Tuesday, February 27, 2018

A Story From Neighborhood Recruitment

I was doing some active student recruitment this afternoon- basically walking around the neighborhood putting KIPP North enrollment flyers between screen doors, push pinning info on the bulletin board at the local library, and talking to anyone who was out and about on this really lovely day about the new school. It’s important work because it’s really important that families in the immediate area around the school know we are opening and have all the info they need to apply by our deadline. I don’t want anyone who could have had a spot to miss out just because they didn’t know we existed.

I always enjoy doing this work, but today I had a conversation that was basically the perfect encapsulation of why this work matters and why it’s important to get out an actively recruit. I was walking down a street about a block from the school when a man called out to me from his doorway asking what information I was handing out. When I explained it was for a new school opening up that would have kindergarten and 1st grade next year, his eyes lit up. “My daughter goes to kindergarten at the school down that way (pointing in the direction of the nearest district school) and she’s not doing well. They keep calling and saying she’s causing all this trouble but I see how kids treat each other there and it’s not a safe place. She’s learning from this other kids and thinks she needs to protect herself. I need to get her out of there.” I asked a few questions about what he sees as the problem and what he’s already tried to see if I could offer any advice. Then we transitioned to talking about him and his family, with me learning more about him and his family. He attended Stanton (where KIPP North will be located) when it was a district school and was a student when the Oscar-winning documentary was made about a year in the life of the school. His parents were Black Panthers in the 60s and he’s “all about love and education. Love and education!” Besides living right near the school, he works doing minor auto repair for folks in the neighborhood. He made sure to get me to promise to tell all my teachers to come and get his help before calling AAA if they ever have a flat tire.

All that to say, KIPP North opening up in his old elementary school, us having the grade his daughter will be in, and our commitment to educating the whole child in a loving environment really made him excited.

We chatted for about 10 more minutes and I made sure he got our information and application form so that he can apply for his daughter before our deadline on Thursday. I’m going to stop by tomorrow to make sure he does. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

KNPA Updates

A couple of updates as we get ready to open up KIPP North Philadelphia Academy this summer.

1. We have  a logo! It looks pretty cool and the visual design keeps our focus on the "North" in North Philadelphia

2. We've been hosting Family information sessions & Open Houses both at our original elementary school in North Philadelphia (KPEA), as well as the future home of KIPP North. These are optional for families to attend, but we want to offer up a variety of ways for prospective families to get to learn more about what we do at KIPP Philadelphia. At just this session last week, I got to talk with a KIPP Philly alum who is interested in enrolling her son, a mom who lives right near the school and attending elementary school in the same building where KIPP North will be located, and the sister of a founding student at KPEA who is looking for a school for her daughter. 

3. We're almost 50% hired for next year which is right on target for where we want to be at this time of year. But we're still looking for great teachers for all roles. Check out our careers page. http://kippphiladelphia.org/join-our-team/

Monday, February 19, 2018

My Answer

Last week I was interviewing a prospective teacher and as we were wrapping up, I asked her if she had any questions for me. She had a couple of good questions and then ended with this one; “You’ve been doing this work for a pretty long time. What keeps you motivated and excited to get out of bed each morning?” Here was my answer…

There are lots of ways I could answer that question because there are many reasons I love my job. But I’ll give you two – one more tangible and one bigger picture. The first reason is working in a school is a ton of fun. Those old clich├ęs are true - kids really do and say the craziest things and every day really is different. Kids are full of energy, curiosity, and love and getting to be around them all day brings me a ton of energy and fun too. What other job do you get to watch 4th graders perform a touching poem about his best friend where the principal (me) is the villain for trying to put them in different homerooms this year? Or get to see kindergarteners dress up like elderly folks to celebrate the 100th day of school, complete with canes and a pocketbook full of mints like their own grandmother has? Or try to figure out just how did that giant piece of poop end up in the middle of the bathroom floor?

At the same time, working with kids gives you the chance to do something with the gnawing feeling in your stomach many of us have that the world is full of increasing darkness. Whether it’s violence in our communities that are so common that they just barely makes the local news or tragedies like the one in Florida that dominate the national conversation (not to mention the policies of our current administration) we know there are many times our students have questions/worries/fears and as educators we don’t know what to say to them. Do we say anything at all? What if we say the “wrong” thing? How do we comfort our kids when we don’t feel any comfort ourselves? 

