Monday, September 28, 2009

KIPP Austin featured on MSNBC

A sad day for all KIPPsters

The following is an email from KIPP Foundation CEO Richard Barth.

Don Fisher passed away this morning at home in San Francisco, surrounded by his family.    As most of you know, Don was Chair of the Board of the KIPP Foundation, but most importantly, co-founder  -- along with Mike, Dave and Scott Hamilton – of the KIPP network.   KIPP was one of the greatest loves of his absolutely extraordinary life, and all of us across the KIPP Team and Family have been blessed to have Don Fisher as our fiercest champion.


For those of you who have been with KIPP for more than a year or two, there is a good chance you actually met Don.  Each year for the first six years in the life of the KIPP network, Don and Doris visited every new KIPP school.   Nothing made Don happier.  He loved seeing our new schools and was thrilled to experience the increasing reach of our network. 

If you were a Fisher Fellow, preparing to open a new KIPP school, you met Don and Doris each year at the annual Fisher Fellow dinner.   That too was one of Don’s favorite experiences of the year.  Don took such immense pride in all of you, knowing that you were setting out as leaders to prove the possible and create life changing opportunities for children growing up in some of the most challenging circumstances imaginable.

Don was not someone who wore his emotions on his sleeves.   Over the past four years, however, I had the opportunity to work closely with him.  And as all of us at KIPP know, it’s what you do – not what you say – that truly lets the world know what it is that one values.  And so, while it is virtually impossible to describe what Don has meant to KIPP,  I am going to share a few thoughts tonight in hopes of helping everyone in our Team and Family take a moment to recognize what this man meant to us and our work.   I am going to start with the personal and finish with his impact on the world.  I am also attaching a Tribute to Don that I thought many members of the KIPP Team and Family would want to read.


Almost 4 years ago exactly I heard from Don Fisher for the first time.  As Chair of the KIPP Foundation Board, Don reached out to me to talk about taking over the CEO role.  Dave and Mike had encouraged him to do this, and over a several week period in October and November of 2005 he relentlessly engaged me until I said yes.  I  remember being bowled over by his persistence and his passion.  He loved KIPP, and he was determined to see it succeed.  And, he couldn’t understand why I hadn’t just said yes the first time the idea of coming to KIPP was presented to me.  He persisted.  He called me when I was travelling and when I was at home.  He found me wherever I was.  Those early conversations gave me a sense for why he had been such an extraordinary success in the business world.  The focus he brought to this effort and our conversations was just so extraordinary, and I don’t think he was going to take ‘no’ for an answer.

After I took the role and started work at KIPP, Don and I decided it would make sense to have a weekly call.   And so, over the past four years,  once a week, every week, we spoke for an hour.  In my first weeks at KIPP, I was anxious about these calls.  I tried to hide that fact, but Don probably knew but was too kind to let on.  I would come to these calls with laid out agendas, ready to work through them and hope Don wouldn’t discover something I wasn’t already thinking through myself.  After  my first two months of these weekly calls, I began to relax a bit and came t realize that Don wasn’t looking for me to show him I had everything under control.   Don was actually interested in listening to me discuss my challenges.  He wanted to explore opportunities alongside with me.  He cared so deeply about KIPP, and he listened attentively.  And, during these calls, he would share thoughts when he had them.  Sometimes he gave me a number of things to think about.  Sometimes he only left me with a single thought.  What I discovered over time, however, was that his instincts were simply exceptional.  And perhaps most importantly, that his obsession was quality.  In whatever we were doing, he wanted to make sure we were doing it well.  Really well.   And he was so clear that if we were doing the right thing, so much else would take care of itself.

Don never missed these calls.  Ever.  Even over the holidays in Hawaii.  And even when he was under the weather.  He always, always showed.   And so these calls  became an anchor for me, and  through me, for KIPP.  Don’s check ins – even when he was pushing me on something he was worried about – were a gift to our growing network.  Here was an incredible man with so much experience, devoting himself to us and our work.   And I could put any topic out for discussion and he would take it on with me.   He would engage, he would offer advice, and when he made the same point three weeks in a row, I knew I had some real work to do.  


