In 2012, Mini’imah Shaheed had the unique opportunity to design a school for which she would serve as founding principal. As part of a fellowship with national charter school network KIPP, the Teach for America alum outlined her mission, business plan, and curriculum—feeling a bit inadequate as peers dreamed up performing arts schools, blended-learning programs, and STEM academies. “What was rumbling in my spirit was a school rooted in love. That felt simplistic, very retro,” she says.
Today, KIPP STRIVE Primary School on Atlanta’s Westside is known as “the school that love built”—a place where no student is a lost cause and teachers work hard to know kids’ unique personalities. And Shaheed is CEO of KIPP Metro Atlanta Schools, which operates 11 K-12 public schools in the city. She’s the first Black woman to hold the post in a district that’s overwhelmingly Black and low-income but sends kids through college at an impressive rate.
Sister to Shaheed’s personal theme of love is joy, a word used often and earnestly at KIPP. During the COVID-19 pandemic, as school kids across America struggled, Atlanta’s KIPP community mourned the lives of three students lost to violence, including 17-year-old Vincent Truitt, killed by Cobb County police. “Black joy is a form of revolution,” says Shaheed, who grew up in a one-bedroom apartment in Oakland, California. “In this day where our scholars can turn on the TV and see repeated videos of people who look like them being shot down in the street, one way we can participate in the resistance is to ensure our schools are havens for Black joy.”
She hopes the post-COVID era will usher in opportunities for educational innovation. Her district recently challenged its own lottery-based model, last year opening KIPP Woodson Park Academy, a residentially zoned school, in partnership with Atlanta Public Schools. Says Shaheed, “I want my team to be a part of that reimagination and to seize the moment to make schools better for all of our nation’s children, but particularly for our children who have traditionally been left behind.”