As executive director of the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) Delta Public School in Helena, Scott Shirey believes in the transcendent power of education. There are 82 KIPP schools across the United States, and all are open-enrollment public charter schools that serve children in high-poverty communities.
"If there’s high-quality education, people will pursue it and it can transcend color lines and geographic boundaries," Shirey says. "Each year we have students travel from a little further, or we have families that stay because they don’t want to leave the school."
Shirey is a 1998 graduate of Colby University in Maine, his home state. Before arriving in Helena eight years ago, he was recruited by Teach for America, an organization that selects college graduates throughout the country to teach in schools in lower socio-economic areas. Shirey taught in Baton Rouge, La., for three years before discovering a KIPP school was opening in Helena.
"We have an expression at KIPP that the actual proves the possible," he says. "We just had a graduation with 23 seniors and all of them are headed to college, and that’s, at any measure, the No. 1 accomplishment."