Thursday, December 8, 2016

KIPP North Philadelphia Charter

Next year I’m going to move on from my role as founding school leader at KIPP Philadelphia Elementary, the school I started in 2010, to be the founding school leader at KIPP North Philadelphia Charter School, our region’s first K-8 school. We’ll start with kinder and 1st grade next year, add 2nd and 5th grade the following year, and then add the remaining grades in the following three years, eventually serving 860 students by 2022.

Over the last 7 years, my team and I have learned a lot about what works in building a great elementary school and I’m excited to take those lessons to this new school. KIPP Philadelphia Elementary is a model for the entire KIPP network and the Philly charter community about what it truly means to serve all students. We serve a high percentage of students with special needs. We have super low student attrition (and backfill if kids leave). We never kick kids out and very rarely use suspensions. At the same time, we get some of the highest results of an elementary school in the city serving a similar student population (top 3 in 3rd grade reading this year). Our students perform each year at Carnegie Hall, create beautiful works for art, and achieve in the highest category at the Reading Olympics competition. We have an incredibly strong group of teachers, including two KIPP Foundation Teacher of the Year award winners in 7 years and a stable leadership team, all who have risen through the teaching ranks in our building. We have amazing families who play an active and vibrant role in our school and their children’s success.

I want to take this success and use the lessons we’ve learned though a bunch of failures to make the K-4 school even better for kids, extend our approach, especially about student culture, up through a middle school, and most excitingly for me, 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. By running a K-8 as one school, we can sustain deeper relationships with kids & families, have aligned extra-curricular & artistic experiences for students, and forge deeper relationships with the surrounding community. By doing this, we can make sure we're putting even more students on a surer foundation to go to and through college and have a major impact on our North Philadelphia community.

The new school will be located in the heart of North Philadelphia in the M. Hall Stanton building, which also houses one of KIPP Philadelphia’s 5-8 grade middle school.

We're going to need a bunch of great teachers, leaders, social workers, etc. so if you know someone great to be part of this founding team, let me know!

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. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Order ≠ Justice

Adapted from an email I sent my staff after the first week of school at KPEA last week. 

I have a whiteboard in my office where I work out problems and jot down random thoughts on my mind. If you could see my whiteboard right now, it would show lots of unfinished tasks from this summer and some big ideas for this school year, including the short phrase, “Order ≠ Justice”. This idea has been burrowing deeper and deeper in my head all summer, thanks primarily to educator and activist Brittany Packnett who has written a number of times about it on Twitter (seriously if you don't follow her on Twitter I don't think we can be friends).

Whether we’re talking about schools, responding to protests, or policing in general, people in power too often value “order” above all else and confuse control/order/lack of disruption for justice. In schools, we are those people in power – as weird as that is sometimes to think about – and it’s so easy to slip into a mindset where “order” is the central goal. Too many schools in fact don’t just slip into that mindset; they proudly plant their flag there.

Of course, we know a calm, structured learning environment is essential for any school. But doing right by and with kids – which is basically what justice means to me in our context – needs to be what we aim for. It means we get to calm, engaged, focused, and fun learning environments not because kids are afraid of us or worried about getting a detention. It means our goal cannot simply be compliance. It means we can't think about our job as so tightly regulating our students' behavior that it's impossible for them to make a mistake- because by doing so it means we've also taken away any freedom from them.

Instead we aim to build calm, engaged, focused, fun school because students trust the adults in the building, they are invested in themselves and the work we do together, and they know we have their best interests in mind. They know they matter to us and we treat them as the young, but important people they are.

I say all of this because when I walk around KPEA right now I see untold examples of us leading and teaching with justice in mind, not simply order. We don’t yell at kids. We don’t obsess over trifling “offences” that really don’t matter. We don’t expect 25 7-year olds to all do everything the same way. We don’t confuse rote compliance with authentic learning and real investment. 

Instead, I see us starting the day with morning meetings that start the day off right for us and our kids. First thing in the morning, kids are singing and dancing, they’re doing yoga breathing; we’re playing Responsive Classroom community building games together; and we’re having kids share how they feel this morning. When kids are struggling in some way, we’re giving them 1-1 attention so we can work through whatever is going on together. Sometimes we’re simply giving a hug and some space. We’re giving kids options and choice and asking them “what can we do to make this go better next time? What ideas do you have?” I see us building deep relationships with kids and families already and when needed, making sure families are getting the support they need so they can support their kids. I see us asking ourselves, “what kind of classroom would I want to be a part of if I was a student?” I see students authentically reflecting on their day before they go home and setting their own goals for what they want tomorrow to look like. I see students learning about limits by having the freedom to make good choices and learn from the bad. I see kids having choice, freedom, and the trust of the adults in the building. I see us aiming for justice. 

I’m proud to do this important work with you all and continue to build a school that understands that we must never confuse order for justice for our kids.