AKRON, Ohio - The LeBron James influenced I Promise School opened in July 2018 with 240 third and fourth graders who were already one or two years behind their grade level. The school had lofty expectations of reversing that trajectory.
The partnership with Akron Public Schools created a unique environment that not only efforts to meet the students' academic needs but also their social and emotional challenges as well.
"We welcome our students with hugs, high fives, smiles and this is done every day. And, when they get into the classroom they do an 'I promise circle' where they can reflect on their emotions and reflect on how they can be the best versions of themselves each day," said principal Brandi Davis.
When he helped open the school James called it his greatest achievement. Administrators knew they were starting something from the ground up with enormous expectations.
"We thought we had the recipe right," said Keith Leichty of the Akron Public Schools. "We were like 'we can do this' but then you go home and you say a prayer every night like 'gosh, this better work. The whole country is watching -- our bosses, everybody is watching.'"
Nine months after opening, test results reveal that the school is in fact accomplishing its goals.
90% of the I-Promise School students met or exceeded their expected growth in both math and reading according to a winter MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) test.
The school reports it is in the 99th growth percentile of the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) school norms, demonstrating that students' test scores increased at a higher rate than 99 out of 100 schools nationally.
"I was ecstatic when I saw our test results. I mean, I knew that there was going to be a significant amount of growth but to knock it out of the water like we did with tremendous growth in reading and math both, it just lets me know that the work that we are doing is the right work," said Davis.
The test results indicate the students are closing the gaps between themselves and their peers.
On Friday James tweeted a congratulatory message.
PROUD ‼️‼️‼️ is an understatement. Kids you are smart, amazing, talented, and nothing short of INSPIRATIONAL! Teachers & all the staff ❤️❤️ ya’ll are the right ones, the real ones on this journey changing lives & numbers don’t lie 🤷🏾♂️ Let’s keep GROWING 💪🏾 @ipromiseschool 🚀 pic.twitter.com/fQcmcNRBKQ
— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 12, 2019
The local superstar's fingerprints are all throughout the school.
Administrators said his influence helps generate an environment in which the students understand that someone cares about their progress which helps motivate them not to let him down.
"Of course no one wants to let LeBron down and our kids, they always want to make sure you know, 'Is LeBron going to see this? Is LeBron going to know? Is LeBron coming?' Well, we never know. We never know who's around the corner so always act with integrity," said Davis.
The school plans to add 120 additional students next year along with a new grade level, eventually having grades 1-10 under its roof.
Administrators said they know these test scores only set the bar higher for future expectations.
"We just have to keep getting better. We have to get back, you know, huddle back up and figure out, you know -- we are going to grow next year." said Leichty. "We are a school. We are not defined by the status quo. We are not defined by mediocrity. Everything we do, even the smallest thing, we make sure we put our all in it. We give 150% and just because we had a successful event or we had successful growth, we are still looking at how we can dig deeper and be better each year. We are still not satisfied."
Meanwhile, the school's achievements are being recognized across the country.
Former President Barack Obama took to Twitter Friday night to congratulate James, the school, its staff and the students.
Obama said he's "proud to be a witness to their success."
Another good story worth sharing: From one "kid from Akron" to a new generation of Akron kids, some remarkable early achievements at @IPROMISESchool. Great work, @KingJames—and even better work by those students. Proud to be a witness to their success: https://t.co/ctWfKnA5GL
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) April 12, 2019