And yet…I’d much rather have that pressure and responsibility than not. We are in the unique position to take our feelings of fear, frustration, and despair and channel them into doing some good about them as part of our actual jobs. Most people in most jobs don’t get that chance since their day to day just keeps rolling along; filling out that spreadsheet, roasting that chicken, or cutting that next head of hair basically go on as usual. But as an educator, you have kids sitting right in front of you. And that gives you an opportunity to push back against the darkness in the world and take real action to bring more light into the world. You can make tomorrow joyful, caring, and engaging for your students. You help your students reach their fullest potentials so they can be the leaders of tomorrow we need. And when things are darkest, you can be there to show students they have people around them who love and care for them. I’ll never forget gathering all of our students together the day of the Sandy Hook school shooting to talk to them before they got on the bus home. Knowing they would hear about this horrible tragedy that had taken place to kids their age at a school that could have been theirs, I wanted their teachers and school staff to tell them what had happened, how much we loved them, and how we make sure they are safe in our building. 

Both that day and today, I don’t pretend to have the answers to our country’s problems but I know that every day I’m working with kids,  I’m doing something to push back against the worst our world has to offer. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

KIPP North Philadelphia Academy - Coming August 2018

1. You’re starting a new school this summer, right? What’s the 30 second summary?
KIPP North Philadelphia Academy (KNPA) is a new, K-8 school proudly located in the heart of North Philadelphia. Part of KIPP Philadelphia Schools, KNPA opens in August 2018 with kindergarten and 1st grade and will grow to be a K-8 school serving almost 900 students by 2022. KIPP Philadelphia Schools has been deeply committed to the North Philadelphia community since its founding in 2003 and intentionally located KNPA in a former district building at 16th and Cumberland. Students living in the 19121 & 19132 zip codes will be picked in the enrollment lottery before students from the rest of the city, with at least 50% of the spots reserved for students living in this area. Building off the success of KIPP Philadelphia’s original elementary school, which is this highest performing public elementary school in North Philadelphia, KNPA has the potential to more than double the number of students in this community doing math and reading on grade level.    

After 8 years founding and leading KIPP Philadelphia’s first elementary school, Ben Speicher (that’s me) is transitioning out of that role and will be the founding school leader at KIPP North Philadelphia Academy.

 2. Why is KIPP Philadelphia starting a new school? 
At KIPP Philadelphia, we know families in North Philadelphia are eager for a great elementary school for their children – at our current North Philadelphia elementary school we get over 600 families who want to enroll for kindergarten and have only space for 100 of those students. And it’s not just the numbers that show this enthusiasm, it’s the personal stories we hear. When we have enrollment Open Houses each year we talk to dozens of prospective family members who each have a unique story about why they are so interested in a KIPP education, but what they all have in common is that they are desperate for a better school for their child. Simply put there are not enough great schools for all the families looking for other options like what we offer at KIPP Philadelphia.
3. Why locate this school in North Philly?
KIPP Philadelphia Schools has been deeply committed to the North Philadelphia community since its founding in 2003 with both our original middle and elementary schools being located in North Philadelphia. The greater North Philadelphia neighborhood is also where many of our current students and families live and we hear from them all the time about the need for more options in their neighborhoods. Families know that their kids have unlimited potential but they simply aren’t getting the education they deserve. We intentionally located KIPP North Philadelphia in a former district building at 16th and Cumberland and reserved at least 50% of its spots for students living in the 19121 and 19132 zip codes (basically the area of North Philadelphia from Girard to Allegheny and Broad to 33rd) directly surrounding the school’s location to make sure we were partnering with that specific community.

