Richard Barth's Weekly Thoughts: Turning Words into Action

ByRichard Barth, KIPP Foundation CEO

A few weeks ago, Dave sent a letter to all KIPP alumni, and I shared my thoughts with all KIPP staff; both acknowledged the ways in which the school and organizational culture we built and how some of our practices perpetuated white supremacy and anti-Blackness. As we shared then, we need to do more, faster.

Over the last few weeks, we have all been working hard to turn words into action, recognizing that there is still much more work to be done to eliminate any practice at KIPP that furthers systemic racism, anti-Blackness, and inequities experienced by our students, alumni, families, teachers, and staff.

In the coming weeks and months, we will be communicating about this work through these weekly thoughts. I am going to do all I can to make sure we go as fast as we can, where we can. And as slow as we must, where we must. Please know that these are not all the initiatives we are working on, but we are operating on the belief that where we can move ahead, we move ahead now. We recognize that reaching these goals is both urgent and will require a long-term effort to be successful.

Turning Words into Action

  1. We are retiring “Work hard. Be nice.” as KIPP’s national slogan; it ignores the significant effort required to dismantle systemic racism, places value on being compliant and submissive, supports the illusion of meritocracy, and does not align with our vision of students being free to create the future they want.
  2. We are distributing Mental Health and Healing Grants to support regions as they address disproportionate effects of COVID-19 and healing from racial trauma. While these funds will surely not address the enormity of what communities are facing, we hope the support furthers the work on that path.
  3. We are committing to the review and elimination of inequitable discipline practices in all our schools.
  4. KIPP Foundation staff will work with every region to begin to identify a leader, either a Senior Equity Officer or another staff person, for their anti-racism and equity work.
  5. We are committing to the re-assessment of our security practices in all regions, including eliminating the presence of police in our schools wherever possible and ensuring that we are utilizing restorative practices as a solve for conflict.
  6. Moving forward, we want employee offer letters to include language that requires a commitment to anti-racism as a condition of employment because everyone who works at KIPP must be committed to anti-racism in their beliefs and in their behavior.

In the dozens of conversations I have had, a couple of questions have emerged. First, how do we commit to action now AND commit to the depth of work involved to ensure long-lasting and meaningful changes in the KIPP culture? Secondly, how do we make commitments to action AND recognize that carrying out these actions will take time? Never has it been more important to believe in the power of AND vs OR. We can make commitments to action, and as all of you who do this hard work know, executing those commitments requires thoughtful planning and, in many cases, time and space for deep discussion and reflection. It also means that our national equity team will be working to support regions in thoughtful planning for execution, and in prioritizing action steps to take.

I want to recognize that each region at KIPP is in a different place — some of our larger regions have full time Senior Equity Officers. Many of our smaller regions would love to be able to do the same, but absent funding (which is under tremendous constraints due to COVID-19), can only dream of this at the moment. My commitment—and the commitment of our national equity team—is to work through this year to ensure every region is able to put in place the leadership to drive this work on the ground. We will find a way or make one. That’s what we do at KIPP.

I also want to recognize that we are in a moment where teams are working overtime to get ready for a school year like no other: preparing to teach students at a social distance, wearing masks, alternating instruction between in school and virtual. The degree of difficulty is the greatest in my 30 years working in education. We are committed to executing these collective commitments together, in partnership, so that we can deliver all that we must for students this fall and beyond.

I look forward to keeping you posted on our progress and working together helping KIPP on the path to becoming an anti-racist organization.