Richard Barth's Weekly Thoughts: First Week of School

ByRichard Barth, KIPP Foundation CEO



To everyone who is just finishing their first week of school – congratulations!

Given how much you care about your students and families, I know it is not easy to start a school year virtually. But it has been amazing to see all of the ways in which our team and family are building connections and establishing relationships even when we can’t be together in classrooms. And to our team in Jacksonville, who launched the school year in person this week — a special hats off to you for all the preparation you did to meet this moment!

The past few weeks I have been highlighting how our team and family is growing (we are 255 schools strong!) and meeting this moment with head and heart. I am especially proud of all the ways everyone is leaning into our mission to provide an academically excellent and joyous experience for our KIPPsters –no matter how the world challenges us.

Bay Area is Growing 

First of all, please send your support to our team in the Bay Area as their communities are being affected by wildfires.

I wanted to let you all know that KIPP Bay Area Public Schools is now KIPP Public Schools Northern California! The decision was made to be able to represent and include all their school communities.

KIPP Public Schools Northern California is proud to be working with more than 6,600 students in 16 elementary, middle, and high schools across Northern California this year. This includes the region’s newest high school, KIPP Esperanza High School in East Palo Alto! Starting a founding year with distance learning during a pandemic is definitely a challenge, but school leader Joel Portillo and his team have done great work building a school community with their new students and families virtually over Zoom and Facebook Live.

NorCal has also successfully launched their 2020-21 school year with distance learning. Every student has received a Chromebook and their schools are fully set up for online instruction via Clever, Google Classrooms, and student Zoom accounts. The region continues incorporating restorative practices and counseling services virtually, including a partnership with Turnaround for Children to address the impact of stress, trauma, and anxiety related to COVID-19.

New Jersey Gears Up

This week, KIPP students in New Jersey picked up their laptops in preparation for the start of the school year, which will be all-virtual until at least October. The New York Times featured NJ’s preparations and highlighted how they’ve learned that limiting class sizes maybe even more important online than in the physical classroom.

In addition, at some schools in the region teachers will receive training in suicide prevention, grief counseling, and how to identify signs of distress in a virtual learning environment. Read more about their “calming corners” in classrooms for online wellness space in this Washington Post article.

Indy Preps for E-Learning 

Last week, Indy held 1,200 family conferences to prepare for the start of E-Learning, with over 94 percent of families participating. During these meetings, teachers sat down with students and families to go over the daily schedule and expectations for virtual class time. The region has also created a Google site where families can go to get tech support for E-Learning.

KIPP is partnering with local organizations to help make remote learning manageable for both students and parents. For example, the Edna Martin Christian Center—which is located next door to KIPP Indy Legacy High School—will serve as a community learning site during weekday business hours, to relieve working parents and provide a safe, socially-distanced space for students to learn

All-Female Robotics Team Forges Ahead 

The school year may be starting all-virtual, but that’s not stopping KIPP Academy of Opportunity’s robotics team! With support from Amazon’s Future Engineer program, the all-female KAOBOT1 Robotics Team is gearing up to compete virtually at the Los Angeles FIRST Lego League tournament this fall. The team has been meeting virtually over the summer and have attended online AI training while connecting with other students from across the state and all over the world. Team members will each have a robot to practice with and will share a challenge set for the competition.

Lesly Martinez-Lopez, a member of the robotics team, says: “I used to be shy and now, because of STEAM/Robotics, it opened the opportunities for me to develop my self-esteem. I want this opportunity to be available and to inspire other girls and boys.”

Check out the amazing video above and this blog post highlighting the KAOBOT1 team!

2020 Commitment March

On August 28th, KIPP DC Public Schools will be taking the day off to observe the 2020 Commitment March, in honor of the anniversary of the historic 1963 March on Washington. To commemorate this significant event, DC will offer both on-the-ground and virtual ways for our team and family to engage. For those wishing to attend the 2020 march in person, KIPP DC is partnering with the National Action Network to volunteer throughout the march at the National Mall. For more information visit the National Action Network website.

KIPP DC will also offer a virtual day of learning for students, families, and staff while schools are closed. They are planning to offer a wide range of sessions and conversations over the course of the day, from article discussions to interactive activities, short video viewings, and open discussions on topics related to Black Lives Matter; Black history; and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Congratulations to Marsha Reeves, KIPP Baltimore’s executive director, who has been named one of the Maryland Daily Record’s Top 100 Women for 2020! Marsha was honored in a virtual event on July 27, along with her fellow members of the 2020 cohort.

Let’s also celebrate Jessica Cunningham Akoto, KIPP Philadelphia Public Schools’ CEO who just received the Philadelphia Business Journal 2020 Minority Business Leader Award!

I want to close by correcting a mistake — last week, the name of Tricia Kiely Dong was misspelled on the cohort list of 2020-2021 Fisher Fellows. Tricia, thank you again for your commitment and passion to step into the school leader seat!