This area of North Philadelphia is a community rich with history, community leadership, and grass-roots organizations, but after decades of political and economic disinvestment and deindustrialization, the 19121/19132 zip codes have some of the highest rates of poverty in Philadelphia, which itself is the poorest big city in the country. The lack of economic opportunities, stable housing, and social service supports has impacted educational opportunities and outcomes for kids in North Philadelphia. As a result, even with hard work from families and educators, very few students in neighborhood schools in North Philadelphia are achieving academically at a level that puts them on a path to college and career readiness. As an example, in the 19121/19132 zip codes there are 12 different neighborhood elementary schools educating thousands and thousands of kids. In all of these schools put together, only 26 kids total passed the 4th grade state math test. A number of schools had zero students pass this test. At KIPP Philadelphia’s current elementary school, located in North Philadelphia, there were 34 students who passed this test last year. We want to build on the success our current students have achieved and KIPP North Philadelphia Academy has the potential to more than double the number of students in this community doing math and reading on grade level.    

4. Why locate the school in this specific building in particular and why have a zip code preference for enrollment?
KIPP North Philadelphia Academy will be located in the former M. Hall Stanton school building at 16th and Cumberland. This building currently houses KIPP Philadelphia Prep, our original middle school and before that it was a K-8 school in the School District of Philadelphia. M. Hall Stanton was shut down in 2013 due to declining enrollment and low test scores. During the shutdown process and in the years after, local community members around the school argued passionately about having a school in this building, in particular an elementary school. The combination of this community demand and the building itself having a cafeteria, gym, and auditorium space made it great option as we looked for potential locations for KIPP North Philadelphia. 
Most charters in Philadelphia have citywide admission which means someone living close to the school has no better chance of being picked in the random lottery as a family living on the other side of the city. To address this challenge, we worked with the School District of Philadelphia during the charter approval process and advocated reserving at least 50% of our spots for students in the 19121/19132 zip codes. What this means in practice is that students living in the 19121 & 19132 zip codes will be picked in the lottery before students from the rest of the city. Our goal is that all 100 spots in kindergarten and 100 spots for 1st grade are filled by students from these communities in North Philadelphia, ensuring we are really educating students who need great options the most. Additionally, having mostly students from the immediate area allows closer partnership between the school, family, and community resources. As just one example, when we do a community service project at school, we can partner with community groups so that our project is benefiting the neighborhood’s where our students live. 

5.  Why make this a K-8 school? 
Traditionally KIPP schools have been either elementary schools (K-4) or middle schools (5-8) but in recent years there have been KIPP regions across the country experimenting with a unified K-8 model. We’re excited to pilot this model at KIPP Philadelphia, apply lessons learned from our existing elementary and middle schools, and then experiment to see what works best in K-8 setting.
While we don’t have all the answers, we’re excited about some of the benefits of a K-8 school, including:  
  • The ability to extend our elementary school student culture approach based on joy, strong relationships, and meeting individual student needs up into a middle school.
  • We can provide a unified school experience for kids from the moment they first step into school up through the time they head off to high school while at the same time differentiating that experience by age. As one example, we can have high-quality and aligned extra-curricular & artistic experiences for students.
  • We can sustain deeper relationships with kids & families, and forge stronger relationships with the surrounding community.
  • For our older students, we can provide more opportunities for them to serve as leaders and role models with the younger students in the school.
Additionally, we’re looking forward to building a school from the ground up that integrates social justice and culturally responsive curriculum in a way that we didn't back in 2010 when KPEA opened. KNPA will educate predominately African-American kids and families in North Philadelphia and that needs to inform what and how we teach. Students must know their history/background, their place in the world, and see how they can positively impact their community. 
6. How will this school grow over time?
In August of 2018 we open with 100 kindergarten students and 100 1st grade students. The next year we add 2nd grade (for those rising 1st graders) and also add 5th grade. From there we fill in the remaining grades until we eventually get to K-8 and 860 students by 2022. The key idea is that students who start with us in any grade will be able to attend school at KNPA through 8th grade, all in the same building.In chart form this looks like:
  • 2018-2019 – K/1
  • 2019-2020 – K/1/2/5
  • 2020-2021 – K/1/2/3/5/6
  • 2021-2022 – K/1/2/3/4/5/6/7
  • 2022-2023 – K/1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8
7.  How are you building off the success at your original KIPP Philadelphia elementary school?
While this is a new school and a new K-8 model, KNPA is building off the successful elementary model from our founding elementary school, KIPP Philadelphia Elementary Academy. That school achieves results on the state test that put it in the top 10% of all schools in Philadelphia. In fact, it’s the highest performing school in North Philadelphia and had the highest results anywhere in the city for schools that educate a predominately African-American student body.
We’ve accomplished all of that while also making sure we serve students and families who need a great education most. Almost 90% of our students qualify for free/reduced price lunch and about 25% have special needs of one kind. We rarely suspend students (about 2% suspension rate), never expel them, and have super high student retention numbers with 98% of students coming back each year.
We’ve achieved those results through a ton of hard work by lots of people and some best practices that will definitely be true at KIPP North:
  • A school culture that is joyful, safe, and loving.
  • Great teachers who get the support they need so they can be at their best for their students.
  • Tons of small group and individualized instruction for kids so each student gets lots of instruction at their current academic level.
  • A rich, well-rounded curriculum that includes science, social studies, art, music, yoga, and tons more.
  • Active partnership between the school and families working together to support students
8. What positions are you hiring for this year?
Great teachers and school staff are by far, the biggest key to a great school. We’re looking for joyful, gritty, talented, and committed educators to join our team. All of our positions are either posted on the KIPP Philadelphia School’s job board or will soon be. We’re looking for:
  • Kindergarten and 1st grade lead teachers – are you a great teacher looking to make an even bigger impact? Are you inspired by working on a team to build something new? Do you believe deeply that kids in North Philadelphia have unlimited potential and deserve fantastic teachers to help them unlock it? Do you love teaching?
  • Kindergarten and 1st grade Liberty Teaching Fellows – are you new to teaching and want to be in a role that will support you in your development? Do you have a passion for our mission and will put in the hard work so you and your students reach big goals? 
  • Social worker – do you have an amazing ability to build relationships with kids and families? Are you an expert at connecting kids and families to services and community resources? Do you have an unshakeable belief in the potential of every kid?
  • Art or music teacher – do you believe deeply that kids in North Philly deserve as rich an arts education as kids in private schools? Are you excited about building a music or art program that does that? Can you create amazing lessons that inspire kids to love the arts?
  • Director of Operations –Are you skilled at creating systems to make sure kids, teachers, and families have what they need? Do you have a passion for great customer service in a fast-moving setting? Are you super-efficient and get more done before lunch than most people do all day?  

