Dear KIPP Team and Family,
Together with the board of directors, I am pleased to announce Shavar D. Jeffries as the next CEO of the KIPP Foundation. He will begin meeting with the KIPP community toward the end of the calendar year and will work from KIPP’s New York City offices starting in January. Shavar is a civil rights attorney, a preeminent advocate for educational excellence and justice, and his KIPP allegiance is deep and long-standing. He will be a generational leader for KIPP, helping us set compass towards our highest goals—lifting outcomes for students and demonstrating what best-in-class public education can and should be in America.
Shavar D. Jeffries
Shavar‘s biography begins—and continues now—in his hometown of Newark, New Jersey. He was raised primarily by his public school teacher grandmother, who instilled in him an enduring belief in transformative education. He graduated from Duke University and Columbia Law School, where he concentrated on civil rights law and policy. Across his career, Shavar practiced law, held public office as assistant attorney general in New Jersey, ran for mayor of Newark, served as the elected president of the Newark school board, and since 2015 has served as president of two national nonprofits, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) and Education Reform Now (ERN). Shavar has a record of fighting for—and delivering— strong educational outcomes for children. His work has also given him real proximity to the current challenges in the education sector—for public charter schools, in particular—and to the urgency of post-pandemic recovery. He brings to KIPP a ferocity of belief in the potential of all children, balanced by pragmatic experience of the day-to-day challenges our students face as they learn, grow and achieve.
Also central to Shavar‘s personal biography is his long affiliation with KIPP. He was founding board chair of KIPP Newark, where he remains a KIPP NJ board member, and for a decade, he has worked closely with KIPP’s public policy team. Shavar joined the KIPP Foundation Board in 2019, and his two children graduated from KIPP Spark Academy and KIPP Team Academy in Newark. Shavar, his wife Tenagne Girma-Jeffries, and their children, now in high-school, are proud KIPPsters already. We are grateful for their family’s commitment to our next chapter of work.
Choosing a CEO
The word most people used, in describing our search, was “long;” indeed, the Board spent a full year on the project. With the support of search firm Heidrick & Struggles, we reviewed hundreds of names and sourced from many leaders in our field. The Board met and engaged with two dozen exceptional leaders from around the country before concentrating on five individuals this summer. In the end, we stayed close to home. Shavar was the unsurpassed candidate, demonstrating optimism and conviction that KIPP can and will deliver on our highest aspirations for our students. He has generated powerful results across his career and shares the Board’s commitment to fulfilling our promise to deliver joyful, excellent schools for our scholars. Together with the network, Shavar and the Board stand ready to do the hard work of seeing those promises fulfilled.
How do we adequately thank Richard Barth? In this moment of charting our next chapter, we note Richard’s exceptional leadership, over almost 17 years, and KIPP’s growth from 8,000 to ~120,000, students during his tenure. As we chart course for the future, Richard’s superb stewardship allows us to start from a position of strength.
This long transition would not have been possible without the skilled and steady hand of Network President Kinnari Patel-Smyth, appointed acting CEO last spring. She will remain in that role for the remainder of the calendar year. When Shavar begins as chief executive, she will return to her president role, overseeing the growth and performance of the network.
Long searches can be clarifying. Across the community engagement we did last fall, and through many months of sourcing and meeting candidates, a clarity emerged around what KIPP needs now and what must be true in the future. In the end, we have the privilege of welcoming a leader who is an exceptional match for the journey we will chart together. Shavar’s own letter to the network follows. I close with my best wishes to each of you, as you head into the new school year.
It is my honor to serve as your next CEO. I identify completely with KIPP’s mission because I am a first-generation college graduate from a community that is heavily resourced in human potential—but dramatically under-resourced in economic opportunity. I grew up in the great city of Newark, New Jersey, in a neighborhood of leaders, problem solvers and heroes. We were born giants, but too many of the public systems—from schools to police to housing—that in theory were intended to serve us, evidently thought we were small and treated us as such. I am here today because of an audacious village of loving adults—from my mother, who told me constantly that I was unstoppable; to my grandmother, who told me constantly to demand justice; to a few extraordinary teachers, who told me constantly that technical excellence was essential to actualizing my potential—made sure I never forgot who I was.
To pay these gifts forward, for the last 23 years I’ve worked as a civil-rights lawyer and social-sector executive. I litigated civil-rights education cases, spanning school funding, racially discriminatory tracking, special education and affirmative action. I ran New Jersey’s juvenile justice system, a cumbersome bureaucracy encompassing 1700 employees and a $130 million budget, and we transformed the system through detention alternatives, community-based placements and empowering proven nonprofit providers. As the school board president in Newark, an unwieldy bureaucracy serving 35,000 students on a billion-dollar budget, I worked with the district to transform the system in ways that led to nationally significant learning gains. And, most recently, as president of Education Reform Now and Democrats for Education Reform, I led the organizations in persuading federal and state governments to enact policies that advance educational equity on diverse issues including charter-school funding, accountability, teacher diversity and higher education.
My Commitment to Educational Equity and KIPP
My commitment to educational equity also brought me to KIPP 21 years ago. I met KIPP Newark founder Ryan Hill in 2001 and recognized immediately that KIPP’s ethos—high expectations, hard work and perseverance—mirrored the values my Newark village had instilled in me. I agreed then to serve as the founding board chair of KIPP Team Academy and continue to serve on our regional board to this day. In 2019, I joined the KIPP Foundation Board and as a result have become quite familiar with KIPP’s strengths nationally, as well as opportunities for evolution.
And, perhaps most importantly, my children attended and graduated from KIPP elementary and middle schools where my wife served as president of our local parent associations. I marveled as brave and brilliant educators, like Spark Academy principal Joanna Belcher and Team Academy principal Shawadeim Regans, relentlessly poured life and love into our children. From the dreaded elementary-school color change (Who knew the color green had such power?), to the quest to read one million words in a year, to parent-teacher conferences, to talent shows and school performances, I saw first-hand the commitment, hard work and passion that KIPP teachers bring to our children and communities daily. To put all of this simply, KIPP is in my DNA.
When we started our work at KIPP more than two decades ago, we were under no illusions about the difficulty of our mission. We seek to break cycles of intergenerational poverty through the power of a world-class education. This work is as important as any in the world and is likewise as challenging, in the face of the interlocking ways that poverty, racism and the incompetence of public bureaucracies combine to trap our children and their families in a stultifying status quo.
Delivering On KIPP’s Mission
Today, this work is even more difficult because the pandemic has exacerbated underlying challenges, causing learning levels to plummet and introducing even greater levels of trauma, not only to our children and families but also to the adults who serve them. Crises are revelatory—they provide few places to hide and they uncover the fundamentals of individuals, teams and organizations. We are in a time that demands leaders who run to challenges, not away from them; who recognize that crises are not overcome individually, but only through teamwork; and who remain anchored, unapologetically, in the conviction that our children are giants and our schools should consistently lean into, and not away from, their greatness.
The current crisis cries out for KIPP, its mission, its resolve and its unique national reach. No organization is better suited to demonstrate how the country—across diverse communities, regions and political environments—can deliver educational excellence and equity in the midst of the daunting challenges we now face. This is KIPP’s time. This moment has called me to join you—in this fight, in this new role. It will not be easy; fighting the injustice of intergenerational poverty never is. But, together, as a KIPP family, we will deliver on the boundless potential of our children and, in so doing, change the nation and our world.