“…Not Yet.” Reflections on the First Day of School

By Danny Swersky, Founding School Leader, KIPP NYC

The promises we make to our students and their families are sacred. We promise that we will do whatever it takes for our students to lead successful, happy and engaged lives. We promise that we will meet students and families where they are in order to continue our journey of growth, both as individuals and as a community. We promise to provide an excellent education that includes both character and academics.

“When I say ‘Hi KIPPsters’ you say ‘Hi Mr. Swersky!’” This was how I started my day on August 20th, the day we opened the doors of KIPP Washington Heights Middle School. After greeting all of the class of 2024 and their families we all went to the gym to begin our climb towards college graduation. We talked about the importance of Team and Family. We talked about what it means to work hard and be nice. We talked about my favorite word… “yet.” Had they earned their KIPP shirts… not YET. Were they reading at a college level… not YET. Have they achieved their dreams in life… not YET.

Education is about growth and everyone in the room grew that day. The lessons that we taught the students had a profound impact on me for two reasons.

August 20th was the first step in keeping the promises we made to our students and their families. This was the foundation. Everything else that we do is built upon it and so we needed to get it right… and we did. The foundation our incredible team built that day will allow us to keep our sacred promises. We know that we made and will make mistakes, as the students will, but the strength of our team will make sure that our windy road is always pointed to our mission – college graduation.

In addition to the foundation we started building with our students, our families, and our community, the morning of August 20th also made me reflect on my own journey. Beneath all of what we do is a deep sense of optimism that we – big KIPPsters and little KIPPsters – can create a better world. I thought about the massive amount of support I had received from KIPP NYC and my KIPP Team and Family from across the country that helped me create and operationalize our vision for KIPP Washington Heights Middle School. We want to create a school community focused on continuous learning in order maximize our potential. With love we will face our challenges and celebrate our successes as a team and family. We believe that through college focused literacy instruction and explicit character education we will cultivate critical thinking that will change the world and our place within it. That vision attracted insanely talented people who will work relentlessly to unleash the inner talents of our students. It’s not just the power of seeing close to 100 students light up because the founding staff believes in them… it’s also about the power of individuals to come together, unite around a common vision, and change the world.

August 20th filled me with gratitude for the team effort that went into opening our school that will change the lives of our students in Washington Heights. I’m on the same journey of growth that my founding 5th grade class is on… to be a better person and to change the world and my place within it. Have we done it… not YET.

Interested in founding and leading your own KIPP school? Learn more about the Fisher and Miles Family Fellowship.