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5 Reasons LeBron James’s School Really Is Unique

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Good things can be done. Alia Wong reports in the Atlantic:

Headlines touting the Next Big Idea in education have become so common in recent years that it’s tempting to dismiss every new K-12 initiative as a fad or fantasy doomed to either flatline or fail. A skeptical observer might be inclined to sweep LeBron James’s I Promise School into that pile. But teachers and executives who’ve worked closely with James on this endeavor insist that he won’t let that happen. The professional basketball player and Akron, Ohio, native, they say, really wants to rethink how public education should be delivered—not only in Akron, but across the country.

And his vision is already having a tangible impact: Last week, the Democratic U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown and Chris Van Hollen, of Ohio and Maryland respectively, introduced a bill that would set aside $45 million for federal competitive grants to fund partnerships between schools and their communities. The idea, Senator Brown indicated in a tweet, is to replicate the I Promise model in places that don’t have “a LeBron James.”

What makes I Promise unique, its creators and outside experts say, is that it combines various features that are seldom seen in a single school—and that it is poised to potentially spur similar education-reform efforts across the country. The Atlantic has obtained I Promise’s “master plan” document—its blueprint for the next five years, which was approved last fall by Akron’s school board. The document can be found in full at the end of this article. While the plan leaves some questions unanswered—about the details of the curriculum, for example—it reveals much about the school’s philosophy and unorthodox approach. Here are some of the things that make I Promise unique:

1. It’s a public school.

Unlike many other celebrities and magnates who’ve turned to education philanthropy—James created a school that would belong to the district, rather than a private school or a charter school. James’s school is housed under his I Promise nonprofit, which he created in 2011 as part of an effort to shift his now-14-year-old foundation’s focus toward education. From the get-go, I Promise sought to tackle the high-school dropout rate in Akron Public Schools. It made a lot of progress in that effort over the years: In 2015, for example, it started funding full-tuition, four-year scholarships to the University of Akron for eligible students in the I Promise program. Still, fewer than three in four public-school students in Akron—where about a quarter of the city’s population livesbelow the poverty level—graduate high school within four years.

The I Promise school was designed to target the Akron Public Schools students who struggle despite the existing supports provided by the nonprofit. It started its first year of classes on July 30, welcoming onto campus 240 students in the third and fourth grades, and will grow gradually over the years, eventually serving children in grades one through eight by 2022.

It would have been challenging for James to target this population through a charter or private school. While those models may have, in theory, allowed for more experimentation, such innovation would happen in isolation and would be difficult to extend into the city’s other public schools. It could alienate the local teachers’ union and district administrators and, potentially, families without the savvy to take advantage of public-school alternatives. Pulling away from Akron Public Schools would have also made it difficult to create a pipeline into I Promise for the at-risk students he sought to target.

James and his nonprofit team started developing the master plan in April 2017. By October, they’d finalized the first draft of the proposal and presented it to the school board for consideration. The proposal details five teams tasked with designing different components of the school—including its “instructional framework,” its human resources, and its community-engagement efforts—each of which was co-chaired by an Akron Public Schools staff member. The board formally approved the plan a month later.

“LeBron grew up as a public-school kid,” says Michelle Campbell, the executive director of the LeBron James Family Foundation, which partnered with Akron Public Schools in creating the I Promise School. “And the reality is that, in a lot of our urban cities, the vast majority of kids are going to go to public schools.” Making I Promise a part of the public-school system, she believes, “is what helps make what we’re doing scalable and provide a learning laboratory for the rest of the country.”

2. It has huge ambitions.

Akron Public Schools states on its website that it wants to be the “#1 urban school system in the United States.” I Promise is on a mission to help make that happen, and has an explicit goal of improving the well-being of residents across Akron—not just its students. “Classroom instruction and assignments are grounded in the health and prosperity of the City of Akron and local efforts to build inclusive, healthy, and socially just neighborhoods for all its citizens and families in an increasingly global and multicultural world,” the master plan says. To do so, it’s implementing a suite of supports that are rare at conventional public schools: attendance incentives, outings to local businesses, mentorship programs, after-school tutoring, and constant encouragement from James through things like video messages and written notes.

“I remember when . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 August 2018 at 2:48 pm

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