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The Aftermath Series: The Power of KIPP

Towana Pierre-Floyd, KIPP New OrleansTowana Pierre-Floyd beat the odds. A former student of New Orleans public schools, she excelled in a subpar academic environment and gained access to opportunities many students could only dream of. Knowing that her educational experience was much different from the experiences of her family members and peers, Towana has made it her mission to provide an exceptional education for all students. KIPP is helping her achieve that mission.

KIPP, or the Knowledge is Power Program, is a nationally recognized network of public charter schools serving primarily low-income or underserved communities in 20 states. Today, KIPP operates 10 schools in New Orleans, contributing to the educational rebirth the city has undergone since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina ten years ago.

Towana is now the assistant principal and instructional coach at KIPP Renaissance High School. She believes in the school’s strategy for success: blending academics with character education. KIPP works tirelessly to instill in its students the character traits that lead to lifelong success. Some of these traits – grit (or resilience), self-control, optimism, and zest – are “codes” that the students and staff at KIPP Renaissance “live and breathe by.”

Students are also challenged and motivated by the KIPP Renaissance college prep program, which counsels students through the college selection and application process. All of the students at KIPP Renaissance are eligible to receive free lunch, and 97 percent of the school’s population is African American. It is, therefore, important to Towana and KIPP’s counselors to find schools that have a “high-minority graduation rate and supports so that minority graduation is consistently happening.” It’s not just about getting to college, but graduating from college, and the KIPP Renaissance team continues to counsel KIPP graduates throughout their college experience.

Towana and her fellow staff members believe that KIPP’s power is rooted in its commitment to character development. KIPP Renaissance works hard to make sure that students grow up to be both well-educated and great people. The school wants its students, nearly all of whom are from areas of high poverty, to break the mold, be advocates of change, and make the world a better place. Or, as Towana, puts it: “Our job is not just to make them smart and wealthy; our job is to ideally make them even better than the generations before them.”

To learn more about KIPP’s impact on New Orleans, click here.


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“Challenge Index” High School Rankings Show Charter Schools as a Growing Force

The Washington Post recently released its annual Challenge Index rankings, and public charter schools hold 36 places among the top 100 schools ranked—an all-time high. This year’s Challenge Index results show that charter schools are quickly becoming a strong force in high-quality education. Charter schools make up half of the top ten places, including #1, BASIS Oro Valley (Oro Valley, AZ); #2, BASIS Chandler (Chandler, AZ); #5, Accelerated Elementary and Secondary (Tucson, AZ); #6, BASIS Tucson North (Tucson, AZ); and #10, Signature (Evansville, IN).

Public charter schools have consistently grown among the top 100 high schools of the Challenge Index. Over the past four years, charter schools have consisted of:

  • 2014-2015: 36 of the top 100
  • 2013-2014: 31 of the top 100
  • 2012-2013: 28 of the top 100
  • 2011-2012: 25 of the top 100

Although charter high schools only make up about six percent of the nation’s public high schools, charter high schools account for more than one-third of the top 100 Challenge Index rankings proving their ability to provide a recognizable and rigorous academic experience for their students.

The Challenge Index is calculated by dividing the number of college-level tests of the previous year (2014-2015) by the number of graduates in the same year. The Index also mentions the percentage of students who qualify for subsidized lunch and the percentage of high school graduates that passed at least one college-level test during the course of their high school career. Washington Post Education Columnist Jay Matthews further explains the details of the Challenge Index. To find out more, read here.

Washington Post Challenge Index charter schools


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The Aftermath Series: The New Orleans Recipe for Charter School Success

Prior to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was home to one of the worst education systems in the country. The city’s school system ranked second to last in the state and more than half of its students were attending failing schools. Most students scored below grade level on statewide standardized tests.

Finally fed up with failure, state officials launched a serious reform effort with the creation of the Recovery School District (RSD) in 2003. The RSD would take the city’s most chronically failing schools and put them under state control in order to better monitor practices and student performance. After Katrina, officials kicked their efforts into high gear. The RSD soon converted the majority of its schools into charter schools, combining autonomy and accountability to raise student achievement, reduce drop-out rates, and send more kids to college.

This educational renaissance took place in dire conditions. Deep-seated racial inequalities had spilled over into the education system. Corruption consumed the educational bureaucracy. Post-Katrina, some students showed signs of post-traumatic stress.

While there is still much more work to do, the rapid improvement of New Orleans’ schools in such conditions has been nothing short of wondrous. With nearly all of its schools operating as charter schools, New Orleans has taken a novel approach to reform – combining school-level autonomy with citywide policies in certain areas to raise academic achievement and ensure educational equity. Principals are empowered to make most key decisions about how their students are taught and the culture that prevails in the school, including choosing the staff that’s best suited to their school. This has allowed a wide variety of educational models to flourish. At the same time, the city centralized the application and enrollment process to give students from every neighborhood access to the best schools. Discipline policies are also centralized to make sure no student is marginalized for behavioral issues.

