• KIPP announces expansion plans in St. Louis

    11 hours ago • By Elisa Crouch ecrouch@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8119

    ST. LOUIS • Organizers of the high-performing KIPP charter schools announced Wednesday their plans to open two more schools, and eventually a network that could educate as many as 2,600 students — most of them from low-income, minority families — throughout the city.

    Organizers announced at a breakfast at downtown’s Central Library that they had identified two school leaders to take the helm of a new elementary and a new middle school slated to open in fall 2015. Locations have not been determined.

    The schools would join KIPP’s Inspire Academy, a middle school that has shown success into its fifth year in the Fox Park neighborhood; and KIPP Victory Academy, an elementary school scheduled to open this fall in the West End.

    By 2019, KIPP organizers also hope to open a high school.

    “We’re really excited about the future and being able to impact more kids,” said Kelly Garrett, executive director of KIPP St. Louis, after the event.

    KIPP, an acronym for Knowledge is Power Program, forged a partnership over the summer with St. Louis Public Schools that is helping its expansion efforts. The arrangement paves the way for KIPP to have access to empty school buildings, potentially removing one of the largest stumbling blocks to opening a charter in St. Louis. In exchange, all attendance, enrollment and test score data collected at KIPP schools would be reflected in the school district’s data, potentially strengthening the performance of the city school system.

    Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that operate independently of school districts.

    So far, 117 kindergartners and first-graders have enrolled at Kipp Victory, 955 Arcade Avenue, in the old Mitchell school building. The school will add one grade a year through fourth grade.

    Tiara Abu, the school leader, said she was already building relationships with families who have enrolled. “I’m going to a lot of houses right now and sitting on couches and floors,” she said.

    KIPP is the largest nonprofit network of charter schools in the country, with 141 schools in 20 states and Washington.

    Their students have longer days and school years than their peers in traditional public schools. Students are expected to perform at the same levels as their peers in more affluent schools. And in many cases they do.

    “At the end, the unit of change is the school,” said Richard Barth, chief executive of the KIPP Foundation.

    Its no-excuses approach to helping children from high-poverty backgrounds has led to criticism that students who can’t keep up eventually leave, calling into question whether the strategies would work for all students in chronically low-performing schools.

    The Regional Business Council also announced Wednesday a $225,000 grant to help KIPP’s efforts in recruiting and training teachers and leaders.

    At KIPP Inspire, fifth- through eighth-graders have shown significant gains each year. In 2009, 34 percent of fifth-graders at the school tested at grade level in math, and 22 percent in English, according to state exams. By the end of seventh grade, their passing rates had about doubled, with 67 percent proficient or advanced in math, and 44 percent in English.