Catalyst Academy

Catalyst Academy is one of twenty organizations celebrated for stepping up for underserved students during the pandemic

Pittsburgh, Penn. – (December 1, 2021) – Catalyst Academy, a public charter school in Pittsburgh, was selected by the Center for Education Reform and its media partner, Forbes, as one of 20 semifinalists for the $1 Million STOP Award to recognize education providers who persevered through the pandemic and delivered for underserved students.

The first-of-its-kind STOP Award highlights education providers that strive to offer education that is Sustainable, Transformational, Outstanding and Permissionless. Catalyst Academy is the only semi-finalist from Pennsylvania, and was selected out of hundreds of national applicants.

Catalyst Academy opened its doors in the 2020-2021 school year as a new public charter school. Catalyst Academy was the rare public school in the city of Pittsburgh that delivered in-person learning five days a week, while simultaneously offering distance learning for families that requested it.

“When the pandemic hit, it became clear that disadvantaged students would have far less access to in-person learning than their more advantaged peers, and thus receive inferior instruction leading to more learning loss. We did not want this to happen to our students, so we did what many told us was impossible. We opened a brand new school for in-person learning five days a week during the pandemic.” said Brian Smith, Founder & CEO of Catalyst Academy Charter School.  “We are enormously grateful to the Center for Education Reform for recognizing our work and commitment to the families we are proud to serve.”

Catalyst Academy faced numerous additional challenges brought on by the pandemic. For example, their school renovation was halted when all construction was stopped in Pennsylvania. Fundraising for start-up costs became extremely difficult, and technology order backlogs were extensive. Despite these challenges, Catalyst was able to provide daily in-person learning from the beginning of the school year and also have an iPad available for every student on day one.

“Opening a new school in normal times is incredibly challenging. Opening a new school during a pandemic is even more so. It required our entire team to be creative, resourceful, and flexible as we tackled each challenge the pandemic brought. With our mission always at the heart of our decision-making, our teachers and staff repeatedly rose to meet the challenge.” noted Darren Gray, Catalyst Academy’s Founding Principal.

Catalyst Academy was founded to tackle historical achievement and opportunity gaps in the education of disadvantaged children in Pittsburgh. Catalyst Academy is located in Pittsburgh’s Lincoln-Lemington neighborhood and currently serves 180 students, nearly all children of color and 80% economically disadvantaged, in kindergarten through 2nd grade. Catalyst Academy will add a grade per year to eventually serve Kindergarten through 8th grade.

About Catalyst Academy

At Catalyst Academy, we believe a great education is a catalyst for each of our scholars to define and achieve their dreams. Our common values – belong, grow and achieve – are the cornerstone of our educational efforts. Find more information at or call 412-684-2400.