Richard Barth's Weekly Thoughts: Preparing for a New School Year

ByRichard Barth, KIPP Foundation CEO

As I sit down at my computer this morning, I want to recognize that this moment we’re in is more fluid than any other I have lived through in my 30 years of doing this work. The impact of this is different based on where you live and teach. Some of you live in states with rising rates of COVID-19, and some of you live in states where rates have experienced a dramatic decline. For some of you, the first day of school is just a week or two away; others will not start school until late August or early September. And on top of all this, different elected officials and leaders are making different decisions on how to move forward.

What we all have in common, however, is the knowledge that little can be guaranteed and that the stress that causes is real. I want to acknowledge this, and reaffirm that KIPP will always keep safety front and center, coordinate with authorities in your state, and listen to you and your families. And, after taking all of these variables into account, we will find a way or make one.

It will not be easy. Two weeks ago, most schools across the country were focused on starting the school year with a “hybrid” model, in which students would join us in person for some amount of time, and work from home for another set of time. Over the past ten days, in a number of states and cities, we have had to shift our focus to a fully online start to the school year with our hybrid re-start plan pushed back.

As we prepare for the start of a new school year like no other, we continue to work hard to ensure that our KIPPsters all have complete digital capability, with a working device for remote learning and robust internet access. This week we distributed over $6 million to KIPP regions to push us ever closer to that goal. We will not stop until that mission is complete.

I want to share my deepest gratitude to all of you who are reading this. You are showing tremendous adaptability in incredibly trying circumstances. Never before has the world asked so much of you, and I fully understand what it is we are asking now. There is no playbook for navigating the start of a school year under these conditions. I want to give the hugest of huge shout-outs to our school leaders who are navigating these moments with grace and perseverance. I know we will find a way, because I know how amazing our leaders are.

New Leaders, New Schools

With the start of the school year, there are new beginnings as well. We have 18 new KIPP schools in 11 cities opening this fall! Though our celebrations might look different than in previous years, we are still celebrating nonetheless. Here’s a great example from St. Louis: a (virtual) ribbon-cutting for our sixth school in the city, KIPP Wonder Academy!

There are also five new KIPP leaders taking the reins across the country! Please join me in congratulating them:

  • Tomi Amos, CEO of KIPP Colorado
  • Tim Saintsing, Executive Director of KIPP ENC and KIPP Charlotte
  • Nikki Barnes, Executive Director of KIPP Massachusetts
  • Darius Kirk, Executive Director of KIPP Tulsa
  • William Hill, Executive Director of KIPP Delta

I want to thank Anjali Featherstone, Anokhi Saraiya, Caleb Dolan, Carissa Godwin, and Don Parker for their tremendous efforts as EDs. We appreciate you!

I want to pay a special tribute to KIPP Oklahoma City founder and executive director Tracy McDaniel, who retired at the end of this school year. Tracy was one of the first leaders I met when I joined KIPP in 2005, and I will never forget his candor or his unwavering belief in what’s possible for students. Over nearly 20 years of leadership, he has been a great influence for many of us at KIPP, both in Oklahoma City and across the country.

When We All Vote

As we all know from experience, voting matters. Through voting, we can all make our voices heard, our issues seen, and our actions felt; we can change the future for our communities, our states, and the nation. And yet, far too few Americans vote, and that is especially true for young Americans. That’s why KIPP has partnered with When We All Vote, to ensure that everyone in our community is able to exercise their right to vote. If you are not yet registered to vote, please take the time to visit When We All Vote or text KIPP to 56005.

New Partnership for College KIPPsters

We know that many of our KIPP alumni have had their college studies disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. The KIPP Foundation is partnering with Arizona State University to provide a summer opportunity for students to continue earning college credits online. This accredited program offers a variety of courses to assist KIPP alumni with credit recovery from the spring semester, as well as the opportunity to get a head start on earning college credits in case their fall college plans are disrupted.

The KIPP Foundation is covering tuition and expenses for one class per student; there are no textbook or software fees for any class, and participating students receive a $100 personal stipend. KIPP is also providing virtual academic support for students participating in this program, via a team of advisors.

To date, we’ve received 250 applications for this program, from alumni of 19 different KIPP regions. The students that have applied have indicated they are either currently enrolled or planning to enroll in more than 40 different colleges and universities across the country, including Texas State, USC, George Washington, Fisk, Rutgers, and UC Davis. The most popular courses are college algebra, precalculus, and English.

I want to close by drawing your attention to KIPP’s mission statement at the bottom of this email. Together with students and families, we are working to provide a joyful, academically excellent education every day. The world has thrown a massive challenge at us; thank you, as always, for keeping our mission front and center as we navigate these waters together.