This level of success doesn’t go unnoticed, and cities and states across America are taking a close look to see what ingredients from the New Orleans turnaround can be incorporated into their own school systems. To read more about New Orleans, the city’s perseverance, and how the community made history by way of education reform, click here.


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The Aftermath Series: New Orleans Turns to Charter Schools

A decade ago, New Orleans and surrounding areas were devastated by Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest storms in American history. Tens of thousands of families were displaced and homes, schools, and businesses had to be rebuilt from scratch.

Determined to make their city even stronger than before, the citizens of New Orleans made education reform a top priority. Following years of poor performance in the city’s public schools, local leaders took bold action to make nearly every school in the city a charter school.

Over the past ten years, New Orleans’ school system has become a model for cities around the country looking to improve their school systems. Charter schooling ignited a burst of innovation and commitment to quality that has produced remarkable results for New Orleans students. Prior to Katrina, 54 percent of students graduated high school; today the graduation rate is 73 percent. The achievement gap in reading and math between students in New Orleans and in the rest of the state has nearly disappeared, shrinking from 23 points to just 6 points. And passing rates among low-income and African-American students in New Orleans have more than doubled since 2003.

New Orleans has shown that school-level flexibility and accountability, community-driven input, and an unflagging commitment to quality can radically improve schools and give all students equal access to a high-quality education.

As we approach the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the National Alliance is launching this series of blog posts to celebrate the way the citizens of New Orleans came together to rebuild their city and dramatically improve their children’s future. These are stories of bold choices, passionate dedication, and tremendous progress.

Ten years ago, the nation offered its help to the people of New Orleans as they struggled to get back on their feet. Today, New Orleans is demonstrating how effective educational reform can bring new hope and opportunity to communities across America.


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30 Days of Grad: Devon Haist

Before the Anderson Five Charter School opened, Devon Haist, a student with Asperger’s syndrome, found it difficult to learn in the public school system. He changed schools several times since middle school, trying to find the school that would be just right.

Haist is following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps and plans to become an engineer. While at the Anderson 5 Charter School, he took dual enrollment classes at Tri-County Technical College where he studied mechatronics. By the time he graduated high school, he also completed his first year of Tri-County, earning a certification in basic electronics. He plans to graduate next year with his associate degree.

“The public school system was very difficult for Devon,” his mother Cindy said.

Cindy Haist became an advocate for her son, and spoke to the school board when Anderson School District 5 decided to make a decision about starting a charter school in 2011.

Devon Haist found his home at the charter school, which opened in 2012, and graduated in the class of 2015. At the charter school, he was able to take classes in machine technology and robotics.

“The charter school was such a great fit for Devon,” Cindy Haist said. “I don’t know what we would have done without the school.”

Devon Haist received the Principal’s Award for overcoming great obstacles his senior year at the charter school.

“It feels pretty good having overcome everything,” Devon said.

This post was adapted from an article by The Independent Mail. Read more about Devon’s story in the article here.

Devon Haist

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30 Days of Grad: Ellie Northrop

Today’s #30DaysOfGrad post comes from Ellie Northrop, a graduate of Career Path High in Kaysville, Utah. This was originally featured on the Getting Smart blog, and you can read the entire post here.

I started my high school career in a traditional, brick and mortar district school. By the third term of my sophomore year my attendance was at an all time low and my motivation had pretty much disappeared. With nearly 2,000 students it was difficult for teachers and other school staff to really invest their time and attention, even in those students who needed it most. I needed help finding out who I was and what I wanted to be. I was lost in a sea of other students and unmotivated to push myself further in my education. I began missing classes, and it seemed like the teachers didn’t care. I just wasn’t there and, as a result, I wasn’t able to make up the work and move on. I felt as though I had no control.

But all of that changed my junior year when I chose to enroll in Career Path High (CPH).

At Career Path High everything about the model was so different. They knew who I was and genuinely cared about my academic success. My learning path was catered to me. One difference I instantly loved so much was the great level of investment every student received from the teachers, counselor, and even the principal. High school students need personalized attention and caring and the CPH model was designed to give me that. Communication is at the forefront of everything they do. There is a high level of accountability for everyone. If I ever failed to log in to my classes for a specific period of time or I did not make progress, my teachers and Success Coach were on it! They always checked in and were willing to do what it took to keep me motivated and on track.

The flexibility of Career Path High’s blended learning model, including my online coursework, really taught me personal responsibility. During my senior year I had to balance work, school, my program, and a personal life on a very tight schedule. My average day was quite busy. It took good time management, but it has all been worth it because I am graduating with only my externships to complete for my Dental Assisting certification. I’ve already had two job offers even before graduating from high school! During my externship as a dental assistant I’ve learned how critical it is to have multitasking skills in order to be successful. I must stay on top of patient care, sanitizing tools, and assisting the front desk. My chosen career field is really fast-paced but I am able to keep up with the demands due largely to the skills learned from my education experiences at Career Path High.

