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Memphis charter school new CEO shares vision for future

Dr. Antonio Burt discusses the direction he'd like to take KIPP Memphis in his new position.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The KIPP Memphis Public Schools (KMPS) is under new leadership

Antonio Burt, Ed.D.  used to be the Chief of Schools at Shelby County Schools before starting his position as the CEO of KIPP Memphis in November. The charter school network includes five schools. 

Dr. Burt says he's spent a lot of time listening and learning his first few weeks on the job. A job which he says holds a special importance to him. 

"So when I think of KIPP, I think of you know, life coming full circle," Dr. Burt said. "When I moved to Memphis in 2003, I began my teaching career at Cypress middle, which is actually one of the campuses, well two of the campuses are in that same building Ohio. So it's really getting back to my roots, getting back to supporting students and families in North Memphis. But more importantly, being able to do it across a linear trajectory from elementary, middle to high school, and being able to really design and create the impact that I would like to see holistically across a network."

He said he wants to engage in transformational learning for KIPP students. 

"So my focus will really be around exposing kids to rigorous course offerings, you know, high schools around eight advanced placement courses, also those dual enrollment statewide dual credit programs, getting exposed to what is life like in college and what are those requirements, and then going down from high school to middle; how do we prepare students for you know, STEM and careers or the future, so looking at bringing coding programs inside schools, looking at having internships with signature partnerships, and ensuring that our kids are on or above grade level in literacy, math, science and social studies, so that means having the best teachers and the best leaders inside of our building and excepting no excuses for excellent at each of the sites," Dr. Burt said. 

RELATED: Dr. Antonio Burt appointed new chief executive officer of KIPP Memphis Public Schools

He said if they get it right early, the school is setting students up for successful futures. 

" We like to use a 7/17 rule, right, the seven hours that kids are in front of you have to be more impactful than the 17 hours that they're away from you," Dr. Burt said. 

The charter school network is under Shelby County Schools. Currently, about a quarter of students in the district are reading on grade level which is another challenge Dr. Burt is trying to tackle. 

"I know prior to the pandemic, kids across SCS was at 24 percent, Dr. Burt said. "Pandemic hit, you have a huge fluctuation in that, you have a lot of kids that didn't take the actual assessment or didn't return with that, so we're beginning the year now with the goal in mind to be around the 40 percent, and have an increase, an annual increase, a double digit annual increase to get where we know we would need to go. Then by the year 2025, being somewhere around a 75 percent range...So we'll begin rolling out a network wide program. On January 4th, every Thursday, we'll be offering an additional hour after school tutoring, and then on the first and third Saturday of each month from 9 AM to 12 PM, we'll be offering Saturday sessions."

However, he said it takes families in the communities getting on board as well. 

"What you see, in certain zip codes is there, there's a disconnect of what needs to take place away from school, so we know that we have to do a lot of like really educating around like, what's the type of support that can be a continuation, away from school, and what resources may be needed in order to make that successful, so our focus is really to bring the outside in, and we want our families to be a part of this process as well, so we'll have a lot of engagement sessions with our families around this is what's taking place at school, this is what 15 To 20 minutes at home should look like, and this is how it can benefit your kid and the rationale behind the why," Dr. Burt said. 

They're also planning townhalls, so they're able to see what resources families really need. 

"We have a family engagement specialist," Dr. Burt said. "We also have one on a regional team, that's able to take the resources to the parents and to the students, so if you're experiencing something at a particular time, we never want that to be a barrier, so we utilize our engagement specialists to really go to the families and meet them where they are, and provide that support those supports and those resources well." 

He continues to navigate through these waters while leading through a pandemic. 

"It's important to be transparent and communicate with families," Dr. Burt said. "That's why I'll be rolling out a monthly message to our families and also a CEO digest where people understand you know, from the different pillars where we are as an organization. That's important because we can't forget the human element around really trying to bring a heightened awareness around where you are, the resources there, and what's needed, so that's very important. For me, that's a major lesson learned transparency, constant communication. I think the other piece is having really tight protocols in place. In it being that someone contracts the virus, what is the organization's next step? So we've done a great job with that, you know, we do weekly testing for our staff. We also have the option for students and families as well. We partner with Poplar Healthcare Group to provide those supports, and we are tracking all of our necessary sites around you know, any exposure, any actual confirmed cases, and we go through our progression of protocols to really ensure that we meet the needs and all areas."

With those protocols in place, they've been able to keep Covid cases low across their five schools and nearly 2100 students, so they can focus on being a top educational option for families in North Memphis.

"We look forward to the new direction," Dr. Burt said. "We look forward, more importantly, to the transformation to ensure that we have a world class educational system in KIPP Memphis."

To learn more about KIPP Memphis, click here



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