- Less than a year after LeBron James' I Promise School opened in Akron, Ohio, last August, 90% of its roughly 240 3rd- and 4th-grade students have met or exceeded their reading and math growth goals at the midyear mark, The New York Times reports. And its at-risk students are slowly gaining ground toward closing the achievement gap with their peers across the district.
- Unlike other schools associated with celebrities — many of which are private or charter schools — the I Promise School is district-run and funded like other local schools. But this year, with the help of the LeBron James Family Foundation, it received startup funds for initiation renovations and about $600,000 in extra support to fund smaller class sizes and extended learning opportunities at the end of the school day to support social-emotional learning.
- Though the school uses a trauma-informed curriculum and has a culture built on “Habits of Promise” — perseverance, perpetual learning, problem solving, partnering and perspective — its “secret sauce” is the attention paid to parents, the Times notes. The foundation covers the costs in the school’s family resource center, which provides parents with general education diploma preparation, work advice, health and legal services, and access to the school’s food pantry.
Celebrity school involvement or educational philanthropy isn't new, but past attempts by celebrities to launch or support schools have had mixed results. When James launched his school in August, the idea was met with some skepticism, especially as it actively targeted students with the least academic promise, according to traditional measures.
However, while the school is showing early signs of potential, it is too early to tell if these results are sustainable in the long term. Many of its core principles and practices — its focus on social emotional-learning, trauma-informed curriculum, relationship-building, smaller class sizes and extended learning opportunities at the end of the school day, for example — aren't brand new. But, often because of a lack of funding or resources, it's common that schools can't implement all of these new innovations at once. Not every school has a philanthropist behind it, but if this school proves to be a success, other philanthropists, corporations and lawmakers may see the value in the investment.
One of the more notable aspects of the I Promise School is its intense parental support. Recognizing that stronger, better-informed families increase the support, encouragement and stability that students need to thrive, the school offers both wraparound services and educational opportunities for parents and their students. While these efforts may come with a higher cost, districts and schools without a surplus of funds can get them for less through collaborations between community colleges, local government agencies and charities.