KIPP Director Takes Helm In Perfect Storm

BySteve Krause
KIPP ED Nikki Barnes

LYNN — Rhonda “Nikki” Barnes would have preferred better circumstances than an international pandemic for her debut as executive director of KIPP-Massachusetts.

“It wouldn’t have been what I’d have chosen,” said Barnes, who advanced to the position at the Lynn charter school after Caleb Dolan stepped down over the summer. “But one of the things I’ve done in KIPP-MA is take on challenging situations and bring everyone together.

“So,” she said, “we can weather this storm together.”

Barnes will direct KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) academies on three Boston-area campuses — two in Lynn and one in Mattapan. And while one pandemic is still very much in the news, the other one causes her concern as well.

“We have two pandemics, actually,” she said. “One is COVID, obviously. The other is the renewal in our talk of racism and anti-racism in the country. I want to take our school through both of them.”

Each is daunting, she said.

Barnes said as far as COVID is concerned, “this is a year of renewal, not recovery. There won’t be a recovery unless and until there’s a vaccine. So we have to put safety first.”

Like all the other Lynn public schools, KIPP is operating remotely at this stage of the academic year. But she says the advantage KIPP and other schools have now, as opposed to last March, is that they’ve had a summer to plan for learning via computer.

“What’s unique about our approach, after having a summer to plan for it, is that we’re walking hand-in-hand with parents to co-author the children’s education,” she said. “Historically, parents work, they drop their kids off at school, and we do seemingly magical things there.

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