When I came back home to New York after KSS this August, I shared with you all that I truly believed the best is yet to come for KIPP.   Part of my belief that the best is ahead of us came from the fact that even as Don was battling his cancer, he was only interested in talking about the future.  The Friday after returning from Orlando I called Don to share with him how KSS had gone, how it felt to be among 1800 people and the incredible story of the KIPP Infinity dancers.  I know he was so proud of us, but only for a moment.  Then he was quickly pushing me on leadership bench depth, worried that we still were not doing enough.
Don just never stopped looking ahead.  Even when he was feeling far from great, he was focused on the fact that there was more to do, more WE could do for our schools and kids.


Given how much we have grown in the last couple of years, it is important for me to share the obvious as I leave you tonight, given that so many of you are new to KIPP these last two years……that KIPP would not be a network of 82 schools today (on track to 97 or more schools next year) without Don’s passion, drive, insight, and unbelievable generosity.  It’s just that simple.  And so, as we get ready for school this week, and for the over 20,000 KIPPSters who put their faith in each and every one of us, we head off to work knowing that Don had so much faith in us.  He believed so deeply in our KIPPsters, and he believed so deeply in all of you who are helping our kids climb the mountain to and through college.  

One of the things that makes KIPP so great is that we’re not afraid to talk about stuff that others shy away from.  Yes, we are all about Results.  And Don loved that.  And we are all about high expectations.    And Don loved that.  And we are all about more time, and power to lead and choice.  All of which Don believed in.  But if there is something Don showed us, not through words, but with actions…with how he used his life….it was the absolute transformative power of faith and love.  Don was a rock for KIPP.  Immovable.  His faith in us, and his love for us, knew no bounds.   

Given all that Don accomplished (enough to make any normal person gasp) it may be hard for some to realize that the full impact of Don’s life is yet to be realized.   There are thousands of current KIPPsters who are yet to get to high schools, and tens of thousands who are yet to even enroll.   And beyond KIPP, there is a world towards which we are all working,  where all schools – not just KIPP schools – provide children with an opportunity to pursue the American dream.  Don had the vision to see what was possible for all children, that demography truly should not define destiny.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Fisher Family tonight.

With Love,


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tuesday Evening Thoughts by KIPP Foundation CEO Richard Barth

The following post is a reprint of the Tuesday Evening Thoughts email that KIPP Foundation CEO Richard Barth sends out on a semi-regular basis.

Happy Tuesday everyone. I hope this finds folks well.

From every possible bit of information I can pick up (yes, I am always looking for tidbits, so feel free to send them my way!) we are off to just a tremendous start to the school year. As everyone reading this knows, strong starts really matter. They matter for the whole feeling that comes out of a school. Strong starts matter to teachers. They matter to families. And they matter, most of all, to kids. As a parent, the last week has been marked by regularly assessing how we feel the start to the year has been for each of our 3 boys. And as elementary school kids, that really comes down to, fundamentally, their whole class dynamics as well as to the individual dynamics that are emerging between each of my sons and their respective teachers. After twenty years in this work, I also know – independent of being a parent – that it is hard to really turn things around later in the year. Possible, but very hard.

So…all this is to say…congratulations to every single one of you who has worked so, so very hard to get your school’s off to a strong beginning of the year. And, I think it is really important to just highlight that the whole idea and commitment to getting ‘better as we get bigger’, truly implies that each new school opening is stronger than our last. This isn’t to say or be confused with the idea that a new KIPP school in its first weeks of existence is better than our strongest mature schools. That wouldn’t be a fair bar…but what is fair to expect of us, in serving our kids, is that all the lessons we learn from each other, all the experiences we are gaining, benefit our newest schools. And that we are truly getting stronger, evidenced by the fact that a new school opening really is a a significant sign of our growing strength as a network.


