Anne Kadowaki is currently wrapping up her Fisher Fellowship, where she designs her ideal school and makes it a reality. Anne’s school will be the first TEAM school to open in our expansion to Camden. I sat down with Anne to talk about her vision for Revolution Primary, a KIPP School.
MA: What brought you to TEAM?
I did Teach For America in 2006, and that’s what brought me to Newark. I taught in a district school for two years and then I came to TEAM. I think what attracted me the most about TEAM was the opportunity to serve kids on a team of people who were all on the same page and knowing that everyone in the building held the same high expectations for kids that I did. And that I never had to worry about the teachers my kids were going to next, because I knew the quality of their instruction and support was going to be better year after year.
MA: So then, why are you becoming a school leader?
AK: So there are a few reasons. I went to a high school in Chicago that has a very large focus on service learning, so I had a lot of opportunities while I was in high school to volunteer and do service in and around Chicago. In the summer before my senior year, I had the opportunity to travel to a rural town in Appalachia Kentucky, and that was the first time I had seen poverty in a very rural form, and it was eye-opening for me. So from that point on I knew that I was going to spend my life helping bring more opportunities to people in our country who didn’t have as much access to them.
Joining TFA really fit that personal mission of serving people in underprivileged communities. So in my first year of TFA, right away I knew I was hooked. I wasn’t going to leave the classroom. I wanted to stay teaching kids. I just loved it. I had a ton of fun. We were finding success. And as hard as the first year of teaching is, it was rewarding and I knew I was making a difference in the lives of my kids.
Ultimately, I joined TEAM because I wanted to raise the bar and I didn’t want to be the only one doing so for my kids and I knew I had to be on a team if we were going to do that effectively for kids in Newark. So, over my time at TEAM I’ve just seen what can happen for our kids when you provide them with a high-quality education, when you provide them with support and that’s continued to be very motivational and inspirational to me, to know that we’re not in this alone, and this is not too good to be true. We can make this happen for our kids, but it takes a lot of hard work and a lot of commitment.
So after several years in TEAM I decided I was personally ready to move on to leadership in terms of developing my own leadership skills, but I also was inspired by the opportunity to go to Camden because it was a place that needs us arguably worse than anywhere else in the country and I’ve just never seen such a high need for good schools. So I decided it was the right time for me as a leader, but also because this specific opportunity allowed me to stay within TEAM, which is a network I wouldn’t consider doing this work without.
Simultaneously there are two other reasons, one of which is a student named Michael, who I had when he was in the fifth grade at Rise. He had been retained three times previously and was still reading at a kindergarten level. He was years older than his peers but years behind them academically. We struggled. The year was rough, but he began to grow and improve. He was nicer to teammates, he was working harder in school, he was growing academically. Right now Michael is a sophomore at NCA and he has been on honor roll every marking period since he started. Michael speaks to the power of our organization in making sure we’re helping all kids succeed no matter where they enter. Michael has inspired me specifically to open an elementary school because I was not ok with a 13 year old fifth grader who was reading where 5 year olds nationally were reading. (On a kindergarten level)
Finally, There is a third separate reason which is that I have a little sister who is six now, who my family adopted and she was five when I was applying for the fisher fellowship, and she just helped open my eyes to what five year olds are capable of and what could be possible for someone at the age level I would be serving or starting with, and helped me to realize that when all the right supports are in place for children they can be wildly successful, beyond what you can imagine.
MA: Ok, anything else you’d like to add?
AK: I would say my main motivator is around making sure that, while the achievement gap still exists in kindergarten, starting with kids at that age group allows us to catch them up faster, so we’re making sure kids are never reading on a kindergarten level when they are in the fifth grade and knowing that a city like Camden is a city that needs this opportunity for their children, really badly.
MA: That is actually where I was going to go next, why Camden, but before that can you talk a little bit about how you got into the leadership within Rise, before departing to lead on your own.
AK: So my second year at Rise, I became the fifth grade level chair. That was the first time I was responsible for managing adults. There was a pretty steep learning curve. But over the four years I was in leadership at Rise, I would say I grew as a person, and a teacher and a leader, and I was able to take on more and more. As I continued to take on more, I continued to develop in all those areas as well. I had a lot of opportunities for growth, both in my teaching, in my leadership and in my management of others and being able to drive a team of people towards academic results for our kids.
MA: You already started talking about why Camden, and why they need us, and why that’s important, but can you elaborate on that some more? Specifically, rather than opening a school here in Newark where you’ve been the last 8 years, why go to Camden and start there?
AK: I’m excited about the opportunity to bring our network to a new place. I feel there is a lot of potential for impact in Camden and that because of our track record of success at TEAM Schools, it can be that change maker in the city. Because of my personal connection to TEAM and feeling very committed to our mission, I felt like it was a great opportunity for our schools and myself to start something new. In terms of community needs, the Lanning Square community has been without a school for twelve years and so the kids in that particular neighborhood in Camden don’t have a district school to attend. We are actually going to be on the site of the old Lanning Square school and serving the kids in the neighborhood so I feel that it is very important to make sure every single child has access to a quality education and I think this opportunity allows us to bring that to kids that haven’t had access to their right for so many years.
