From KIPP Newark parent, to social worker, and from dean to school leader at KIPP Rise Academy, Kevin Brown has worn many hats since he joined KIPP Newark (then TEAM schools) fourteen years ago.

This year, Kevin Brown is stepping into a role where his work will have an impact across our schools in Newark and Camden. As Director of Student Experience, he’s working to bring hands-on learning opportunities, powerful school traditions and parent voice to the forefront of every student’s experience.

Learn more about his journey with KIPP New Jersey and vision for the student experience below.

What led you to join KIPP Newark?

My background was in social work and I started my career at the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services. But it was actually my family that brought me to KIPP Newark. My daughter was a founding class student at KIPP Rise Academy and my sons followed in her footsteps.

At the time, I was offering a lot of support to the school around areas like social emotional learning and combating summer learning loss. At one point, Drew Martin (current Executive Director of KIPP NJ) said, “Instead of giving me all of these great ideas, why don’t you join my team?” I spoke to my wife and kids about it and they gave me the green light!

I started as a social worker and then moved into the dean of students role. From there, I became an assistant principal and eventually a school leader at KIPP Rise Academy, a position I held through the end of the 2021-22 school year.

What lessons did you learn while at Rise that you’re applying to your new role?

At Rise, the student experience was our bread and butter. It captured me and kept me for my entire tenure. We believed that the last day of school told us about the true experience we created within our school. If kids didn’t want to leave on the last day of the school year, that meant we had done our jobs well.

When Drew designed the school, he did so around building small and strong teams, to effectuate greater connections between students, parents, and staff. Our mantra was that school culture was everything, and it was our job to expose students to different experiences that would help them grow and learn to define success for themselves. As I step into this role, I bring that mindset with me.

As Director of Student Experience, what does success look like in your new role?

My goal this year is to codify all the elements of positive, engaging school experiences, everything from hands-on learning opportunities and school traditions, to areas like behavior management and successfully transitioning students between grade levels. To put it more simply, my vision is to develop shared experiences that engage students as learners and members of their school community.

I’m thinking about questions like, how can we enhance the classroom lesson with trips and field lessons that are developmentally appropriate? What end of school year experiences should be the hallmark of our students' school experience? Traditions like field days, prom, or days when staff represent their alma mater, these are the experiences that build linkages between generations of KIPP NJ students.

As we begin the school year, I’ve been having productive conversations with staff across the organization, reviewing survey data going back years and gathering input from school leaders to align on our vision and roll it out across all of our schools. Our goal is to create equitable experiences, which means adopting a strength-based mindset that centers the talents of each student and helps them grow.

As a leader in the organization and KIPP NJ parent, how do you see the role families play in executing on this vision?

I think it’s important for families to partner with schools and the work I’m doing will help create another pipeline to enhance that relationship. It exists already within many schools, but we are striving to be more consistent.

Our families’ perspectives are paramount to the success of our students and organization. I also believe that many of our schools do a good job eliciting family voices. Whether it’s through family nights, scheduled chat and talk times with school leaders, or consistent surveys; we are trying to incorporate families in our schools.

We should continue to learn with and from families. One of many examples of these opportunities are social events. When we put together events where kids are performing or being celebrated, that’s a big way for families to be involved in our schools. What I would like to see is families involved in the creation of those events from inception. My role will lend itself to clarifying what family involvement can look like at different grade levels.

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