Ketki Harale believed in the power of education long before she joined Achievement First (AF) in 2012. A charter system operating 41 schools, spanning the states of Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island, AF strives to increase access to high-quality education among students of all backgrounds.
“I’m somebody who’s always been drawn to education as a cause,” Harale says. “As soon as a position became available at AF, I jumped on it. Looking at the expanse we cover and the students we reach out to, it’s really great work that I get to support.”
For Harale, that support takes the shape of overseeing AF’s expanding property portfolio as the organization’s associate chief of facilities and real estate. She keeps one eye on the details and the other on the big picture—the students AF serves—all while leading her team through the challenges that never fail to arise in the world of construction, real estate, and property management.
Harale’s own educational journey began in India, where she grew up and trained as an architect. She moved to the US to attend graduate school at Cornell University. After researching the impact of design on communications in healthcare environments while pursuing her degree, she accepted a facilities analytics role in the wholesale grocery industry.
Harale has always thrived on finding variety in her work, and her experience at AF has been no exception. Since joining as associate director of facilities, she has very much grown alongside the organization. “As the institution grew, the facilities also had to grow—and the people on the team, including me, had to add to what we were doing,” she confirms. “Depending on the year, I took on either just a little bit more or a whole lot more.”
At present, Harale splits her time between attending to individual projects and contributing to AF’s strategic roadmap. The roadmap revolves in large part around the organization’s expansion and facilities’ needs, which includes the ongoing construction of AF Linden Middle School, a 45,000 square-foot project in Brooklyn, New York.
Harale also cites an upcoming extension to AF Iluminar Mayoral Academy, as well as the substantial renovation of AF Providence High School as major projects for AF—and ones made possible by some equally major financing.
“Earlier last year, we closed a $70 million bond for capital financing for facilities acquisitions and construction with the Rhode Island Health and Educational Building Corporation,” she says. “That is one of the largest bonds for a charter school in Rhode Island, and it was a lot of hard work on my team’s part.”
Although she describes her own growth at AF as an organic evolution, Harale is quick to credit her mentors for recognizing what she brings to the table and encouraging her to push herself. She views their support as all the more crucial for her being an Indian woman in the historically male-dominated construction industry.
“I have always been the only one of multiple things—the only Indian person, or the only female person, or the only person under a certain age—in every job I’ve had,” she says. “I’ve become more comfortable as I’ve grown, but it mattered to me to have people I could relate my experiences to, who would be understanding and try to help me find solutions or process those experiences.”
Since stepping into leadership roles, Harale has taken it upon herself to be that person for her team members. “Creating a platform where people can ask for help without being penalized for it has always been important to me. It’s OK to look for resources,” she emphasizes. “I want my team to show up as their whole selves. I want to make sure that I’m taking their whole selves into consideration and supporting them.”
By getting to know her team as people, not just employees, Harale better positions herself to adapt to their needs. When it comes to keeping the team motivated, however, she need look no further than the very mission that attracted her to AF in the first place. “My team is high-performing with a deep, genuine investment in our mission,” she says. “We serve 15,000 scholars, their families, and their communities. It makes you realize that the little delay on getting a permit is just one piece of a very big puzzle.”
As she looks to the future, Harale remains as committed as ever to AF and its students. “My top priority is making sure that my team and I are delivering projects on time and on budget, but equally importantly, creating safe and nurturing environments where our scholars can learn more effectively,” she says. “Our facilities have such a deep impact on all of our students, teachers, and staff. And if it matters to them, it matters to me, too.”
Founded in 1946, Pariseault Builders is an industry leading, full-service Construction Manager and General Contracting firm specializing in challenging institutional projects. We are proud to partner with our valued repeat client Achievement First to strive for excellence and build meaningful learning spaces for our community. Pariseault Builders primarily serves the academic, healthcare, and life science markets across SE MA and RI. Please visit pariseault.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.