
Portal, he acknowledged, is also based on his personal experience. He dropped out of UCLA after two quarters, he explained, because he saw an opportunity in the fast emerging computer industry.
“I wanted to start a business. But I was told, ‘No, no. First you have to follow the education track.’ But what if we made school a truly immersive space, where students were exposed to real world experiences while getting an education?
“We’re discovering there is a huge population who have the aptitude and eagerness to dive into business and the system is holding them back,” Pipkin told parents on the Zoom call.
Classes at Portal will be small, just 15 students for each of the 9th through 12th grades. And diverse, because Pipkin believes Los Angeles’ success in science and the arts is attributable to its diverse population. At $18,000 a year, it will also be expensive. But not as expensive as Chadwick or Vista Mar ($40,000 annually) or even Loyola High School ($21,000 annually).
Portal students are expected to attend the school for five years, with the expectation that upon graduation, the student will have earned enough credits for an associates degree, or even a bachelor’s degree, and will have interned at Belkin.
“We’re a really good fit for someone who thrives in a small school setting,” Portal’s director of outreach and recruitment, Valerie Green, said on the February Zoom call. “It’s a good fit for a student who thrives in project-based, collaborative learning.”
Each student will have a personalized curriculum.
“It’s not time-bound, in the traditional sense,” Green said. “So students can actually accelerate and move quickly if that’s their pacing, or they can slow down and take more time if they need it.”
Portal’s board includes Matthew Wunder, co-founder of Da Vinci School, in Hawthorne, whose board Pipkin serves on.
Marina Del Rey resident Heather Goran has two sons, 18-months apart. Ethan, the older of the two, will be attending Portal when it welcomes its first ninth graders in August.
“Pipkin said he wants students to contribute to his company,” Goren said. “And where else do you get that opportunity?”
Goren said she’s long felt that high schools weren’t spending enough time preparing students for the workplace, and wanted to find a school where her son could pick the path that best suits him.
Kate Parsons, Portal’s Chief Operating Officer, believes Portal students will be better prepared for the workforce because they will have spent time learning skills.
“There’s a huge skills gap issue,” Parsons said. “And a lot of companies’ applicant pools are not as qualified, or not as representative and diverse, as companies want them to be. Portal hopes to close that gap,” she said.
To learn more, visit portalschools.org or email Valerie Green, Director of Community Outreach, at firstname.lastname@example.org. ER