There is a ton going on in these opening days, and that is true here at the Foundation. Among the highlights:

*School Reviews are Under Way

Yes, believe it or not. We have begun our 2009-2010 school reviews. As a reminder, we carry out New School Support Visits for all first year schools, Leadership Transition school reviews for those schools being led by a new school leader in single sites and emerging regions, and School Reviews for schools in Year 2 and 4 in single sites and emerging regions.

In reflecting upon the importance of strong beginnings to our schools and kids, I am excited that Jeff Rutel and his teams on the New School Site Visits over the past couple of weeks have consistently shared that our newest KIPP schools are off to just that: strong starts.

For our Year 2 and 4 Reviews, over the last year, we have partnered with School Works and have felt incredibly strongly about their ability to help us drive this process forward. Among the most exciting developments is that the school review process itself was refined and revised to align itself fully with the KIPP Healthy Schools framework. What does that all mean, really? It means the folks at the KIPP Foundation are working hard to streamline our approach and ensure we are using one language in our work. It means that when we think about the major components of a healthy school – Leadership and Organizational Systems, Human Capital, Culture and Climate, Teaching and Learning, College Preparatory Supports, and Operations – they are the same components we are looking at with a constructive eye in our reviews.

When I talk about School Reviews, I want to offer a special thank you in advance to all of the sitting school leaders and KIPP Executive Directors who devote their time and energy to helping out their fellow members of the KIPP Team and Family. One of the most powerful elements of our school visits is the fact that our teams include both Fisher Fellows and experienced leaders from KIPP, and that both those being visited and our visitors truly gain from the experience. But, it is a commitment of time, and often time away from families…so Thank You!

*Our First Intersession for our Fisher Fellows

I wanted to pass along the following update from Kelly Wright. As you know, Kelly is the leader of the KIPP Foundation’s Learning Team, and she recently shared….

….Although in many ways it seemed just yesterday that we were finishing up Summer Institute in NYC and KSS in Orlando, the KSLP team is ready for our next round of programming with our Fisher Fellows.

On Monday, September 14th, the Fisher Fellows will meet in Chicago for Intersession One. Since KSS, our Fellows have started Residencies and have been visiting schools across the country, from Los Angeles to Lynn, Massachusetts. During their time in schools, they are observing our fabulous school leaders in action and gaining insight into culture, instruction, and administrative practices that they would like to put in place at their schools. They are also continuing to work on their School Design Plans and their first submission is due on September 30th.

During their week in the Windy City, they will work with a variety of presenters to continue to hone their leadership competencies. They will work with The New Teacher Project on Managing People; Doug Lemov from Uncommon Schools and Jim Warnock from RBT on Instructional Leadership; Mary Ashton and Linda Belans on Self-awareness; and Carrie Hahnel and Danielle Eisenberg on Driving Results. They will also have time to work in their collaborative Learning Teams and, as always, have a little fun together in the evening.

*KIPP English Language Arts Retreat

Yes, the KIPP English Language Arts Retreat is coming our way. It runs from October 16th-17th, in New Orleans. Participants are going to be exposed to the very best ELA practitioners at KIPP, as well as some of the very best from beyond our network. And, to top it off, folks are going to be able to visit and take in all the great work that is going on in our schools in New Orleans. Noel Mullen recently shared that the hotel for this year’s ELA retreat is filling up quickly. To book your room for Thursday and Friday at $139 a night please visit . All content will end by 5pm on Saturday to allow retreat attendees to travel home that evening.

*Alumni Services

I was excited to read the announcement from the Alumni Services Team that went out this week as they launched the application process for the Jack Kent Cooke Young Scholars Program and the KIPP:S.T.E.P. Summer Program at Deerfield Academy. From day one we push our students to think about college and these early college access programs provide an incredible opportunity for us to put those thoughts into action! I want to encourage each school that has current 7th graders to apply for BOTH programs and to give your students a shot at an experience of a lifetime.

Applications were sent to the High School Placement and School Leaders list serves on Monday, September 14th. The application deadlines are:

· Monday, November 2nd for Jack Kent Cooke Young Scholars Pre-Selection Program

· Monday, December 7th for KIPP:STEP Summer Program at Deerfield Academy

If you haven't already done so, please designate someone on your team as your school liaison to the Foundation and email your selection to Craig ( or Coral ( We're hoping for 100% participation from the network and want to showcase the talent that we see in our students everyday.

