Lebron James Makes a Huge Investment in Public Education
James Opens a school in Akron Ohio that uses union teachers to educate the most needy students
National Basketball Players Association First Vice President Lebron James opened a new school in Akron Ohio this week. Arguably the greatest basketball player ever, James joins a long list of millionaires and billionaires who have sought to use their riches to get into the education business. However, unlike people like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, James has decided to work with the Akron Public Schools, not against them.
Now that James has made millions through his play in the NBA and endorsement deals, he decided to give back to the community he grew up in. Seeing a need to better educate economically disadvantaged children and families James began working with the Akron Public Schools to create I Promise School. Unlike other schools funded by the wealthy, this is not a charter school, it is not a private school with vouchers and it is not a magnet school for only the best students. It functions as a STEM school for grades three and four but will expand to educate grades one through eight. It is a public school within the Akron school system meaning that the teachers that are hired are union and benefit from the districts collective bargaining agreement (CBA). However that might be where the similarities with a traditional public school end.
The school will work under an expanded school schedule. Yes, to all of the education reformers out there the teachers union agreed to a school year that begins on July 30th, has a longer school day, and provides non-traditional hours for access to the school's facilities and staff. Students are chosen for the school, not based on a lottery or test scores, but by those in the district who are deemed to need the most help. One of the major concerns in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in that parents may not be home after school to help their children do their homework and stay out of trouble. With a longer day, the students can get some of that needed support.
With James helping to fund the school, I Promise will also offer some things for the family that normal public schools don’t offer. This includes providing educational, emotional and career support for the parents. This includes classes to help the parents get their GED and even a food bank on the campus to help provide food for the students and to teach the parents how to make new foods they might not otherwise be able to afford. James is also expanding his Bikes for Akron program to provide a bike and helmet for every child on their first day of school.
Teachers at the school will also benefit from the added investment by James. His foundation met with the teachers union to create a plan that involved teacher input, unlike most charter schools. Teachers will have access to the same psychological services that are provided to help the students deal with stress, every Wednesday afternoon time is set aside for career development, and all supplies will be provided for them by the school and James Foundation. Teachers at the school also were able to get James to agree to a great perk, a personal trainer to work with teachers on a guided workout. The trainers are being paid for by James as an added perk to get the best talent to the school.
Of course, we have heard these stories before of rich people coming in and spending a lot of money to “re-invent” the education system. What makes James effort stand out is that he isn’t trying to re-invent public education, but he is using his resources to make sure that an underfunded school in an economically depressed neighborhood can serve the students who are having the toughest time. By working with the teachers union, instead of fighting with them, James is getting buy-in from the teachers and hopefully ensuring some stability for the students as they continue their education.