The support has been steadily increasing since December 2013, when the Portland Public Schools board approved the KairosPDX Learning Academy, the first unanimously approved charter school in 12 years. The overwhelming yay vote is a reflection of the deep community support and strong leadership backing this endeavor. But the real work has just begun.
Since their approval seven months ago, Kairos’ leadership has worked tirelessly to raise the remaining funds needed before the school’s doors open in three weeks. According to Oregon law, charter schools receive $.55 on the dollar of public school funding. This means schools, like the Kairos Learning Academy, must find private dollars to fill the gap to keep their classrooms running.
Ken deLaski, Vibrant Village Foundation president and founder who relocated to Portland from Washington, D.C., brings a fresh perspective on charter schools.
“Charters can both address the needs of children who are not being served by the traditional education system, and be a model for how to do things differently within our public school system,” deLaski says. Through the Vibrant Village Foundation, Mr. deLaski supports programs in the Portland Metro region in alternative education, youth development and arts education.
The Vibrant Village grant will help KairosPDX lead in changing the educational environment in Portland that has made it possible for black boys to be expelled at four times a higher rate than their peers, as early as kindergarten. In the face of these statistics, school reform advocates agree that fundamental changes must be made to the way we educate our children.
To meet this challenge, KairosPDX will take a three-pronged approach consisting of: wrap around services to connect families and caregivers with resources including an Early Learning Network; an Early Learning Center for 3-4 year-olds; and the K-5 Learning Academy, which is the focus of the Vibrant Village Foundation grant.
“For these parents and for our community, the K-5 Learning Academy is about changing the narrative for kids who are not succeeding in our current system,” explains Kali Thorne Ladd, founding Executive Director of KairosPDX.
“We cannot expect different outcomes for our children without a different approach,” continues Ms. Ladd. “Here in Portland, the moment is upon us to try a different, proven model for how to educate our historically-underserved children.”
The Kairos Learning Academy and future Early Learning Classrooms will follow the Reggio-Emilia pedagogy and incorporate both STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and arts-based curriculum. These approaches are evidence-based models that are proven effective at preparing children with real life skills, and leadership. The Kairos Learning Academy will also be year-round so as to maximize children’s learning.
KairosPDX will open their doors August 6, starting with kindergarten and first grade. Education leader, co-founder and 20 year educator Zalika Gardner will be the Learning Academy’s Principal. “There has been an overwhelming demand from the community,” explains Ladd. The Kairos leadership team continues to raise funds and lay the groundwork for the school’s inaugural year and to reclaim the charter space to boost achievement for low-income children and children of color in North Portland.
“We’re excited about this new charter school and what it means for North Portland and to help it get off the ground in the right way, “ adds deLaski.