Look around. See these streets, these neighborhoods? This is southwest Little Rock.
It's blue-collar here. Working class. Mostly African-American and Latino. If you want a country club then you'll have to look elsewhere.
See that building over there? That's 5615 Geyer Springs Road. It's a school – Covenant Keepers Charter School. It's a place where the future is born every day.
It started as a dream. Dr. Valerie Tatum, a longtime educator in this part of town, saw a need to help students who were underserved and perhaps even forgotten. She saw the potential of the people here. She knew that with hard work and fierce determination, a top-quality education – one that would lead straight to college – could be attainable for anyone in this community.
So she made a covenant.
She made a covenant with the families and students of southwest Little Rock that she would give them a charter school in their community – in their own backyard – that would truly leave no child behind.
It took years. Dreams need time to develop, to grow into reality. And they take a lot of effort, planning, starting over.
Sure, there were hurdles along the way, but that's life, isn't it? Dr. Tatum was going to keep her covenant.
In August, 2008 Covenant Keepers was born.
There are just under 200 students coming in and out of our classrooms every school day. Outside of the building, dressed in their uniforms – emblazoned with the school's logo and the words "A Place Where Eagles S.O.A.R." – they laugh and play and tease and joke.
And inside, they learn. These are long days. Classes start at 7:50 a.m. and the school day ends at 3:30 p.m. It's a strict environment, where troublemaking and disruption are not tolerated.
The teachers work just as hard. Their focus is the classroom and the achievement of their students. The administration at Covenant Keepers is comprised of educators, not business people. Not politicians. They work with the teachers to constantly adapt and improve the learning environment for the students. It's a fluid environment, with the administration giving teachers the power to implement new ideas in the classroom.
A lot is expected of students at Covenant Keepers. Are classes rigorous? Of course they are, but there is more to rigor than a complex algebra problem.
Rigor means holding students to a higher standard. If that English assignment isn't turned in on time, the student's parent is notified posthaste. If a student is falling behind, the student will be placed in an appropriate class during Plus Time to get back on track.
What does this mean? It means that a student won't slip through the cracks, won't get passed along, won't be left behind.
And who are these students?
They are the subgroups, which is data-speak for the poor, the non-white, the English learners. They are the special-needs students. Some have behavior problems when they first arrive.
And they are the children of parents and guardians who want a better future for them; parents and guardians who are tired of their kids languishing in the achievement gap.
Many have come to Covenant Keepers with ACTAAP scores among the lowest of the low.
It's Covenant Keepers' job to get those scores out of the basement.
These things don't happen overnight. It will take time to get all students to the level required by the State.
But progress is being made. Growth is being charted.
Essentially, the best-kept secret in education is playing out inside the walls of Covenant Keepers, where leaders are moving beyond the talking stage and actually making things happen. To borrow a phrase from Nike, the administrators and teachers at CKCS "just do it". They understand that the most innovative, forward-thinking ideas in education never see the light of day because most administrations are afraid of change. By embracing this attitude, Covenant Keepers has implemented several modern, research-based initiatives to close the achievement gap.
"A Place Where Eagles S.O.A.R." means that Students Have the Opportunity to Achieve Results. And they do indeed. The 2010-2011 school year brought new meaning to the acronym when the school implemented the "I Will S.O.A.R." initiative. Students are reminded to:
"Nothing we do for children is ever wasted." Dr. Tatum's genuine passion for education and children is reflected in her motto that demonstrates that she and those she entrusts with educating CK students will do whatever it takes get those students prepared to be successful in college, career, and beyond.
Covenant Keepers' purpose is represented by the three E's: to Engage, Empower, and Educate.