Every day that students at LeBron James’ I Promise School walk through the doors, they’re invited to a celebration from the sounds of Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” blaring over the school’s loudspeakers to hugs, high-fives and compliments showered upon them by staff. In most public schools one would expect it to be part of a special occasion but for those in the Akron, Ohio school, it’s an everyday occurrence.
The school serves as LeBron’s most significant contribution to educational philanthropy and seeks to change the lives of those identified as the worst performers in the Akron public schools, branded with behavioral problems, or labeled at-risk students – some as young as 8.
It’s still early but the results appear most impressive in efforts to close the achievement gap. The sample of students, 240, is small but for the inaugural classes of 3rd- and 4th-graders at I Promise, 90 percent met or exceeded individual growth goals in reading and math, outpacing their peers across the district in the first set of district assessments.
What’s more, I Promise is not a charter school run by a private operator but is instead a public school operated by the district. Its population: 60 percent Black; 15 percent English-language learners; 29 percent special education students; and 75 percent of its families meet the low-income threshold to receive help from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. The school’s $2 million budget comes from the district, comparable to the same amount per pupil that’s spent in other schools. But with LeBron’s foundation, $600,000 goes toward the support of additional teaching staff to reduce class sizes and an additional hour of after-school programming and tutors. One of the keys to success, many say, remains the school’s unusual attention to and resources provided for parents.
LeBron does not show up with the cameras and his entourage. After all, and as he clearly understands and says, this is not the NBA. This is life. What a lesson we could learn or so many fronts.