Mike Miles

It was always expected that I go to college, but there was never one word about how to get there or where the money would come from.

So in the absence of a real plan, I did what I had to do to pay for my education: I delivered papers, stocked shelves, put roofs on houses during the summer. One day, I was hitchhiking to school—I had gotten into the local extension center of Penn State—and an old acquaintance of mine pulled over to pick me up. We had formerly run track together and hadn’t seen each other in quite some time. We got to talking and he told me he was on a full scholarship to St. Joe’s University.

I was stunned. I thought to myself, “Wait a second. I used to whip his butt and now he’s running on a full scholarship? What’s wrong here?”

His story of success—and, more importantly, the story of our divergent paths—stayed with me long after he drove off.

I wanted to know, I had to know, how he—a student with less talent than me—had progressed to a higher rung of success while I had not. I landed on an answer: My friend had a vision for himself. He had mentors who had helped set goals, give guidance, and create a path forward. He had a personal vision and I did not.

That realization was a turning point for me. It motivated me to create my own plan and catapulted me forward. And from that car ride on, I have been a strong believer in the power of a strong personal vision.

When I first toured a KIPP school back in 2004, I was struck by a couple of things. First, I noticed that the school was so quiet. There was a sense of calm even when students were walking between classes. But another thing stood out too, and this is the thing I remember best.

In one of the middle school hallways, I noticed a paper posted on the wall. I walked closer to get a better look. It was an essay written by a seventh grade girl. The topic was college.

The essay was not an idealistic essay of future dreams. No, it was more technical in nature. Well-organized. Precise.

The student wrote about where she wanted to go to school and detailed the individual steps she would take to achieve her goal. I stood there and read and reread this essay as a hundred middle school students walked silently around me.

It occurred to me that I was surrounded by seventh graders and that every single of one them had a plan. I realized, in that moment, that KIPP teachers did more than just teach.

KIPP teachers were vision makers.

In business, I’ve always maintained this principle: You have to leverage your investment. I wouldn’t want to open one restaurant unless I could open ten. That’s just how I’m built.

So when KIPP called and told us that they needed more school leaders to open more schools, my wife Jane and I saw it as an opportunity to leverage an investment.

We could make a larger impact than if we were to just sponsor a single student. Jane and I sat down—as we’ve been doing together for 47 years—and figured out the kind of impact we could make.

We knew that a school leader was in a position to reach at least 80 unique students their first year. We understood that each year our impact would grow exponentially. That in four years, our investment would not only influence the more than 360 students in a school, but also impact lives outside of the classroom: that children positively influence their siblings at home, that good school leaders develop other good school leaders, and on and on and on.

So our decision was easy. Jane and I worked with KIPP to create the Miles Family Fellowship in 2007, and we have been blessed to help develop strong school leaders ever since.

View all Stories