America's Best Leaders: Mike Feinberg & David Levin, Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP)

Raising educational expectations in under-served communities.

Dave Levin (left) and Mike Feinberg

Dave Levin (left) and Mike Feinberg

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Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin are cofounders of the Knowledge Is Power Program, a network of high-achieving, publicly financed but independently run charter schools that serves mostly low-income minority children in 19 states and Washington, D.C. The following are excerpts of conversations with U.S. News's Eddy Ramírez.

Feinberg on Levin: Dave is the quarterback on the field who remains cool under pressure. We had a former student who passed away in 2002. I couldn't disconnect from the emotion of it. I called Dave and said, "I need your help," and he was on the first plane to Houston. He got involved in helping the family with the arrangements and was incredibly supportive in moments when I wasn't being very strong. I tend to run straight ahead, thinking that if I run into the wall enough times, eventually it will come down. Dave's the one who says, "Well, Mike, you can do it that way, but if you walk to the side, there is a door." He knows when people need a pat on the back or a shove on the butt.

Levin on Feinberg: After Hurricane Katrina, there were thousands of families relocated to Houston, and Mike spearheaded an effort to open a school for several hundred kids. They put the school together in a couple of weeks, and the school had tremendous success. He never loses sight of the goal—no matter how difficult the challenges are. It goes back to his belief that promises to children are sacred. If Mike says something is going to happen, it's going to happen. Leadership is often a lonely task, and I feel blessed that the last 16 years I've been able to share this journey with Mike. There is no way we could have done this without each other.

  • Click here for more of America's Best Leaders.
  • Click here for more on the history of KIPP