HOUSTON, TX (Aug. 18, 2011) – The founders of the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) will be honored by Holocaust Museum Houston this November as Houston’s 2011 “Guardians of the Human Spirit” in recognition of their life-long commitment to preparing lower-income students for college and their dedication to teaching tolerance and respect in schools.
Houstonians Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, who co-founded the nationwide network of publicly financed but independently run charter schools will receive the honor on Thursday, Nov. 3, at the Museum’s annual luncheon, which begins at 11:30 a.m. at the Hilton Americas-Houston, 1600 Lamar, in downtown Houston. More than 560 people attended last year’s event.
The Museum established the Guardian of the Human Spirit award in 1997 as a platform for acknowledging dedicated Houstonians who have worked to enhance the lives of others and to better humankind.
“These individuals have reached beyond themselves to build an open-minded society for the enrichment of all Houstonians,” Museum Chair Tali Blumrosen said in announcing this year’s recipients. “They have demonstrated what is at the core of the award — a commitment to the values and lessons learned from the Holocaust.”
At a 2010 annual dinner for the charter school program, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan thanked the founders of KIPP for their dedication to improving the lives of lower-income students.
“I want to say that I can't thank Dave and Mike enough — and the hundreds of dedicated leaders and teachers at KIPP who, every day, are bettering the lives of tens of thousands of students,” Duncan said. “You are living proof that in America, education truly can be the great equalizer.”
Feinberg and Levin co-founded KIPP in 1994, and Feinberg currently serves as superintendent of KIPP Houston, which includes 20 public charter schools: nine middle schools, eight primary schools and three high schools. To date, 90 percent of the “KIPPsters” — a endearing term widely used to describe students in KIPP — who have left the KIPP Houston middle schools have gone on to college.
Feinberg received a bachelor of arts from the University of Pennsylvania in 1991. After graduating from Penn, Feinberg joined Teach For America and taught fifth grade in Houston along with Levin, who graduated from Yale University in 1992.
After completing their commitment to Teach For America, the two founded a fifth-grade public school program in inner-city Houston. Feinberg stayed in Houston to lead KIPP Academy Middle School, and Levin returned to his native New York City, where in 1995 he co-founded and currently serves as superintendent of KIPP NYC, the family of all KIPP programming in New York City.
Feinberg and Levin won the Jefferson Award for outstanding community service for the city of Houston in 1995. In the same year, Levin earned teacher-of-the-year honors from his school in Houston and an outstanding teaching award from Teach For America.
Passionate about innovative teaching, Levin co-authored KIPP Math, a comprehensive math curriculum for students in grades five through eight that culminates in students completing a two-year high school Algebra I course by the end of eighth grade.
In the spring of 2000, both KIPP founders were approached by Doris and Don Fisher, founders of Gap Inc., to replicate KIPP’s success nationwide. Together, they co-founded the KIPP Foundation, which supports the opening, growth and evaluation of KIPP schools around the country. KIPP has grown from two schools serving 500 students in Houston and New York City to 109 schools serving more than 32,000 kids in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Eighty-eight percent of KIPP alumni have matriculated to four-year colleges and universities, and KIPP has quadrupled the college graduation rate for students from underserved communities.
In 2008, Feinberg and Levin were named to the list of “America’s Best Leaders” by U.S. News & World Report and received the Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second highest presidential award for a private citizen, in the Oval Office of the White House. In 2009, they were the recipients of the Charles Bronfman Prize as well as the Manhattan Institute’s William E. Simon prize for Lifetime Achievement in Social Entrepreneurship. Feinberg and Levin’s efforts became the story told by Washington Post reporter, Jay Mathews, in his book “Work hard. Be nice.” KIPP has been featured on the “Oprah Winfrey Show,” “CBS 60 Minutes,” “ABC World News Tonight,” and in The New York Times, Houston Chronicle, Washington Post and other newspapers.
Levin is the recipient of the Robin Hood Foundation’s John F. Kennedy Jr. Hero Award in Education, and both Feinberg and Levin received an Ashoka Fellowship awarded to leading social entrepreneurs with innovative solutions and the potential to change patterns across society. Levin also served on the New York State Commission for Education Reform.
Both earned masters’ degrees in education from National-Louis University and received honorary doctorate degrees from Yale University.
Chairing this year’s event are prominent Houstonians George and Sallie Alcorn and Gary and Tracy Stein. PaperCity magazine is serving as media sponsor for the event.
Previous recipients of the award have included Mayor Annise Parker, Barbara and Gerald Hines; Marc J. Shapiro; Lester and Sue Smith; Sandra Weiner and Martin Fein; Naomi Warren and Fred Zeidman; Joan and Stanford Alexander; Ed Wulfe and the H-E-B grocery chain; Jack Blanton and The Houston Chronicle; the Rev. William A. Lawson and Julie and Ben Rogers; Linda P. Lay and Siegi Izakson; and Ron Stone.
Proceeds from the event help fund the Museum’s worldwide educational outreach efforts and allow Museum admission to remain free year-round.
For more information or to purchase tickets or tables for the luncheon, call 713-942-8000, ext. 129 or e-mail Spiritlunch@hmh.org.
Holocaust Museum Houston is dedicated to educating people about the Holocaust, remembering the 6 million Jews and other innocent victims and honoring the survivors' legacy. Using the lessons of the Holocaust and other genocides, the Museum teaches the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy.
Holocaust Museum Houston is free and open to the public and is located in Houston’s Museum District at 5401 Caroline St., Houston, TX 77004. For more information about the Museum, call 713-942-8000 or visit www.hmh.org.