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People: RIP, KIPP "Inventor" Harriett Ball

ScreenHunter_02 Feb. 02 22.35 Click below to read about the sad passing of Harriett Ball, the African-American teacher who taught Mike and Dave many of the teaching strategies upon which KIPP has been based. Now is probably not the time or the place but I remember being surprised when I first learned about Ball's role and am doubly ambivalent about KIPP because of the whole issue of appropriation and credit. It didn't seem like Mike and Dave were as open about crediting Ball during the early years (or if they were it didn't make it into the news coverage about them or register in my pea-sized brain).  That being said, they have been open about her value to KIPP in recent years and I'm extremely glad of that.  

via Whitney Tilson

Team and Family –

 It is with heavy hearts that we write to you that the KIPP family, and all of America, has lost one of our heroes.  Early this morning, Harriett Ball passed away from a heart attack.

 As you know, Harriett’s ideas and philosophy about teaching and the amazing heart and love she brought to kids was the foundation upon which all of KIPP was built.  Put simply, KIPP would not exist without Harriett.

 Every KIPPster who has sung a chant or used a mnemonic device is standing on the shoulders of Harriett’s brilliance.  Every time we talk about character mattering as much as academics, we are quoting Harriett Ball.  As we teach with the mindset that ALL of us WILL learn, we honor Harriett’s memory.

 Her legacy will live on through each of us and our students.

 Watching Harriett teach was akin to watching any genius in action – she made one of the world’s most difficult endeavors seem effortless.  We first met her 19 years ago and despite having already taught for 27 years, Harriett taught eight hours every day with the freshness and enthusiasm as if it was her first day.

 Yesterday, she was spending what would turn out to be her final day doing what she was the best in the world at – teaching. 

 Harriett was one of KIPP’s biggest cheerleaders and every time we spoke she simply kept saying, “You go boy.  Keep helping as many of my babies as you can.”  Harriett, that is exactly what we’re doing, and that is exactly what we’re going to keep doing.

 Please join us in keeping Harriett and her family in our thoughts and prayers.  In the coming days we will be thinking of ways to honor further Harriett’s legacy and contributions to education.

 One Love and Plow On,

Mike and Dave



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As an original board member of KIPP, I can tell you that Mike & Dave always gave Harriett credit for teaching them the chants and other classroom management techniques that helped define KIPP. Harriett spent a lot of time with KIPP in the early days, and videos of her multiplication tables and other chants were frequently on TV when there were stories about KIPP.

While I'm sure they didn't mention Harriett to every tour group that came through the school, they didn't hide or minimize her or anyone else they learned from. They talked about Harriett to their teaching staff and to our board; when we were talking to traditional educators or school district people, we used to give Harriett credit when we talked about how some of the good things about KIPP came from the Houston school district. I never heard Mike or Dave or anyone saying they invented the chants or the other classroom management techniques.

At the same time, Mike & Dave didn't invent the longer school day, the class trip to Washington DC, the time-out chair (called "the porch"), or the concept of consistent high teacher quality. They didn't invent anything - they just put it together better than most other people have, worked harder than most other people ever worked, and were able to tap into the growing supply of Teach for America teachers (where they were themselves trained), who were willing to put up with the enormous workload all this required.

It's very sad to see Harriett go, but she does live on in the lives of the children she touched, and indirectly through the lives of the children KIPP has touched.

Harvin Moore
Houston ISD Board of Education 2003-present
KIPP Board 1997-2003

I posted a good video of Harriett teaching the metric system on my blog:

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