Karen Cox participated as a fellow in KIPP’s inaugural KIPP Leadership Design Fellowship (KLDF) cohort, which has led to a stronger relationship between her and Fulton County Schools and David Jernigan and KIPP Metro Atlanta. The following is a conversation between the two about KLDF and its impact.
David: Why did you want to participate in the KIPP Leadership Design Fellowship?
Karen: Earlier in my career, I worked for a traditional public middle school during the school’s transition into a charter school, so I’ve had an interest in the charter movement for several years. KIPP is a well-known Charter Management Organization with successful schools in numerous areas of the country, so the opportunity to learn from them was intriguing! We were at an important juncture in Fulton County Schools, where our new superintendent was carefully looking at our processes for hiring school leaders – so this was a great fit for learning from our KIPP colleagues.
Karen: How did you feel about Fulton County Public Schools participating?
David: Our vision as an organization is to partner with school districts to increase the number of college graduates in metro Atlanta. We view sharing our leadership development strategies as integral to our work. Fulton County Schools is a great partner. Since its founding in 2003, KIPP South Fulton Academy operates as part of the Fulton County school district. We were pleased they, and you, chose to join in the KIPP Leadership Design Fellowship this year.
David: What was your biggest take-away from the experience or what do you know will change in your district as a result of the fellowship?
Karen: The biggest take-away for me was the awareness that 1) many other schools systems are grappling with the same issues around the selection, development, and retention of effective school leaders; 2) KIPP has some good processes that we could model after.
As we move into our new status as the largest charter system district in the state of Georgia (and, perhaps, the country), I realized that we can learn from our innovative colleagues at KIPP Metro Atlanta.
Karen: What did you hope I would learn, about KIPP nationally or KIPP Metro Atlanta, by participating?
David: KIPP has created a very effective leadership development program, and it was my hope that we could share some of those best practices with your district as you work to strengthen leadership development capacity. Given Superintendent Avossa’s commitment to empowering his principals and fostering a spirit of entrepreneurship, it seemed like a natural alignment with the way that KIPP prioritizes strong leadership and invests in leadership development.
KIPP prides itself in being a very transparent organization, so I was excited for you to learn from our mistakes and to potentially offer your insights on our opportunities for improvement.
David: One major goal of the fellowship was to create a lasting community of like-minded leaders open to sharing effective practices and lessons learned… was KLDF effective in doing that?
Karen: Yes, the open, thoughtful and thorough sharing of the leadership development processes for/by KIPP helped create a safe space for sharing and learning.
Karen: How do you hope that KIPP Metro Atlanta and Fulton County Public Schools can collaborate going forward to improve education opportunities for all kids in Atlanta communities?
David: Fulton County Schools (FCS) is a well-functioning school district with key academic and operational systems that allow it to be effective. As you mentioned earlier, the system recently obtained charter district status from the Georgia Department of Education. This status will provide FCS with increased flexibility for each school to a more school-level decision-making model. We can be thought partners with them as they make this transition. As KIPP Metro Atlanta grows to eight schools serving more than 3,300 students, we can certainly learn how Fulton County, a large urban district, structures its academic and operational support systems and decision-rights processes.