Friday, November 24, 2017

PSSA 2017 Results and a Powerful Story

In this post, I want to share our 2016-2017 PSSA test results, but first share a really moving story that gets at other ways we measure the impact of our work. 

At KPEA, we pride ourselves on the fact that we serve every kid who comes through our doors. No matter what kind of strengths and challenges they have it’s our job to serve them well. This year we have a new family at KPEA, who I will call the Maxwell family. This family has multiple KIPPsters who started at KPEA this year, including a kindergarten student and a student in an upper grade (thanks to family preference in our lottery). As part of our orientation process, we go out to the home to do a home visit where we get to know new families, the new KIPPsters, and explain key information about our school. From talking to these students’ mom, we knew that her children had a number of needs - academic, behavioral, and social/emotional from the impact of trauma at home. Not only did they receive support in school, they were also accessing additional help through outside behavioral health agencies including a 1-1 behavior aid to help keep them focused and safe in their previous school. Even with those supports, Ms. Maxwell stressed to us that they had really struggled in their previous schools – frequent tantrums, running out of the classroom (and school), hitting other students, and more. When one of our staff members spoke to a counselor at the district elementary school where one of the siblings attended, the counselor "joked" that it wouldn’t be long before we would be kicking the Maxwell kids out and they would be returning to their old district school.

We knew we weren't going to do that (since we never do), but seeing how the siblings behaved when the family came in for our Open House event the day before school started, it was clear it was going to be a big adjustment for our new KIPPsters. They had learned a lot of bad habits about how to behave in school and the first couple of days of school at KPEA were not easy. But the transformation over the last three months has been dramatic. Our classroom teachers have built loving relationships, set clear expectations, and put flexible behavior plans in place. Our student support, social work, and SPED team have coordinated with their mother and outside agencies to align support and communication. Everyone in the building makes sure to show the siblings tons of love when they are doing great and works together to hold them accountable when they make a mistake. While they still have times they struggle (like most kids), the vast majority of the time they are making good choices, focused on their learning, and are loving being at KPEA. Watching them in class you, would have no idea of the depth of their past struggles or all the supports that are currently in place.