Student Leadership Summit

As hard as it is to believe, the KIPP Student Leadership Summit is just around the corner! It will take place at Westminster Woods, in Occidental, CA from October 8th to the 11th. As many of you know, each year, the KIPP Student Leadership Summit provides an opportunity for two exemplary sixth grade students (one boy and one girl) from each KIPP middle school that has a sixth grade and two exemplary 10th, 11th, or 12th grade students (one boy and one girl) from each KIPP high school that has at least a 10th grade, as well as a chaperone from each middle and high schools, to participate in a weekend of activities designed to further develop leadership and teamwork skills. The KIPPsters who attend the SLS gain knowledge of and have the opportunity to build bonds with their extended team and family from KIPP schools across the nation. After a weekend of creative problem-solving and collaboration, students return to school full of inspiration and ready to make their school a stronger community and feel further empowered to be leaders in everyday situations. And, participating KIPPSters will (during their time at the summit and afterwards) be invited to develop a proposal detailing an idea and plan to address an unmet need in their school community. Proposals will be submitted to Richard Barth by Friday, October 30th From those submitted, four winning proposals will be chosen. For each of the winners, $500 will be sent to the school in the name of the students to support the implementation of the plan.


KIPP out and About

While all this is going on, KIPP is also engaged in the world beyond the walls of our schools. Recently, 4 members of the KIPP Team and Family (Lisa Margosian, Susan Schaeffler, Ryan Hill and Jack Chorowsky) were part of a group of education leaders from the charter school world who met with Arne Duncan. As we all have read, Arne is hoping that many of the best charter school groups in the country will be excited to get involved in school turnarounds. This meeting – which explicitly was not obligating any organization, including KIPP—to commit to any actions, was aimed at helping the Department of Education leadership team to understand what it would take to inspire successful charter leaders to consider this turnaround work. While that group of big KIPPsters were meeting with the DOE on the issue of turnarounds, Kelly Wright was part of a group of folks that met with leaders at the DOE to discuss the importance of investing in leadership development, and most importantly, leveraging what has been proven to work.

I want to be clear: no one should be anxious about us getting into work we really are not ready to do J Rather, I am excited to share these updates just to remind us all of how much our work is appreciated by others, and how much others want us to lend a hand so that we all move closer to the day when all schools are preparing children for success in life.

On that topic of KIPP and the outside world, this week some 37 or 38 big KIPPsters will be attend the Charter School Growth Fund Innovation Conference. Can we say, KIPP is in the house? Very exciting indeed to see what an important part we all play in the larger world of reform.


An Apology

Last, but definitely not least, I want to acknowledge an oversight on my part. I communicate regularly to you all in hopes of doing my part to keep the network up to date on what is going on across the country. This summer I dropped the ball in sharing news with you that I share with you today, several months late. At the end of this past June, we made an official decision that Freedom Academy in Camden, NJ would no longer operate as a KIPP-affiliated school due to the absence a KIPP-approved school leader. As you may know, one year ago, due to administrative certification issues, the State of New Jersey required the Board of Freedom Academy to replace the then existing KIPP School Leader with a school leader who had not participated in the KIPP School Leadership training. We had hoped that by the end of the past school year that a KIPP-approved leader would have been identified and prepared to assume leadership of the school this summer. Regretfully, search efforts by both the Freedom Board and the KIPP Foundation failed to produce such a leader. Although the school no longer operates as a KIPP school, it is continuing to operate with the goal of offering better educational options for the children and families of Camden, New Jersey. While there is no excuse for my delay in sharing this news, I would like to offer our deep gratitude to the staff of Freedom Academy who worked through a tumultuous year and remained dedicated to the children they serve. A good number of the members of the Freedom team have found great opportunities to stay with KIPP in other cities, about which I am very excited.


So, this was a pretty long weekly thoughts. There is a lot going on!

Let’s make this a great rest of the week everyone,