By Gavin Schiffres and Jack Krewson, Co-Founders, Kairos Academies
When we signed up for Teach For America—St. Louis, we were brimming with excitement and plans. Plans to give kids choice over where, when, and how they study; plans to let them practice managing their time productively before college; and plans for them work on the kind of projects we saw our friends tackling in the Information Age economy. Our classrooms would be different: more engaging, more fun, more relevant, and more rigorous. We would prepare our students to meet the demands of the future.
What we found, though, is that our schools were mired in the past. We were forced to obey assumptions and procedures from 150 years ago (before the lightbulb was invented!). We tried to make changes in our classroom, but as teachers in the district system, we lacked the autonomy to do what our students needed. So after Teach For America, we set out to design the kind of school we had first dreamed of teaching in. There were a million reasons to wait, but one overriding reason to go for it: our kids only get one shot at 6th grade. We called ourselves Kairos Academies—Ancient Greek for “the opportune moment”—because we felt now was the time to rethink education for the 21st century.
We started working out of our kitchens, each managing two side jobs to pay rent. We had lots of ideas, but no advisers. We were willing to work for pennies, but we didn’t even have those. That’s when The Opportunity Trust found us. This early investment allowed us to spend a full year researching best practices, interviewing school leaders, and writing the most comprehensive charter application in Missouri history. Beyond the financial support, Eric has served as our fundraising guru, guiding us through a maze of philanthropy that, as educators, we had never navigated before.
As important as the financial support, The Opportunity Trust has provided us with countless resources and mentors. Two in particular have proven mission critical. First, we were connected to the Head of Schools at KIPP St. Louis, who trains principals at KIPP and has led and opened multiple schools himself. His guidance as our leadership development coach has been invaluable as we prepare to step into our new role at Kairos.
Second, The Opportunity Trust flew us to the leading conference on personalized learning—iNACOL—and introduced us to the founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools, the nation’s leader in personalized learning. That meeting led to subsequent conversations, and eventually, an agreement to share curriculum and learning management systems. Summit is now designing a new partnership model to help entrepreneurs incorporate Summit resources during the pre-opening stages of school development. The Summit Research team helped us design the Kairos Summer Pilot, where we tested open questions in the Kairos model with 50 students over 6 weeks.
With The Opportunity Trust’s investment of time and capital, Kairos was just sponsored with the largest community support turnout in state history. We have already raised a quarter of our pre-opening funds, and once open, Kairos will be sustainable entirely on per-pupil public dollars.
Next year, we will launch the first personalized learning school in St. Louis. In the near term, we will grow to serve 1,000+ students in the city’s highest-need neighborhood. We are going to provide a world-class education—the kind we envisioned when we joined Teach For America—to children whose life options depend on it. We hope this new type of school inspires others in St. Louis to reimagine not just what schools can be, but what they must be if we are to prepare children growing up today for the jobs of tomorrow.