College Achieve Public Schools Named Finalist for $1 Million Education Innovation Prize

The Paterson school is one of just 64 finalists out of more than 2,000 applicants across the country.

PATERSON, NJ– College Achieve Public Schools (CAPS), a network of K-12 schools in Paterson, Plainfield, Asbury Park and Neptune Township, was named a finalist for the 2023 Yass Prize. The prestigious $1 million prize is considered the “Pulitzer of Education Innovation,” and recognizes education organizations for providing a sustainable, transformational, outstanding and permissionless education. As a finalist, CAPS is guaranteed to receive at least $100,000.

CAPS Paterson, which opened in the 2017-18 school year, was recognized for its commitment to prepare all students–regardless of background or family resources–to excel in and graduate from the top colleges and universities in the nation. On the most recent NJ state test, CAPS Paterson outperformed the state in every grade level assessed in English language arts (ELA) and 60% of their students are proficient readers as measured by the NJSLA–making significant progress towards closing the achievement gap. This year, CAPS Paterson will have its first graduating class.

“It has been a challenging last few years for our educators and students, and I’m so proud of what they’ve achieved,” said CAPS Paterson Executive Director Dr. Gemar Mills. “We believe that a great education that takes care of our students’ hearts and minds can disrupt the cycle of poverty, and we are committed to providing a school program that ensures every student has that opportunity.”

Thirty-one states are represented among the 64 awardees who were evaluated in an intensive, three-tier process. This year’s Yass Prize finalists represent a microcosm of 21st century, personalized approaches that better educate students, pre-K and beyond. They include in-person, hybrid and online approaches, and some schools that offer all three; educational metaverses and AI-driven organizations adding important dimensions to address individualized student needs and education technology organizations with substantive solutions to declining student achievement. All applications underwent a thorough and comprehensive review process, including peer review.

“We founded CAPS on the belief that all students have unique gifts and talents–and if given access to a rigorous college preparatory program, they will soar,” said CAPS Founder Michael Piscal. “With an emphasis on providing an education grounded in character, community, emerging technologies, and an  individualized approach, Dr. Mills and the CAPS Paterson team are proving us right.  This year CAPS Paterson will send its first graduating class off to college prepared to excel in and graduate from college in 4 years.  This will transform their lives, their families and communities.  We are passionate about teaching our scholars how to think for themselves, dream big, and develop a college-graduating mindset.”

A key part of CAPS Paterson’s impressive academic results is their commitment to hiring and retaining teachers of color.  Seventy percent of CAPS Paterson teachers identify as people of color, one of the highest in the state.  Studies have found that all students benefit from having teachers of color, in the form of greater engagement, higher achievement, and cross-cultural interactions that can work against harmful stereotypes. For students of color, the benefits are even more significant. Students with the same race as their teacher are more likely to complete high school and go to college, less likely to be suspended, and more likely to be referred to gifted and talented programs. 

The Yass Prize will disburse at least $20 million to education providers this year. The winner will be announced in December. All 64 awardees are listed on the Yass Prize website at

College Achieve Public Schools (CAPS) is a network of K-12 schools in Paterson, Plainfield, Asbury Park and Neptune Township that was created to serve youth who have enormous potential but limited resources. Its mission is to prepare all students to excel in and graduate from the top colleges and universities in the nation. For more information about our schools and how to enroll, visit us at