I’ve come a long way from that frustrated sophomore unsure of whether or not I would even graduate. As I prepared to give my valedictorian speech for graduation, I realized that my personalized pathway made all the difference. I now have a career that I know I love, and I am pushing myself to compete and expand my potential in ways I never imagined. My high school experience definitely helped shape who I am today. Anytime someone asks how I liked my high school, I have to tell them, “It is the greatest decision I have ever made,” and it is so true. My advice, go out there and take control of your own learning pathway. Today’s students have the opportunities available to them to make their high school experience so much more.

Ellie Northrop

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30 Days of Grad: Covenant House Academy Grand Rapids

The support and instruction from teachers and counselors in a safe, structured environment is helping former dropouts, homeless or otherwise at-risk youth earn a high school diploma.

Students at Covenant House Academy Grand Rapids, a year-round charter high school, have aged out of traditional school systems, been kicked out, or have underperformed for various reasons and are two or more grade levels behind.

Thirty-two seniors graduated on Tuesday, June 23, bringing the 2014-15 graduates to 55.

This post was adapted from an article by MLive. Read more about Covenant House in the article here.

Covenant House

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30 Days of Grad: 21st Century Charter School

Joseph Harris stood in his cap and gown Saturday afternoon and hugged his father as tears streamed down both of their cheeks.

“I’m going to the Army June 23,” Harris said. “I’m not going to have much time with anyone before then.”

Harris was among the 30 graduates of 21st Century Charter School in Gary. His father, Jean Harris, said the teen held down two jobs while earning his diploma. “It was a rough journey,” mother Joyce Harris said. “We stayed on him to make sure he got his education.”

Many graduates spoke of 21st Century Charter School as a family. “Today is a day of family because the way I see it, my class is family,” graduate Anthony Benion said. “We fought… but we love each other. [Our relationships] are forever and I’m happy to call each of them my family.”

This post was adapted from an article by The Times. Read more about Century Charter School in the article here.

Lauren Roberge

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30 Days of Grad: Lauren Roberge

Most high school valedictorians speak vaguely about a limitless future at this time of year, but Amesbury Academy‘s Class of 2015 valedictorian Lauren Roberge is a bit more pointed.

“My family is very excited and proud of how far I have come, especially because we didn’t think I was going to live to 18, let alone graduate at the top of my class,” Roberge said. “And I am very proud.”

An Amesbury native, Roberge came to the public charter school in her sophomore year after experiencing difficulty at Amesbury High School, according to principal Eryn Maguire. “She dealt with some pretty intense bullying,” Maguire said. “When we accepted her, we were told by the high school that she had struggled, and that we were going to be dealing with some of those struggles.”

Roberge had felt trapped, and now fully agrees with her principal and former biology teacher that the smaller class sizes at the Academy really fit the bill.

The Academy let Roberge feel comfortable enough, she said, not only to come out as gay, but to excel academically.

“I didn’t have as many opportunities to be myself,” Roberge said. “The Academy let me be who I am and accepted me for me, which is what I really needed. When I went to the Academy, I had been in a place where I didn’t think I was going to make it — not just through school, but life itself. The school definitely saved my life.”

This post was adapted from an article by the Daily News of Newburyport. Read more about Amesbury Academy and Lauren’s story in the article here.

Lauren Roberge

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30 Days of Grad: Leslie Maldonado

Leslie MaldonadoToday’s #30DaysOfGrad post comes from Leslie Maldonado, a graduate of Achievement First Amistad High School in New Haven, CT.

During my journey throughout high school, sometimes I thought I wouldn’t be able to make it. Growing up as the first person in my household to graduate from high school, the first to attend college, and the first person to graduate from college was not the path laid out for me. As the oldest of eight, I have the responsibility of creating a path for my younger siblings. Every day, I come home to find my mom furiously trying to juggle the responsibilities of raising my six younger brothers and my one-year-old sister. And as the oldest, I work after school, and sometimes I don’t return home to complete A.P. assignments until after midnight. If it wasn’t for the support system at my school, I actually don’t believe I would be where I am today.

I have made it my goal to refuse to set the wrong path for my six younger brothers and my little sister. I know statistics suggest that I can’t do it. I know that it will not be easy to continue to create a path for my younger siblings, and I know that I still do not have all the keys to open up all the doors that I need. However, I ultimately know that what matters is that at the end of my journey I will have opened doors of opportunities for all my siblings.

Helen Keller once said, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight and no vision.” I have a vision. I want to be that older sister who makes her six brothers and little sister into leaders who create more leaders instead of followers.

I want to be the older sister who does not fail them. I will be that older sister. And that is why in the spring of 2019, I will be graduating from Wesleyan University.

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