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Birth of a Super School: Building Up

Kari Croft and Erin WhalenKari Croft, Ed.M.’15, and fellow teacher Erin Whalen (pictured left), have been working to launch RISE High — an innovative high school aimed at serving the unique needs of Los Angeles-area homeless and foster youth. RISE was named one of 10 $10-million winning school projects by XQ: The Super School Project — a national campaign co-led by the Emerson Collective’s Laurene Powell Jobs and Russlynn Ali, calling on educators, students, and sector leaders to design new high school models. RISE High’s model focuses on ensuring that transient students can receive steady access to quality education tied to wraparound services.

In October, HGSE spoke with Croft about winning the grant and the steps she was taking to make RISE a reality. Here, in part two of "Birth of a Super School," we check in on RISE's progress.

It has been several months since we first spoke with you about RISE High. How are things coming together?
Things are going smoothly. We’ve made a lot of important strides in the past few months. Our charter petition was approved by both the Da Vinci Schools network and Wiseburn Unified School District in Hawthorne, California. We’ve submitted to the state to receive our charter application number, which means by the end of March we should be an official school, ready to enroll students.

We’ve expanded our team to include a new teacher and an academic coach, and are gearing up to kick off teacher recruitment for the fall when we’ll add a school counselor, a director of services and partnerships, an office manager, and several more teachers.

This semester, we rolled out advisories with our future students, and it’s been incredible for building an even stronger community and providing a clear support network for students. We also launched our social media sites and our student enrollment portal to begin recruiting students for the fall.

In terms of planning for next year, we’ve finalized our instructional design and are now using it to plan for our teacher onboarding and professional development for the spring and summer. On the holistic care side, we’re hoping that in the next few weeks we’ll sign the Memorandum of Understanding with our first co-location site, where our students will be able to receive wraparound services next year.

Finally, we just had our official school launch celebration with XQ, where current students, staff, and families [in our pilot program] came together to shine a light on all the hard work students have done thus far. Our students spoke, sang, and danced, and XQ brought in food trucks, a DJ, and a community artist. It was a beautiful opportunity to celebrate everyone who has worked so hard to make this school a reality.

How is the pilot program — launched last fall — going?
We’ve been overwhelmed to see the positive outcomes of the pilot program thus far. We started the year with 12 students, and currently have 30 enrolled, eight of whom are expected to graduate this summer or fall.

We’re currently planning our first student retreat to have some time to focus on the larger school vision, student identity, and our collective role as founders of the school.

What are you looking for as you continue to recruit staff?
We’re looking for team members who are up for the challenge of pursuing such a big vision with a smaller team and are flexible, excited about tackling new challenges, and open to growing and learning alongside the larger team. We’re not only asking our staff to learn a new instructional model, but will also be providing training around trauma-informed care, restorative practices, and culturally relevant teaching, in addition to training to help them learn the ins and outs of the systems our students are involved like homelessness, foster systems, probation, etc.

We’ll be holding a hiring symposiums in the spring, dates to be announced. The hiring process will be multi-step to ensure we have several opportunities to get to know candidates and find the right fit. It is so important that our founding staff comprises the absolutely best people possible for our students.

Are things coming along as you planned?
We feel good about our progress. Of course, it’s been busy, but we’re having so much fun along the way. Our staff and students are incredible and have consistently stepped in to help whenever and wherever they can. They’ve also provided constant feedback on how we can strengthen and improve the program as we think about launching to even more students in the fall. We have full support from Da Vinci Schools, the Wiseburn Unified School District, XQ, and the larger Los Angeles community. Our partner organizations have, likewise, made themselves available to us whenever we’ve had questions about wraparound services or student support systems.

It’s been really powerful to see the ways a collective can galvanize around a common vision in hopes of providing something better for students. We feel unbelievably lucky to be in this work and to do it alongside the people we get to call our team members.

Read part one of the Birth of a Super School series: The Plan and part three on the official opening of RISE High.

Candidates interested in pursuing a position at RISE High can reach out by emailing resume and cover letter to kcroft@davincischools.org.

Photo: Luis Cinco/Los Angeles Times