Blog | September 29, 2021

We Exist Because of Our Community

By David Spencer, Former The Mind Trust Fellow and current School Leader at KIPP Indy Legacy High

When I started with KIPP Indy Public Schools some years ago, school leadership was not brand-new to me. But when they shared the opportunity to do the Innovation School Fellowship with The Mind Trust as part of developing KIPP Indy Legacy High, it hands down sounded amazing. Three things really stood out to me: the exceptional professional development, the chance to connect with veteran leaders, and the partnership with a cohort of Fellows.

Every school leader and member of The Mind Trust’s staff—looking at you Patrick and Sonja—who poured into us during my Fellowship helped in so many ways. The sessions on racial equity particularly stand out to me as helpful in thinking through how that could live out in our academics and approach to social-emotional support. I was able to grow and learn alongside a brilliant cohort of Fellows. Those lessons are things I call back to now as I am leading KIPP Indy Legacy High. We built a camaraderie that went beyond a social relationship and ensured our knowledge and expertise were shared for the benefit of students, no matter whose school they attended.

Another standout experience from the Fellowship was our cohort trip to South Africa, where we visited a variety of schools. One school really stood out to me for the way they focused on social-emotional support. They had a social worker for students and a different social worker just for their staff. The way they dedicated human capital in that way really brought home the importance of prioritizing that type of support for all stakeholders as I was launching our school.

KIPP Indy Legacy High is now in its third year, with our junior class setting the tone and leading the way. I’m most proud of two things that we’ve accomplished so far: academics and culture. Academically, in just our first year, we posted interim assessment scores that ranked in the top six for high schools across Indianapolis. I believe that speaks to what is possible with the model we created.

The other piece is our culture. I know every student at our school would confidently say they feel loved. Our students know we value them. I sometimes visualize the matching of strong academics with a caring culture as holding our students’ feet to the fire while holding their hands. We know what they are capable of and to settle for anything less does them a disservice. It’s that matching of rigor and high expectations with love and support that make KIPP Indy Legacy High a special place in my book.

Something I cannot overemphasize regarding our first couple of years is how key our community has been to our success. Edna Martin Christian Center has been an amazing partner. To even call them a partner feels like an understatement because of how influential and supportive they are. We constantly refer our families to them for financial support and childcare needs. They offer so many key services for the Martindale-Brightwood community. They push us to be better and their staff is filled with so many selfless, noble people.

I hope our city can continue to strengthen its partnerships with the community and for all of us to join in a collective response that prioritizes the needs of students and families.

David Spencer

Thinking of our community’s needs, right now, the reality is that we are coming out of a pandemic that has impacted our families in ways we cannot fully fathom. One of my hopes for our city, and something I see The Mind Trust as being a standard-bearer for, is that we prioritize restoring our community while pushing forward to greater possibilities. We must not use the pandemic as an excuse to lower what we know is possible in education.

Families and students are exhausted, overwhelmed, and confused. They are looking to our city’s leadership and school leaders like me for a holistic response—a response that touches not just our classrooms, but also our streets and our homes and our workplaces. I hope our city can continue to strengthen its partnerships with the community and for all of us to join in a collective response that prioritizes the needs of students and families and declares that we are a place that does not leave any of its citizens behind.

My dream for KIPP Indy Legacy High is that our school becomes seen as a place of hope and excellence.

David Spencer

My dream for KIPP Indy Legacy High is that our school becomes seen as a place of hope and excellence. I aim to lead a school that our community sees as a value-add, a school that makes the neighborhood better because of the numerous ways we partner with them. It’s in the name: legacy. We are trying to craft a legacy of hope, excellence, and community that ripples for generations.

The truth is, our school would not be here if our community had not rallied behind us. We owe them a debt. We exist because our community allowed us to be here. It is a privilege and an honor. It means I view my school leader role as paying down our debt to the community, trying hard every day to make good on the promise we have made to them and the trust they’ve placed in us. We believe in students. I know our community believes in us. I have seen what is possible when a school and a community align on a common mission. When I walk into KIPP Indy Legacy High at the start of a school day, it is palpable: every single stakeholder is doing their best to deliver on that possibility. There’s no place I’d rather be.