Among the 32 KIPP schools across the country are 32 unique first-year experiences. However, few have gone through the spectrum of setbacks and victories as has the school in Oakland.
KIPP opened a school in the Oakland Unified School District in the summer of 2002. Since then, the school has survived a districtwide deficit of $100 million, nearly a quarter of the overall $450 million operating budget; a state takeover of the district; principal and teacher turnover; a facility relocation; and a name change.
In Chicago, two new KIPP schools can look forward to more stable central leadership and a balanced districtwide budget. However, Oakland can provide a cautionary tale at the school level.
Beware of teacher turnover
At the end of its first year, KIPP Bridge in West Oakland lost its founding principal and two of the school's four teachers. (One is slated to return in a year.) New Principal David Ling hired an Oakland public school teacher and a high school teacher from a nearby district. He also hired two others who completed teaching stints with Teach For America.
The six-member faculty oversees instruction for 146 5th- and 6th-graders.
Some teacher turnover is expected, admits KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg. The school mandates long hours for students and staff—7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and half-days twice a month on Saturdays.
The model is not for everyone, he says.
KIPP also pays teachers salaries that are 15 to 20 percent higher than the home district, says KIPP spokesman Steve Mancini. It also recognizes outstanding teachers with awards and offers a national network of colleagues—a feature most local charters lack, he adds.
Greg Richmond, who oversees CPS charter, contract and small schools, is aware of the teacher retention issue.
Plan to relocate
This fall, KIPP Bridge moved from an old woodshop classroom into a more spacious second-floor space in another building on the same middle school campus. The new digs will accommodate the school until next school year when it adds up to 90 students.
Then it will likely have to find suitable space to house up to 350, the school's ultimate goal.
As a contract school—the principal, faculty and staff are employees of Oakland Unified School District—KIPP Bridge can rely on the district to find suitable space for the school. Charter schools, which are responsible for securing their own facilities, don't have that luxury.
The KIPP model, whether the school has a charter or contract arrangement with its host district, calls for it to open with 5th-graders only, and expand year-to-year into 8th grade. Often this means schools must relocate one or more times.
Chicago's Ascend Charter is already looking for a new—and hopefully permanent—home for next school year. Its sister school, Chicago Youth Village Academy, is a contract school and has all the space it needs in reopened Williams Elementary.
Immediate bottom line results
Test scores at KIPP schools, particularly those in Houston, New York and Washington, D.C., have shown significant gains in just one year.
With only one year of California test scores, Oakland KIPP used its own assessment to determine that students had improved a full grade level in reading in four months last year.
A word of caution for local parents: "We're all looking for a quick fix that's not out there," says Vivian Loseth, who oversees another school improvement model for nonprofit Youth Guidance. Loseth visited the KIPP school in New York and admired the program. "We have to give these models an opportunity to work."
Word of mouth works
David Ling, an Oakland resident, was planning to open a KIPP school in East Oakland in 2004, but when the principal of the KIPP school in West Oakland left earlier this year, Ling was tapped to fill the post. Fortunately for Ling, parents helped the school recruit students by spreading the word throughout the community. "That's the best advertising," Ling says.
This year, nearly all of last year's 5th-graders returned for 6th grade, and Ling had a full class of new 5th-graders.
If Chicago follows a similar path, a successful first year will guarantee KIPP schools a flood of applications for subsequent years.