Words from Chris Gibbons, STRIVE Prep Founder and CEO
At the end of this year’s graduation ceremonies, a young man came up to me and another colleague to say hello. His name is Kenny Gaytan-Munoz, and he was in the original class of students at West Denver Prep. He was attending to support his brother Victor. Kenny has one year to go at Metro in Mechanical Engineering and shared with us how he wouldn’t be on that path without his experience at the school. There are a number of voices like Kenny’s. Billy Morse, college class of 2018, is supporting our network as an Education Assistant and will stay with us at RISE next year; Jazmin Nieto, college class of 2017, will teach bilingual science at Kepner next year, and Ulysses Estrada, a member of STRIVE Prep’s founding class, will be the first alum to sit on the STRIVE Prep board following his recent graduation from Wesleyan University, and job offer to join IBM’s public sector consulting group.
I also spoke with Jose Garcia-Fuerte, high school class of 2017, that same night. Jose is killing it in his first year at Drake University, with good grades, great activities, and lots of friends. And, he shared candidly with me all of the ways in which he believes he wasn’t well prepared for his experience – because his education with us lacked some of the rigor he needed and had too much hand-holding of expectations along the way.
I also spoke with another former student that night. As a member of the high school class of 2016, she left STRIVE Prep in the middle of her junior year, far behind academically and not engaged. She enrolled briefly at Emily Griffith before being unenrolled for truancy. She made plans to come back in to meet with our admin team this week to talk about what sort of educational future she could build from this place.
The first story reminds me of how much we all have to be proud of, as teachers, leaders, and central support staff. With this school year behind us and next year upon us, we should all hold our heads high, appreciative of hard work done well, and appreciative of all those who walk this path with us.
The last story reminds me of how far we have to go. Our vision hasn’t been as clear as it needs to be over the past few years; our results haven’t been as high as our students deserve; and our delivery on our promises to our families hasn’t been what it should be. We must get better.
All organizations go through life cycles. This is a critical turning point for us. In the coming months we’ll be sharing more about our specific plans for the future. We’re going to engage various members of our community and we’re going to look at what’s working, here and elsewhere, to chart a new way forward.
If you’re feeling some fear about this, that’s ok. I am too. It’s a scary, intense moment to be on the precipice of transformative change – which is exactly where we are today. It’s going to take some time, and some process, and we need to trust that.
There are likely those fearful of giving up practices that are working, and I hear you. We must all be disciplined to not succumb to this. Have faith that we can get better together while preserving our dignity with one another and use what’s working as the building blocks of what’s next.
There are likely others who wish this were all happening much faster, and I hear you too. I also appreciate your urgency. And, I’ve seen too many networks abandon a set of systems with no thoughtful plan for the future, leading to chaos. We’re not going to do this. We’re going to take the time to get it right.
For too long, families in our communities have been faced with an impossible choice – to either send their children to a school with strong academic outcomes where they need to check their identity at the door, or a school that might celebrate their identity but where they leave unable to read. That’s not right. There must be a third way – we aren’t there yet, but we’re going to build it, together.
Together, we’re going to make next year a transformative year in the history of STRIVE Prep and the communities in which we work.
Thank you all so much for your immense contribution.