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A Radical Education Reformer? Hardly.

Kyle Smitely
Kyle Smitely -

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The label of "ed reformer" is a new one for me. And, frankly, one I'm not sure I'm comfortable wearing.
In other areas of change-making, such labels are often WAY slower to attach. I don't think I've ever heard an urban farmer referred to as an "ag reformer" or a doctor at a free clinic being labeled a "healthcare reformer."
But in education? Take one step toward making an impact, or express a glimmer of an idea about how something can improve or benefit more people, and it seems you will be quickly labeled as someone working to "radically change education."
If I had a dollar for every time someone referred to our work as a "a new school with a radical reinvention of what a school looks like," I'd be able to buy milkshakes at Mercury for the Tigers' starting lineup.
And the reality? What we are doing is hardly radical. In fact, when I tell people outside the education realm about our work, they are entirely nonplussed. Not a single eyebrow is raised.
But I guess I should back up a little.
My name is Kyle. I'm the founder of Detroit Achievement Academy, a new charter school opening with grades K & 1 and expanding by a grade level each year. I will spare you my usual gushing about how it is going to be a really incredible school (it really will be) or how hard I've worked to get us to our first day of school (so flipping hard), and I'll just give you a few facts about the school.
Our educational model is awesome. Expeditionary Learning is a comprehensive model; one in which students engage in rigorous projects that meet national and state standards and are connected to real-world needs. In EL schools, you see students taking ownership of their work and being excited about their learning. EL schools are often known for having strong school cultures, joyful classrooms, and for consistently outperforming other schools in their districts by an average of 10%.
We hired experienced teachers. Would you be excited to fly an airline staffed by first year pilots? I would't be. We hired teachers with LOTS of experience and proven success in the classroom. Their data is ridiculously impressive.
We think food is important. We aren't feeding our kids toxic junk for lunch. We are feeding them fresh, healthy food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. No HFCS, hormones, antibiotics, or any of the general grossness that has lead us to the epidemic of obesity plaguing our nation's kids. It is all free of charge, for us and our families, through the National School Lunch program.
We work to support our families. We have a full-time Director of Student and Family Support to support our students' families. Many of our families don't drive, don't read, but very much want to be involved with their child's education. We felt it was our responsibility to have someone on staff dedicated to working with and for our families.
We are a strictly not-for-profit startup. Our state funding stays in the classroom. We aren't part of a huge system of schools. We have a fundraising strategy and pay attention to things like design, marketing, and outreach. We tweet and Instagram and our budget/books resemble a San Francisco startup's more than a typical Detroit charter school's.
Essentially, we started with the goal of delivering results for each and every student, of equipping each child that sets foot in our four walls with the tools he or she needs to do whatever it is they dream to do, and we worked backwards from there, putting into place the structures and systems needed to achieve this simple goal.
See? It's hardly radical. What we are doing IS, unfortunately, unique. There is no one else in Detroit doing what we are doing. (Why? The answer to that is complex and doesn't have a home in this 600 word blog post.)
So, if we aren't radical and we aren't reformers, what ARE we? Well, we are a very passionate and dedicated group of people working hard to open a world-class school for kids in Detroit that, quite frankly, need and deserve nothing less than a world-class school.
That's it.
We'd love for you to follow along and get involved. 

Photos by Ali Elizabeth Lapetina
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