Kimberly Anderson: A New Approach to Education

By Shelby Rowe Moyer | Photography by Hillary Schave

Kimberly Anderson hated being in the classroom and almost didn’t graduate high school.

If it wasn’t for the guidance of two of her high school teachers, she wouldn’t have gone on to college, and she certainly wouldn’t be in the midst of earning a doctorate from UW-Madison in educational leadership and policy administration.

Her 20-plus years in education — working in a traditional school building and for online platforms — has led Anderson to her most recent venture: Creating a school for kids who are floundering in the current education system. In 2022, she plans to launch Ignite Academy, a grade six through 12 charter school designed specifically for students
who have had multiple discipline issues at school and need a learning environment with more resources.

A typical school serves hundreds, if not thousands, of students, so it makes sense that classrooms need to be regimented, Anderson says. Schools need to function by kids and staff following the rules. Instead of grading solely on knowing the material, students’ grades are also dependent on turning assignments in on time. However, that system doesn’t work for everyone, especially kids that have experienced trauma, she says.

“Kids who march to the beat of their own drum — whether it’s personal or something is going on with their family or they just like swimming upstream — aren’t as successful, because they don’t follow the rules in a traditional system,” Anderson says. “There becomes a need for choices and options.”

Anderson’s vision for Ignite is a classroom environment with a virtual curriculum (so students can access their schoolwork anywhere) and pupils create their own learning projects. Instead of having specific classes — like freshman English or junior level biology — the goal will be ensuring kids are achieving the learning competencies required by the state. For example, if a student wanted to organize a rally, competencies can be fulfilled by building in social studies research and writing components.

What will make this school truly unique, though, are the additional supports, Anderson says. Only 150 or so kids will be enrolled at a time, and support staff will ensure that each student’s mental health and basic needs are being fulfilled. Services for parents will also be available.

Currently, Anderson is working on getting the school accredited by UW-Madison, and the next step is securing additional funding from grants and federal programs (the rest will come from tax dollars). A potential partnership with Mentoring Positives — a local organization that works with at-risk youth — could result in a shared building with wraparound supports all on one campus, which could happen a couple of years down the road. Regardless of how the real estate will shake out, Anderson wants Ignite Academy and Mentoring Positives to have some kind of partnership.

Even though there’s much that still needs to be done, Anderson doesn’t want to wait another year to open the school. So many students are already falling through the cracks, she says.

“I live by the mantra, ‘When you know better, you do better,’ And I know what’s not working,” she says. “I don’t see myself as the one person on this earth that can drive this bus. I see myself as the person who looked around and thought: This bus isn’t being driven by anyone. Let’s make a bus and see what we can do with it.”

Read about all of our 2022 Women to Watch here.

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