The graduating class of 2015 at KIPP Atlanta Collegiate High School was remarkable, not just because they represented the first group of graduating students who started with the charter school as freshmen when it first opened in 2011, or because they were considered an at-risk group of students, just as likely to drop-out as earn their high school diploma. This graduating class was remarkable because 97 percent of the seniors that started the year at KIPP, ended the year there, as well.
Founding school principal Dave Howland told a group of students, who were wrapping up summer school in August, this statistic was unheard of. “The computer was like are you sure you didn’t make an error?”
But KIPP Atlanta Collegiate High School Director of Operations Kyra Caldwell knew this was no error. She credited Howland for the stunning statistic.
Literally every single grade a kid gets in high school has an impact on their future trajectory. So making sure that that’s a big piece, helps them stay on track to graduate
“I believe that he created a clear path to graduation for the students,” Caldwell said during an interview with PBA’s American Graduate program.
Caldwell explained that Howland, an American Graduate Champion, is a hands-on principal, who goes above and beyond, who sits down with students and discusses their concerns one-on-one. She says his style was a model for school staff, as well.
“He developed strong relationships and bonds with the students and their families in order for them to have that clear path laid out for them,” she said.
No, Caldwell knew this was no computer error, and KIPP teachers knew it, too. They also credit Howland with the school’s success rate.
“He sees a great deal in our students,” KIPP teacher Fallon Holmes said. “Their success is his number one goal,” she added.
Caldwell called Howland a “hard worker” and “a visionary.”
Howland may be a “hard worker” and he may be a “visionary,” but his focus is basic and simple when it comes to his students and their success.
“Literally every single grade a kid gets in high school has an impact on their future trajectory. So making sure that that’s a big piece, helps them stay on track to graduate,” Howland said.
Another big part of KIPP’s success, so far, is its advisory program, according to Howland and school teachers.
When a freshman enters KIPP, the student is placed with a group of older students and a faculty member or two. It’s called the student’s advisory and it’s a gender-based program. The student will work with this group all the way through high school.
“My advisory, I’ve had them since they were rising freshmen,” KIPP teacher Arthur Washington explained. “
“So, it was my job as an advisor to instill those teen work values, those unity values in them and I track their academic progress, but not just academic progress. I’m making sure that they’re becoming better people,” Washington said.
Howland, who created the program, knew that school staff could only do so much to keep a student in school. But he also knew that if he could harness peer pressure with the shared goal of keeping students in school, he might be able to keep more children on track for graduation.
And so he told students in that summer school class in August what to expect when the school year started, that the school’s advisory program is very important.
“That advisory unit is very intentional. It’s not something that exists at every school…. it’s a specific choice because we know that in the long run of high school, if you’re thinking about dropping out, if you’re thinking about backing down, if you’re thinking about relinquishing from one of those challenges, it’s not necessarily going to be an adult that’s going to push you through,” he told the students that day.
“It’s going to be your peers.”
KIPP teacher Lester Caldwell credits Howland with more than just a vision for a more successful charter school.
“He’s shown these kids at this particular institution that outside of their inner city community there is hope. Outside of the four walls of this school, yes you do live in this environment, but you’re not confined to this environment,” Caldwell said.
“Just to see the Class of 2015 graduate with all those expectations that they didn’t have their ninth grade year coming in, is a true testament of his focus and his direction.”
PBA's Atlanta Champions