NBA superstar LeBron James recently cut the ribbon on an innovative elementary school he helped found in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.
LeBron James may have traded the shores of Lake Erie for those of the Pacific Ocean this offseason, but The King remains as committed as ever to his hometown community. Indeed, James recently Tweeted that his latest local endeavor, opening the I Promise School (IPS) in Akron, was “one of the greatest moments (if not the greatest moment) of [his] life.”
In many ways, IPS represents the culmination of James’ long involvement with education in Ohio. In 2011, James launched the I Promise Initiative to help reduce the high school dropout rate in Akron Public Schools (APS). In 2015, he partnered with the University of Akron to provide full-ride scholarships to as many as 2,300 local students. Over the last seven years, the I Promise Initiative has expanded into the I Promise Network, an organization that provided more than 1,200 APS students with after school and summer programming this past academic year.
For James, IPS is an opportunity to put all of this experience to work in a more formalized setting. “We’ve learned over the years what works and what motivates [students], and now we can bring all of them together in one place along with the right resources and experts,” he tells The Associated Press.
Helping His Community Rebound
While, like the I Promise Network, IPS is intended to serve low-income and otherwise at-risk students in the Akron area, it’s actually a fully public school. July 31st marked the start of IPS’ inaugural academic year (the school adheres to a year-round schedule), and for the time being, all of its 240 enrollees are either third- or fourth-graders. IPS plans to welcome second- and fifth-graders next year, and will become a first through eighth grade school by 2022.
The current cohort of IPS students was selected via a lottery, the pool for which consisted only of APS students whose reading levels were already at least one year below where they should be. According to the latest District Report Cards issued by the Ohio Department of Education, over half of APS’ second-graders were considered “not on-track” when it came to their reading levels, meaning IPS had an abundance of eligible students vying for its limited slots.
In addition to offering accelerated learning programs designed to help students bring their reading proficiency up to speed, IPS delivers a curriculum that places a strong emphasis on STEM education. What’s more, the school provides each student with uniforms, breakfast and lunch, transportation (within two miles of the school), a bicycle, and a Chromebook — all at no cost.
These amenities are just a small part of IPS’ firm commitment to community building. The school offers its students’ parents job and family services, access to a GED program, and an on-site food bank. It also employs a team of counselors to help students and their families navigate the traumas associated with living around or below the poverty line.
“I think the missing link in public education is…family wraparound support,” says IPS Principal Brandi Davis. “Our students come to school and they’re worried about things at home…We want to create a safe, secure, caring, and loving environment for our families and our students so that our kids can focus on education.”
An All-Star Funding Alliance
Of course, IPS’ efforts to go above and beyond what Akronites are accustomed to aren’t free. On average, Akron’s public schools receive just over $10,000 per student per year in state and local formula funding — far from enough to cover IPS’ costs.
That’s where James comes in. His nonprofit, the LeBron James Family Foundation (LJFF), leads a group of more than 120 local stakeholders that has been tasked with making sure that IPS has the resources it needs to achieve its ambitious mission. According to Keith Liechty, the family liaison for LJFF and APS, James’ foundation “will fund critical elements of the school…such as technology, additional staffing, and professional development.”
For schools in Ohio districts that aren’t lucky enough to have such a munificent benefactor, pursuing innovative educational programs like IPS’ requires extreme budgetary efficiency. That means ensuring you get every last dollar to which you’re legally entitled, which is where a tool like Vinson’s CheckPoint EMIS platform becomes invaluable. CheckPoint streamlines the collection, organization, validation, and submission of critical student data, helping superintendents and district treasurers eliminate costly data reporting errors.
As James sums it up, “These kids are our future, and they have dreams and aspirations bigger than the city of Akron, than the state of Ohio, than the USA.” At Vinson, we’re doing everything we can to help turn these dreams and aspirations into realities.