The KIPP Foundation School Leadership Program: Inspiring and Supporting Leaders in Education
Feature Story by civilrights.org staff - 12/29/2005This article is part of a civilrights.org series that examines innovative education reform programs.
To succeed in the face of complex social challenges and funding constraints, today's education leaders need more than conventional teaching skills. Based on the belief that "great schools need great leaders," the KIPP Foundation is dedicated to recruiting, training, and supporting outstanding educators to direct high-performing college preparatory public schools across the country.
Founded in 2000, the KIPP Foundation is a national non-profit organization created to teach a carefully selected group of promising leaders how to open and run schools based on the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), an educational program model created by Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, two enterprising Teach for America alumni. Since its creation in 1994, KIPP has grown into a national network of 45 tuition-free, open enrollment public schools in 15 states and Washington, DC designed to narrow the achievement gap in underserved areas, especially in low-income and minority communities.
Recognizing that cutting-edge leadership is central to KIPP's success, Doris and Donald Fisher, co-founders of the Gap, Inc., teamed up with Feinberg and Levin to establish the KIPP School Leadership Program to address the systemic lack of training and support for emerging leaders. "Our leadership grew out of necessity," says Daryl Cobb, KIPP's Chief Learning Officer. "It was a reaction to the traditional principal preparation programs that did not offer the kind of training we believe is necessary to lead a KIPP school."
The program's objectives are to give aspiring school leaders the "freedom, facility, and funding" necessary to implement the KIPP model. The program begins with a targeted recruitment and highly competitive application process to select Fisher Fellows, high quality educators committed to starting a new, independently-run KIPP school. In addition to its fellows, the program also serves a select number of current KIPP school leaders and, on a more limited basis, leaders from similar organizations.
The program's design is based on the notion that the educators who run KIPP schools must function not only as experienced educators, but as CEOs of their own non-profit organizations. In addition to helping its leaders secure appropriate school facilities and negotiate operating contracts with a one million dollar loan for facilities improvement, the program also offers a year-long program with extensive coursework at the University of California at Berkeley's Haas School of Business, hands-on "residencies" at KIPP schools, and expert advice from trained KIPP staff.
The KIPP School Leadership Program's unique combination of intensive training, on-the-ground experience, and ongoing mentoring and support has translated directly into improved results for students in newly-minted KIPP schools. As reported in the August 11 issue of The Washington Post, an independent study conducted by the Educational Policy Institute found that KIPP students made "large and significant gains" beyond what is average for urban schools during the 2003-2004 school year. Since its inception, 80 percent of alumni from the original KIPP Academies have earned acceptances to college.
In addition to the Leadership Program, the KIPP Foundation also offers its education leaders ongoing professional development opportunities to discuss the latest education and leadership strategies with other educators and policy makers. Annual professional development workshops, called Content Area Retreats, allow KIPP educators to demonstrate and share effective practices. On the management side, the KIPP Foundation also offers an Operations Retreat for all its schools' business managers and chief operating officers. To maintain the relationships created through these gatherings, KIPP has set up a series of online communities and resources that allow school leaders to share helpful instructional materials and teaching strategies on an ongoing basis.
The leadership skills that KIPP fosters at the executive level are also encouraged in its students. Each year, sixth grade KIPP students from around the country participate in the national Student Leadership Summit. Held at one of the KIPP School campuses, the gathering offers children the chance to interact with successful KIPP alumni and enhances learning through special communication and leadership training. As KIPP Public Affairs Director Steve Mancini explains, "KIPP educators are not only helping kids climb the mountain to college, they are also assisting in the development of character traits and citizenship skills."