The “I Promise School” sponsored by LeBron James as part of the Akron public school system is the most innovative school in America. Its focus is on developing healthy children, whose dreams are big and whose education equips them to make a life for themselves. It accepts only children with low test scores. It’s goal is to help children overcome trauma. Its philosophy is informed by LeBron James’ experiences as a child growing up in dire circumstances.

Contrast this school, where children are surrounded by love and caring, with the harsh and punitive “no excuses” charter schools. Read this article and answer the question: Which is better? Love or Fear? Charter advocates should learn about this school and learn from its example.

The greatest of all innovations: a school in which love and kindness are built in as policy.

This article by Eddie Kim goes into detail. I am not posting the whole article. I urge you to read it. It is inspiring.

It begins:


An eight-year-old LeBron James sometimes didn’t attend school because there was no one who could give him a ride. He sometimes skipped class outright, instead playing video games by himself at the ramshackle one-bedroom home in Akron, Ohio, owned by a friend of his mom, who would disappear during the day. Other times, Gloria James and her son were simply too entangled in the task of securing a place to sleep and food to eat that night. “We’ll just skip today,” they’d tell each other. Then another day would rise and fall, and another, with no attendance in class.

Ultimately, James skipped nearly 100 days of school as a fourth grader in Akron. He had moved a dozen times in the three-year span between age five and eight, with Gloria struggling on welfare and relying on a network of friends to give them shelter when the rent ran dry. He didn’t play sports. He barely had friends. He lagged on basic reading, writing and math skills.

What got James back in school was the stabilizing force of Bruce Kelker, the Pee Wee football coach at James’ elementary school who first discovered his athletic talent. Kelker offered to house James, with Gloria (who could live with a friend) welcome at any time to see her son. Toward the end of 1993, Kelker and his live-in girlfriend decided to move, but another youth football coach at the school, “Big” Frank Walker, extended his suburban Akron home to James.

James credits both families for steadying his life and getting him back in school, and the saga between fourth and fifth grades has become one of the superstar’s favorite allegories. But more than just a motivational tale, James has taken his experience and molded it into a philosophy on what it takes to keep poor and stressed-out kids on the right track.

That philosophy now exists in physical form with the I Promise School, a new campus that opened a month ago as part of the Akron Public Schools system. It debuted with 240 third- and fourth-graders who are struggling academically and largely from underprivileged families. The school will grow to include first through eighth grades by fall 2022, but the fundamental features of the program are already in place.

School days are longer, running from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., as is the school year (from July through May) in order to take pressure off working parents. Students receive free breakfast, lunch and snacks. There’s a new grading system in place for the kids, as well as “support circle” sessions each day to help students learn how to calm their emotions and talk through challenges. Parents, too, are given more feedback at school (in individualized meetings with advisors) and also offered help in the form of housing and job-placement services, GED classes and a food bank — all things that James’ mother, Gloria, could have benefitted from too…

This is where Nicole Hassan and a squad of veteran Akron Public Schools staffers stepped in, organizing half a dozen “design teams” last year to hash out every ambition they could bake into the DNA of I Promise School. The teams spent months debating features that today form a public school unlike any other in the country. It’s supported in part by the LeBron James Family Foundation — it’s pledged $2 million a year to support the school’s growth — but otherwise funded by taxpayers as part of the Akron system. It’s an experiment in what a public institution can do to help kids in the most crucial aspect of their development into adulthood. “The hope is that this can become a model for more schools across the country in urban centers where young students need the most hope,” Hassan says….

The biggest point is with it being public is that it’s something that can carry over across the country. Our mission is to be a nationally recognized model for urban education. The common idea is that it’s easier to do a charter school, or it’s easier to do private because you don’t have to work within the confines of a public school system. But then those schools are only available to certain students, whereas every community has a public school. I want the elements of I Promise to be the norm for our district and spread across the nation so that in Chicago, in Detroit and in other areas where students have a lot of trauma, they’re utilizing these practices as well.

Of course, one of the things we’d love to see is that other communities help support such a school. A lot of our contributions have been from community partners beyond LeBron’s foundation. It’s important that LeBron’s a part of it, but he definitely couldn’t do it alone, and I think other communities could generate the same contribution. Honestly, if we believe that education is the way to create generational change and improve a community, then communities need to start supporting the school system in a real way.

Of course, LeBron James deserves a place on the honor roll. So does the Akron public school system, which thought through the whole child, loving-kindness policies of this innovative school.

Thanks to reader Christine Langhoff for bringing this article to my attention.