Tim King

Speaker Spotlight: Tim King

Tim King has a long track record of success at Urban Prep. Mayor Emanuel recently recognized Mr. King’s Urban Prep Academy during a Chicago Council meeting, congratulating their 100% acceptance rate to college for the third year in a row! We asked Mr. King to share his perspective and ideas on education today.

The Right School Culture Can Be Magical

People who know me well know that I’m obsessed with Harry Potter.  I loved the books.  I loved the movies.  In fact, I’ve even been known to refer to Urban Prep as “Hogwarts in the ‘hood.”  Like all Harry Potter fans, I know that the original book, while released as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the United States, was originally titled Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  The idea of the philosopher’s stone is central to current discussions about how best to ‘fix’ our nation’s system of public education.  Essentially, our education debate currently centers on finding an elixir that will cure all of our school woes at the same time – low levels of minority teacher recruitment, low standardized test scores, high drop-out rates, etc.   I hate to break it to you, but 1) we’re all Muggles (i.e., non-magical folk) and 2) there’s no such thing as a philosopher’s stone.

My big idea about education isn’t so much a breakthrough insight as it is a return to an aspect of the education experience that’s often been neglected in favor of flashier innovations like blended learning and 24/7 testing: namely, school culture.  School culture describes the way that administrators, teachers, students, parents and other community members interact, either together with the goal of promoting a positive education environment, or separately in order to follow individual goals.

At first glance, it might seem that saying schools will improve through positive school culture makes about as much sense as saying that students will learn by scoring higher on tests.  But this confuses ends and means, of which positive school culture can be both.  It’s a means in that it helps increase educational outcomes.  It’s an end in that positive culture is never an accident; it must be created and cultivated.  In order to allow positive culture to flourish at the school level, we have to give school leaders the freedom to create the school environments that will best serve their students.

Each school is different, and each school culture is going to be a little different.  But as long as those cultures promote academic and social development, they should be celebrated.  It’s only when we try to impose school culture from the top or disregard its importance altogether that we hinder school success.

At the end of the first Harry Potter book, Hogwarts’ headmaster Albus Dumbledore destroys the Sorcerer’s Stone because he’s worried about it falling into the wrong hands.  It’s high time we discarded the notion that a silver bullet, magic wand or philosopher’s stone is going to solve the problems that exist in education today.  The only things that will make our education system better are hard work, dedication, and a commitment to building schools with positive cultures.  And there’s nothing magic about that.

Stay up to date on all things Urban Prep at their website:

Watch Mr. King’s 2011 CIW Talk: Creating Culture & Character here!

Tim King is founder and CEO of Urban Prep Academies, a network of public charter boys’ high-schools in Chicago. 

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