While everyone at KPEA was feeling good about the amount of progress already this year, their growth was driven home last week when we happened to have a substitute nurse in the building who previously worked at the same elementary school the siblings attended. When she saw them at KPEA and how successful they were, she actually started crying tears of happiness. Thinking about how much they had struggled in the past, she said “I always knew they could do so well! I’m so happy to see it happening.”      

Of course, anecdotes are one lens of how to measure success. Another way to measure our success is to use standardized test results, especially to measure how our students do compared to others in our city and state. Results for the PSSA, which is the state test in Pennsylvania, were announced in the last month and overall we’re proud of our results at KPEA. There is always lot of work to do when you’re working hard to get kids to and through college but overall our results are up from previous years and continue to show our students are achieving at high levels.  Our results demonstrate that students of color can and do achieve at high levels when you combine talented teachers/staff, awesome kids, and invested families.

Three highlights of our results are summarized below:

We achieve these results serving a student population that is representative of the communities we serve and with very low suspension and student attrition rates.

  • We had a 98.4% in-year student retention rate. 
  • 91% of students who started Day 1 of kindergarten in August of 2012 were promoted from 4th grade this spring. We’ve back-filled those small number of spots over the years. 
  • We had a 2% suspension rate, meaning 98% of students at KPEA were not suspended last school year.
  • 69% of students qualify for some form of public assistance and 89% of students qualify for free/reduced lunch.
  • 26% of students qualify for special education services
  • 99% of students are people of color, including 93% who are African-American

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Year in Review

We recently wrapped up the 2016-2017 school year at KPEA, our seventh year as a school and the third year we've promoted a class of 4th graders onto middle school. Like just about any school anywhere, by the end of the year every adult in the building is running on fumes and it's sometimes hard to gather up the mental energy to appreciate all that has been accomplished in a year. In the relatively more relaxed week since we finished up with students and staff, I've both started to look ahead to next year and had some more time to let this year sink in. Combined with the (early!) release of our PSSA (state test) results at the end of last week, it seemed like a good time to put all of our accomplishments in one place.

When I think about this year at KPEA, I don't just think about our school-wide accomplishments (and the many, many, many places we're working to get better), but this year I'm also thinking about my son who was in kindergarten this year at KPEA. At the start of the year, I wrote about the decision my wife and I made to send him to KPEA so I wanted to include some thoughts about how his year went and what it was like having my son at school with me.

One last item before jumping in - there are lots of results below that I'm super proud of. People sometimes ask me what I think contributes to those achievements and to be honest, I wish I had a "cooler" answer. We try and do a bunch of things we think are important (tons of small group instruction, smart use of data, a positive student culture vision, deep family engagement, etc.) but none of those are ideas that most schools aren't already aiming for. The reason for our success is really pretty boring - we have amazing teachers and staff who care a ton, work really hard, and push themselves to always be getting better. You see the impact of their talent both in our PSSA scores and in how much my son loves learning. 

KPEA end of year academic results: 
  • Overall PSSA results were up over last year, with math results rising from an average of 39% scoring advanced/proficient last year to 53% scoring at that level this year, an increase of 42 percent from the 15-16 school year.
  • Both 3rd and 4th grade ELA results are now at almost 60% scoring advanced/proficient, up from 47% two years ago.
  • While we don’t yet know how other schools across the city or state did, we do have last year’s results to compare them to. If those comparison averages stay relatively stable, our PSSA scores in ELA and math are at least double the district average and those scores would be about equal to the PA state averages. Like last year, we expect to be among the highest scoring elementary schools in the city educating traditionally underserved students. 
  • Besides the PSSA, our students take the nationally normed NWEA MAP assessment which allows us to compare our students to typical students all across the country. On this assessment, more than half of our 3rd and 4th grades score at or above the 50th percentile (national average). In other words, our students from North Philadelphia are achieving at levels at or above what is typical for any student in the country.
  • Nearly 90% of kindergarten students are reading on grade level according to our STEP literacy assessment. 

