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 scores are at least double the district average and those scores would be the same as 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.
  • 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, 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.