Richard Barth's Weekly Thoughts: Living Out Our Mission

ByRichard Barth, KIPP Foundation CEO

America lost a titan of the civil rights movement last week. U.S. Representative John Lewis passed away on Friday at the age of 80, leaving behind a legacy of heroic leadership and remarkable moral courage in the fight for racial justice. For folks who have been at KIPP for years, you know that Rep. Lewis loved KIPP. Over the course of twenty years, dozens of classes of our KIPPsters had the honor of meeting Rep. Lewis. He always made time, because he believed in the power of young people and he was always optimistic about the future.

Living Out Our Mission

We are one week closer to the start of school. I want to share my deepest gratitude to each and every one of you for all you are doing to get prepared for the return of our KIPPsters. Even though the situation with COVID-19 remains fluid, and even as many of our school re-starts have been converted to virtual launches for the school year, our KIPP Team and Family is pushing through.

Our executive directors and regional leadership teams across the country are doing a tremendous job navigating through this. I have been in touch with all of them, and they are living out our commitments to putting safety first, to working in partnership with state and local elected officials, and to engaging extensively with our families. It’s been inspiring to watch their leadership in action, and to watch all of us adapt to the current moment. I am so proud of all of you.

I had a number of conversations this week with folks from different parts of the country, discussions that centered around a simple question: How do we live out our mission in the midst of COVID-19? In each of these conversations, it became clear that our mission has never mattered more than it does today. And through these discussions it became clear that we are already living out this mission in many ways right now. Just consider the following:

Our KIPP staff are finding new ways to work together with families. I am hearing many stories about engaging with families in ways that we have never before attempted and learning that in some cases these new approaches may even be more effective than our past efforts. For example, in Massachusetts, KIPP is getting higher attendance with virtual Open Houses than in-person ones, as families don’t have to get into cars or take public transit to meet with us. And the regional leadership have begun holding weekly, virtual Sunday night chats with our parent leaders from all of our schools, discuss plans for the week ahead and getting real time feedback. If you have more examples that you’re excited to share of ways that you have been connecting with families, please send me a note and let me know!

I know we are all grappling with how to create joyful, academically excellent schools in the midst of a pandemic. What I am hearing in my check-in conversations is an incredible focus on building relationships with our KIPPsters as they return, which is always priority one at the start of the school year. We all know that these relationships are the foundation to creating joyful, academically excellent schools. And we have every reason to believe that this is even more important in a world where we are working together virtually. I loved seeing KIPP TEAM Academy in Newark come together last week (but staying socially distant!) for a book swap! Students exchanged old books with new ones to finish out their summer. If you are excited or proud of what you are doing to create strong relationships and establish a powerful sense of belonging, please send me a note or a picture or a video!

I am seeing so many of you put so much thought into setting up consistent routines, even in a virtual environment. Routines are more important than ever, as we are all living in a world that is rapidly evolving and the unpredictability causes stress. With strong routines and structures in place, our KIPPsters can focus on learning and we can experience joy together. I would love to hear from you about the routines and structures you’re developing for your students. Again, feel free to send me a note or photo or video!

If A Teammate Needs Help, We Give

One of the very best things about KIPP is that we all get to learn from each other. If a teammate needs help, we give. And I have seen so much giving of each other over the last three months. Throughout the spring and summer, KIPP leaders from across the country have been connecting with each other, learning from each other, and sharing plans with each other. This includes our executive directors, our academic leaders, our financial and operations leaders, our KIPP Through College leaders, our development leaders, our communications leaders, our high school leaders and more! Just yesterday, 60 leaders from our development teams met together to learn from each other. It is beyond inspiring.

As much as I am inspired to see everyone planning (and adjusting plans) for the next year, I don’t want anyone to think this means we are not facing one of the most challenging moments in our history. At KIPP, we acknowledge the brutal facts, and work together to get through challenging times. This is a time to be there for each other: each of us has days where we may be particularly anxious or frustrated, and in those days our teammates matter more than ever. I know many of you are already connecting with each other by phone or video, and I encourage all of us to keep that up, and to reach out when you need support. Human connection, even when we’re physically apart, is so important, and none of us should feel like we have to work through this alone.

I am closing my thoughts today with an ask to send your love and support to your colleagues, and then with a reminder of one of our most important responsibilities. First, I am beyond sad to share that over the past few weeks, our KIPP Team and Family has lost three of our KIPPsters to gun violence: Secoriea Turner, Vincent Truitt, and Jace Young. This is heartbreaking news, please join me in sending love and virtual support to our KIPP friends and teammates in Atlanta and San Francisco, as we grieve for the loss of our KIPPsters. I also want to acknowledge the larger implications of this, as our country’s unwillingness to embrace strong regulations and meaningfully address gun violence puts our children and families at risk in ways that we should never accept. To all of you who are working as citizens to address this ever-pressing issue, thank you.

Finally, as I did last week, I want to remind you all of the importance of voting. In 2016, nearly 109 million eligible voters in the United States did not vote. KIPP has partnered with When We All Vote to ensure that everyone in our community is able to exercise their right to vote. To get registered to vote, visit When We All Vote or text KIPP to 56005. If you are already registered, please share this info with others and encourage them to do the same. Your voice matters.