MA: So what is your vision for Revolution?
AK: To lead an educational revolution across the city. There are two definitions for revolution: it is a dramatic change and it’s also allowing something to come full-circle, like a planet revolves for example. I believe we can do both of those things for our kids and the city of Camden. I believe we’ll help change the life trajectory of our kids, but I also believe we can be a model school for what it means to educate children in Camden. I believe we can lead a charge that proves what’s possible for our kids.
MA: Maybe some specifics about your school’s culture. How is the culture at Revolution different that at another KIPP Elementary school?
AK: I think that because we are a community school, we have a lot of opportunities to be a staple organization in the community we serve. We have a lot of opportunities to partner with families and other organizations to make sure we are bringing every opportunity to our kids. I think that Revolution Primary will be a place where kids can have fun every day, but also be challenged every day. Unfortunately, I can’t take away a lot of the adversity that our kids will face in their lives, but what I can do is provide a safe environment where they can acquire the skills to overcome the challenges that might come their way.
MA: Ok. So in a nutshell, your school is focused more around the community, around partnering with other organizations so that the kids in Lanning Square are given the life skills to deal with adversity when it comes up, knowing that we can’t prevent it?
AK: With a particular emphasis on making sure our kids are leaders and self-advocates. It is very important to me that the kids are an example for what’s possible, but they lead that charge with humility. So I think what that means is that our kids are able to love and it means that they’re able to excel in academics. And it means that they are committed to growing, period. I thing that those are all the characteristics that our kids will need to lead the revolution.
MA: Knowing that this is the first school of TEAM’s in Camden, what is it like to plan a school on an education frontier rather than an established region with full support?
AK: I think it means we have to dig deeper into what it means to serve children in Camden. Because it is a new city, there’s a lot that we need to learn about in terms of creating KIPP in Camden, what it means to serve a community in that city. And because the community in the city is different, it is different than what we’ve done up in Newark. We really have to serve as a model for what it means to educate kids in Camden. So I think we have a big task in front of us to make sure we are doing this well, so that when our next schools come and when other schools come to Camden, or when existing schools are looking at us, we can show people what’s possible.
MA: To make the connection there, why is it important to show them what’s possible?
AK: I think that people have doubted Camden for a long time and I think it is important for our mission to make it clear that every child has the potential to go to and through college. I think if we set that precedent we are raising the bar for every other school in the city and we’re never letting schools disservice our kids and we’re never letting people lower the bar for our kids.
MA: By making it real, you mean, we’ve talked so much about what people should be able to do, what a city should be able to do, that we now can prove that’s possible?
AK: I think it is about proving the possible. I think there is something very exciting about blazing this trail. There is something very exciting to me about being not just the first school, the first TEAM school in Camden, but being the founding year of the first school. The potential is limitless. There is so much we can do to help our kids achieve. That is very exciting to me.
MA: I also think there is something to “this is a brand new model”. This is a new model for TEAM, but it is also a new model for the whole state of New Jersey. We’ve never had a renaissance school come into a catchment area and own that community. Ever. It hasn’t existed until this year. So, I feel like that’s part of the opportunity and part of the frontier of this. It’s like charter schools have never been responsible for re-defining a specific catchment zone or a specific community. Unless they’re a takeover, but starting with 100 Kindergarteners. Charters for so long have been the target of “oh you pick the students you want to teach, or you have entrance requirements or you kick kids out or you cream the crop.” That’s not on the table here. I feel like that’s part of this too. You’re going into an area, and showing them that it doesn’t matter what kind of obstacles are in these kids’ lives. We will find a way to overcome them.
AK: I don’t know if I have a better way to say that than the way you just did.
I do think one of the most exciting parts of this is trailblazing. Doing something new with a proven model like in TEAM Schools from a network that is successful and taking it somewhere new where very few things educationally have been successful in the last few decades and making it happen.
MA: So then, you’re going into a new area, you’re starting with kindergarten. What do you look for in that founding group of teachers?
AK: I know that every plan I’m creating will mean nothing if I don’t have the most talented team to execute it. So, really, we’re tasked with finding some of the world’s most talented and passionate people and putting them together in one small school and realizing our vision. So, I think it takes a lot of really remarkable qualities. I think it takes deeply committed, passionate, driven people who are willing to work really long hours. People who have incredibly high expectations for our kids and will go to any length to make sure our kids meet those expectations, people who are tireless advocates for our kids and our community, who will do whatever it takes, find a way or make one, and who are going to not allow challenges to be insurmountable. It is very important to me to have people who are fun and funny. We spend a lot of time together and the work is hard, so we need to really enjoy each other and it is important to me that we have people who are loving and fun, who bring excitement and joy into the classroom.
MA: That was my next question though. What is most important to you in hiring and you already answered that. What about on the instructional side of things. What is important to you?
AK: It is important to me that instruction is challenging for our kids, but also incredibly engaging. I want our kids to have fun, but to be achieving at the same time. And so, I need people who are dedicated to knowing what’s developmentally appropriate for kids and knowing how to challenge them at their level and knowing how to pinpoint key levers to ensure the needs of every child are being met so that every single child is learning every single day.