Principal Davis on Akron’s new I PROMISE School: The model, support from LeBron James, and why STEM

Thanks to support from NBA superstar and Akron native LeBron James, the I PROMISE School opened with much hoopla in late July. The public elementary school, which is part of Akron Public Schools, will have a STEM emphasis and serve some of the Summit County city’s most at-risk students — initially third- and fourth-graders. It will have a longer school day and a non-traditional academic calendar, and it will provide access to “wrap-around” social services to the students and their families.

Most financial support for the I PROMISE School will come from taxpayers, with supplemental funding supplied by the LeBron James Family Foundation. The school’s principal, Brandi Davis, gave us more details:

Q: Tell us about the I PROMISE School: What is its mission and who will it serve?

A: At the I PROMISE School (IPS), our mission is to create a home where the entire family is loved, and students are educated for the 21st century. Our vision is that the students will become influencers, improve our community, and change the world.

In addition, having an on-site family resource center providing various resources from throughout Summit County to support our families further promotes our “We Are Family” philosophy. Initially, the school will serve Akron Public Schools third- and fourth-graders along with their families. By the year 2022, we will serve grades 1-8.

Q: What sets IPS apart from other schools in the Akron Public Schools system?

A: IPS is considered a specialty school in the district because of our three foundational principles: a strong STEM curriculum, trauma-informed supports and family wrap-around services.

We also have a non-traditional school day: The instructional day runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the Illumination Period — when students participate in extracurricular activities, clubs and service learning — runs from 4 to 5 p.m.

Even though IPS students attend the same number of days as traditional Akron Public Schools students, the days are strategically spread out throughout the year to help eliminate the summer slide students often experience when they return to school in the fall.

Q: How were the students chosen to attend?

A: Incoming Akron Public Schools third- and fourth-graders were randomly selected by a lottery to attend. There is no application or waiting list. The district has six cluster (neighborhood) high schools, and each cluster was given 20 slots for the lottery, therefore establishing a true representation of the district at IPS.

Q: Where does the funding for the school come from? How will the district afford the school as grades are added in coming years?

A: A budget was created to establish the funding rollout over the next five years that included staffing, per pupil costs and extended-time trainings. The school is funded using federal and state dollars, including Title I funds, very similar to other schools in the Akron district.

The LeBron James Family Foundation provides supplemental funding for additional teachers to reduce class size, Illumination Period and technology resources.

Q: How much of the curriculum will be STEM-based, and why was STEM chosen as an emphasis?

A: To ensure integration of STEM components, IPS has a Humanities Block that integrates English language arts and social studies, and an engineering block that integrates math, science and engineering components.

Problem-based learning (PBL) and curriculum mapping align the integration of the content areas into student-centered lessons. STEM was chosen as an emphasis because research has shown that student engagement and authentic learning opportunities create environments that support critical thinking and problem solving leading to next-generation innovators.

Q: How will corporate/organizational partners play a role?

A: IPS will utilize the University of Akron field experience students to support both the humanities and engineering blocks. Chase Bank will support financial literacy for students through Junior Achievement and parents through our in-house Family Resource Center. All PBL stakeholders will be aligned with curriculum standards.

Q: When and what kind of assessment will be made of the school’s performance?

A: An internal and external evaluation will focus on academics, achievement and growth, as well as climate of IPS beginning in January 2019.

Q: Could this become a model for other schools?

A: The goal of IPS is to be a nationally recognized model of urban and public school excellence. Our foundational principles of STEM-infused curriculum, trauma-responsive systems and family wrap-around supports will be the model for success for urban public schools.

Q: Has the attention and publicity surrounding the school’s opening been a distraction or a benefit?

A: From the outside, the attention might appear to be a distraction, however, our students and staff are well insulated from all of that. We have received a plethora of offers for volunteers and support, however, the vetting process will be rigorous.

Our students deserve compassionate, flexible and engaged groups and individuals who embrace our “We Are Family” philosophy and support our culture of nurturing our students and families so that they improve our community and change the world.


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