College Ready, Culturally Conscious, Career Exposed
By David Spencer, Founding School Leader of KIPP Indy Legacy High
This story is part of our Celebrating Education Innovation series leading up to our fall fundraiser. These stories highlight the progress, innovation, and impact of Indianapolis charter schools over the past 20 years from the perspectives of parents, school leaders, and community partners.
When our staff start over the summer, the first thing we do is share our three core pillars with them so they know exactly what they are responsible for at KIPP Indy Legacy High. The three pillars are that students graduate from us 1) college ready, 2) culturally conscious, and 3) career exposed. From day one when students start as freshman, we are focused on equipping them with the knowledge necessary to do whatever they desire in the postsecondary world.
When it comes to being college ready, that looks like students taking the PSAT.and setting our students up with AP courses, dual credit classes, and a robust menu of academic options. When a student is culturally conscious, that means they know what’s going on around them outside of the school building. In 2020 that meant students were out registering people to vote ahead of the national elections. More recently, students collected soil samples from the neighborhood around the school to check the lead levels of the soil in our community. Lastly, being career exposed has also resulted in us exposing them to a number of speakers and professionals across their four years with KIPP Indy Legacy High.
Proving What is Possible
We just entered our fourth year as a school. One of the things that I’m most proud of actually dates back to our first year when we only enrolled freshman. Our first freshman class took a practice ACT when they started that school year and we looked at where we ranked against other KIPP high schools across the country and realized we were not where we wanted to be. Yet by the end of the year our students scored in the top KIPP high schools nationally. I find that to be such a testament to what our students are able to accomplish in a short period of time. It also speaks to how we as a staff are intentional and dive into the hard work alongside our students.
Another thing I’m proud of is who our students are, especially our founding class that will graduate next spring. If you walk down the hallway today, who they are is very different from who they were when they walked into our building as freshmen a few years ago. I have seen them use their voice in ways that are truly powerful. They each have an idea of what they want to do once they leave here and that’s going to result in real-world, positive impact.
One student who exemplifies this growth is Shariah Miller. She was a founding student who started off very shy. She’d sit in the back of the cafeteria during morning meetings and was quite reserved. But over time she’s become truly outspoken and is confident in what she believes. She now pushes others around her to use their voice and not sit in the background.
Community Partnerships Key to Student Experience
The student experience at KIPP Indy Legacy High would not be what it is without community partnerships. Who we are as a school would not be the same without the partnerships that we’ve made. One of the big ones is Edna Martin Christian Center. Edna Martin is really part of the KIPP family. Calling them just a community partner feels insufficient. Their building is literally feet away from us. At the same time, they are deeply entrenched in our building as well. One small example is that one of their staff teaches a civics class two days per week for our students. It’s a class we would not have been able to offer without that partnership.
Who we are as a school would not be the same without the partnerships that we’ve made.David Spencer, KIPP Indy Legacy High Founding School Leader
The soil testing example I gave earlier is another illustration of the power of community partnership. That only happened because we were able to collaborate with IUPUI to offer that experience to students. Working together with other organizations allows us to do things and offer things for students that just wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
Charters Provide Options to Families
KIPP Indy Legacy High does not exist in isolation. It’s abundantly clear how necessary community partnerships are to the success of our students and families. But another way that shows up is in how I view our school as part of the larger charter school movement. With the addition of charters came the addition of options for families. More options means we are all pushed to grow and become better at how we serve students and families.
The student experience is at the forefront of the charter school movement in Indianapolis. That’s certainly true at KIPP Indy. Everyone we partner with has student outcomes top of mind. What I notice is that keeping that priority at the top results in doing whatever it takes to get the outcomes our students deserve. That means KIPP Indy staffs its schools a certain way and ensures its academic and extracurricular opportunities are in service of the end-goal.
Next spring, KIPP Indy Legacy High will graduate its founding class. It took a village to support our kids to that graduation stage and it will take a village to see them off the other side of that stage and into the next phase of their lives. There’s a whole army of people fighting for our students. That’s the power of community partnership. It’s not just me. It’s not just Barato Britt over at Edna Martin or folks at IUPUI or faith leaders in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood or the team at The Mind Trust. It’s all of us, working together to deliver what our city’s students have always deserved.