Though the I Promise School only opened last month, it has gained national attention with a major question in mind — can it be replicated?

For Michele Campbell, the executive director of the LeBron James Family Foundation, that’s the ultimate goal.

“Let’s allow this to be a hub of learning for the rest of the country,” Campbell said. “Once things are settled, our goal is to bring other urban districts in ... and help them create the same model.”

The traditional public school with a nontraditional curriculum has drawn major praise — and some criticism — for its longer learning hours (the school day begins at 8:45 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m.) and unconventional funding.

The school, which is a partnership between the Akron Public School district and LeBron James Family Foundation, was created to be a new model with some of the nation’s best practices in place.

Going public

Throughout the whole process, Campbell said the foundation never considered any model except for a public school. LeBron James, who came up with the idea to create a school in his hometown, always did it to help the kids growing up just like he did during his early years, Campbell said.

“Akron Public Schools is responsible for making LeBron who he is today,” Campbell said. “It was a no-brainer for us.”

Officials spent months coming up with the school model with input from parents, students, educators and, of course, James himself.

Experts then traveled the country to learn best practices by visiting other schools and attending conferences.

Nicole Hassan, the foundation’s Akron Public Schools liaison, said she traveled to local schools in the state to view their best practices in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) — a major focus of the school.

She also visited schools in New Orleans to observe their practices that take into account the traumas students may have faced and to see the “overall climate and understanding and compassion of teachers.”

Meanwhile, Brandi Davis, the school’s principal, traveled to schools on the East Coast to observe their best practices in “social-emotional learning” and professional development.

Social-emotional learning helps students “acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions,” according to the nonprofit national Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning.

New magnet school

The I Promise School is considered a specialty school in the district, much like the district’s existing STEM schools and Miller South School for the Visual & Performing Arts.

Specialty schools are comparable to the nationally recognized magnet schools, which are schools that are part of a public school district, but they have specialized curriculums and attract students from different neighborhoods and backgrounds.

But the I Promise School doesn’t align neatly with most existing magnet schools, which typically focus on themes like STEM or performing arts.

Instead, the I Promise School focuses on helping students at risk of falling behind their peers with a STEM spin — a theme that makes it unique, said John Laughner, the legislative and communications manager for Magnet Schools of America.

“The fact that Mr. James is planning… many important social services on site does make this school stand out,” Laughner added.


While there aren’t a million LeBrons out there to fund similar schools around the country, there are people with money available to contribute to education.

“[LeBron] has been able to get people to pay attention and look at what could be done ... but there are a lot of people in the country who care and want to live beyond themselves,” Campbell said.

Once the school works out its first-year issues, Campbell envisions bringing schools in from around the country to observe the model and learn from the best practices the staff has in place.

Ultimately, school officials hope to make the school a new standard of excellence for urban districts around the country.

“We believe we’ve got a pretty awesome model,” Campbell said.

Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom.