KIPP Foundation Program Trains New Breed of School Administrators

Published October 1, 2005

The reformers behind the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) are not strangers to innovative education reform. Therefore, it should come as no surprise they are now training principals not only to lead schools, but to found them.

KIPP was conceived in 1994 by Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, two teachers who earned tremendous success delivering their program to underserved students at charter schools in Houston and New York. In 2000, GAP, Inc. founders Don and Doris Fisher wanted to help replicate that success and funded the KIPP Foundation, which now oversees 38 schools using the KIPP model, focusing on students spending more time in school and rigorous college-prep classes in under-resourced communities.

One of the most important components of that model, said KIPP consultant Pam Moeller, is school leadership.

“The Foundation sets out to find phenomenal teachers with impressive records of measurable success with underserved students, who have the capabilities and desire to have an impact beyond the classroom walls to successfully lead entire schools,” Moeller said.

Mother of Invention

Darryl Cobb, KIPP’s chief learning officer, said the in-house Leadership Program was created to address deficits in offerings for education of school administrators.

“Our Leadership Program grew out of necessity–the genesis itself was a reaction to traditional principal preparation programs that did not offer the kind of training we believe is necessary to lead a KIPP school,” Cobb said.

The KIPP School Leadership Program includes a classroom component that focuses on instruction, organization, and operations, and an intensive three-month residency. The program is designed to serve three constituencies: Fisher Fellows, who are hand-selected to establish their own KIPP schools; current junior leaders at KIPP schools, such as assistant principals and deans; and a handful of leaders working for like-minded organizations, such as YES College Prep, Achievement First, and Noble Street.

“Quality is our guide–some years we have eight students; some years we have 17,” Moeller said. “The key is finding individuals with the potential to start successful KIPP schools.”

Real Experience

The program’s residency component provides Fisher Fellows with unique opportunities, not only to be exposed to the daily grind of school leadership but also to reflect on the needs different schools face during their development.

“All Fisher Fellows must complete a three-month residency–it’s the time when theory meets reality,” Moeller explained. “To get them thinking about leadership techniques and the needs of schools at different levels of maturity, we place them in schools that are well-established, like our academies in Houston and New York, and they also spend time at schools that are just starting and still attempting to define their cultures. At the end of the residency, they are better equipped to make their vision a reality.”

Cobb agreed, noting how principals’ roles have changed over the years–particularly in autonomous schools, such as charters or contract schools, which are the forms KIPP schools usually take.

“Depending on the school’s structure, the principal is expected to bring different strengths,” Cobb said. “At KIPP public schools, for example, we need leaders who are well versed in a wide range of issues from instructional matters to management. KIPP school principals are CEOs of small nonprofit businesses, essentially.”

Tougher than Government

KIPP, like New Leaders for New Schools, a national education leadership program founded in 2000, places a premium on training principals to address student achievement issues early and often.

“At KIPP schools we believe that data and results should drive the day-to-day, so our principals are trained to make decisions, with teachers, about instruction on a regular basis,” Moeller said.

KIPP’s accountability model is more rigorous than the accountability required by the No Child Left Behind Act, Cobb added.

According to an August 2005 report issued by the Education Policy Institute, a nonpartisan, international education research group, KIPP schools are posting successes with fifth graders in reading, language, and math. Fifth graders are enjoying average gains that far exceed the norm for their grade level, setting KIPP apart as a system achieving unprecedented success with previously underserved populations.

Kate McGreevy ([email protected]) is a freelance education writer living in New Mexico. She formerly worked with the Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy in Washington, DC.

For more information …

For more information on the Knowledge is Power Program, visit its Web site at