Work hard, be nice

I went to a benefit last night for KIPP Heartwood, a high-scoring charter middle school in a low-income, immigrant neighborhood in San Jose. Students’ photos — very good photos — were auctioned off. I wanted the “pillow war” but it went for $1,500.

A Mercury News story on the growth of KIPP schools notes that it’s possible to have a 10-hour school day and a longer school year without spending a fortune.

Charter schools are funded like other public schools: KIPP Heartwood gets about $5,250 from the state for each of its 240 students. But to fund the longer school day and pay teachers for working extra hours, it spends about $1,500 more per student and raises those funds privately.

Of course, it helps to hire young idealistic teachers willing to work very long hours and stay in touch via cell phone with students at night. But teachers aren’t all in their 20s. One of the auctioneers was Lolita Jackson, a veteran math teacher of a certain age, who I saw introducing algebra to enthusiastic fifth graders.

Ninety-nine percent of students are minorities, mostly Hispanic (72 percent) or Asian (16 percent). Sixty percent are considered English Learners when they start. Most come from families poor enough to qualify them for a free lunch. The school is one of the top-scoring middle schools in the state.

I wrote about the school for the Christian Science Monitor when Principal Sebha Zhumkhawala was walked the neighborhoods to recruit students. Now the school has a long waiting list.

About Joanne


  1. I’ve often wondered if my dedication to my students has a lot to do with me being “young and idealistic” at the age of 25. I really hope I never lose that though. I love my job and I put a lot of hours into it, but enjoy doing it so it doesn’t seem that bad.
    Will my mind change some time in my 30’s? I really hope not. I know if I ever decide to have kids of my own my priorities will change, but, I hope I can maintain my dedication to my students.

  2. Robert Wright says:

    Ben, I know some teachers in their 50’s who are energetic, generous with their time and happen to be wonderful teachers.

    It could happen to you.

    Sometimes teachers are frustrated by the absurd and hostile way the administration can behave. If you have a way of circumventing evil administrators, you’ll last longer, do better, and continue to love your job.

    As for KIPP, I’d like to know more about them. In the Mercury it said they had a no-nonsense approach to discipline.

    A lot of parents I know want to send their kids to Catholic chool because of their overall no-nonsense approach.

    That got me thinking. How about a charter school that is essentially a Catholic school? Just take out Jesus and God and prayer.

    That’s what we need. Catholic schools without religion.