Additional student accomplishments:
  • Our awesome school garden was honored at an event featuring Dole, Shop Rite, and Captain Planet.
  • 3rd graders performed at Carnegie Hall with hundreds of other students as part of the Link Up program.
  • 4th graders earned the highest level at the city-wide Reading Olympics 
  • 4th graders created and presented projects about how to make their neighborhood or city a better place 
  • Student went on field trips to farms, museums, wildlife centers, aquariums, the Statue of Liberty, and so many more. 

Student culture/demographics:
  • We had a 98.4% in-year student retention rate. 
  • 91% of students who started Day 1 of kindergarten in August of 2012 were promoted from 4th grade this spring. We’ve back-filled those small number of spots over the years. 
  • We had a 2% suspension rate, meaning 98% of students at KPEA were not suspended.
  • We have a robust social work program, including one of the few charters schools in city to have the FAST program working to support families. 
  • 69% of students qualify for some form of public assistance and 89% of students qualify for free/reduced lunch.
  • 26% of students qualify for special education services
  • 99% of students are people of color, including 93% who are African-American

Staff culture/demographics:
  • 87% of KPEA teacher/staff are coming back next year to a role at KIPP Philly (this includes two staff members moving into new roles in our organization as we grow)
  • We maintained our 100% rate (8 for 8) of new assistant principals over the years being promoted from being a teacher at KPEA. 
  • Half of our teachers/staff are people of color.  

Now a little bit about my son's experience. In short, it was wonderful. He loves school, learning, and being a KIPPster. I loved getting to peak on him working hard in his classroom, him getting to stop in at my office to say "hi" on his way to the bathroom, and our weekly routine of getting bagels and going in early to school every Wednesday. He has lots of friends both in his classroom and in our after school program. He was pushed academically to achieve at a high level (bragging here - but he's on a 2nd grade reading level) due to all the differentiation we do, even going to 1st grade for math two days a week. He created really awesome art projects, wrote creative stories, and even though he didn't like singing publicly in class, loved singing songs he learned in music class when we got home. When he was having a hard time handling consequences early in the year, his teachers were the perfect combination of firm and flexible with him and he quickly made progress. And being in a classroom full of students who don't look like him was really great too. He was exposed to ideas and experiences that are different than his own and he was full of questions - as well as answers to his friends' questions. Driving home from school we talked about what he did in art class or what book he read in guided reading, but we also discussed race, religion, racism, and why there is a Black History Month, but not a White History Month. I didn't always know exactly what the right answer was for all of his questions but the fact that he was asking them let me know we had made the right decision to send him to KPEA. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

PSSA results

Results for the PSSA, which is the state test in Pennsylvania, were announced in the last few weeks and overall, we’re proud of our results at KPEA. There is always lot of work to do when you’re working hard to get kids to and through college and we have so many areas we're working hard to make stronger this year. But in the second year of the more challenging, Common Core-aligned PSSA test, the results are showing that KPEA is exceeding other schools serving similar students.

I’ll focus mostly on our 3rd grade ELA results which are particularly important since research shows 3rd grade reading is such a predictor of future success. I’ll share two comparisons that show why I’m so proud of the work we do at KPEA.

On that 3rd grade ELA test, 60% of students at KPEA scored either advanced or proficient, which compares to 32% for the average of Mastery Charter elementary schools (a high performing turnaround charter network in Philadelphia), 30% for the School District of Philadelphia overall, and 14% for the 10 closest schools to KPEA in North Philadelphia.

At KPEA, we serve primarily African-American students and most of our students qualify as low-income. In fact, 93% of our students qualify for free/reduced price lunch and 65% of families qualify for some kind of public assistance. Counting both charter schools and district schools, there are 203 schools in Philadelphia that have 3rd graders. Of the schools that serve a similar percentage of students living in poverty, KPEA scored the 3rd highest in the entire city. 

These results are a testament to the hard work of our staff, the commitment from our families, and the intelligence and determination of our KIPPsters. When you have adults working hard together to support amazing children, you can achieve great things.

And if you’re wondering about some other details about our school:
  • More than 25% of our students have IEPs, including students with intellectual disabilities, autism, Down syndrome, hearing impairments, etc.
  • Our attrition rate was less than 2% last year (August-June) and almost 90% of our first two promoting classes of 4th graders were with us since kindergarten. 
  • We backfill any open spots at all grades and at all points during the year. 
  • We suspended fewer than 10 students last year in a school of nearly 400 students.