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KIPP’s no-brainer move yields expansion grant

by Luctrica A. Lewis
Special to the Tri-State Defender

The braintrust at KIPP Memphis Collegiate Schools learned last March that the Charter School Growth Fund was coming to Tennessee in March.  

So, KIPP did a smart thing, applying right away and not waiting for an invitation. The Charter School Growth Fund (CSGF) had a rigorous application process, asking for each applicant’s academic and strategic business plan. The grantors wanted proof of each potential awardee’s ability to operate and support their existing charter school.

On Tuesday, KIPP received news that it had been granted $3 million to create eight additional KIPP schools. All eight schools will be in operation by 2016. There now are two KIPP schools in Memphis.

“We are thrilled and grateful for the Charter School Growth Fund’s investment in our schools,” said Jamal McCall, executive director of KIPP Memphis Collegiate Schools. “This incredible investment will help us expand our reach in Memphis so we can help more students climb the mountain to college.”

There are 500 students enrolled at the two KIPP schools in Memphis. KIPP Memphis Collegiate Middle School (KCMS) opened downtown in 2002, with 92 percent of its students from low-income families. During 2008-10, KCMS was ranked as the third highest-performing public middle school in the state of Tennessee for academic growth.

KIPP Memphis Collegiate High School opened this fall with its first ninth grade class.

A state-funded school, KIPP receives a wide-range of community support. Its chairperson is Barbara Hyde.

Student expectations at KIPP are not designed around grade level. Instead, success expectations are designed to ensure that students are equipped for enrolling and graduating from college. The normal school day is from 7:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Monday-Thursday) and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Friday). Students attend school every other Saturday and three weeks in the summer.

Data-driven decision-making is a big part of the KIPP mission.

“We are really the only charter school that is out there that’s crazy enough – people tell us – to track how our alumni are doing in college,” said Christina Brown, KIPP development director, who notes that every student that graduates a KIPP school in the eighth grade is considered alumni.

“We consider ourselves responsible for supporting you and tracking your progress, not just up into college, but all the way through,” said Brown. “KIPP measures success by how many alumni that are graduating from college…(and) is very transparent when it comes to ensuring the long term success of its students.”

KIPP uses electronic data such as SalesForce to track alumni. The tracking method is required by the KIPP Foundation.

“We have memberships with several organizations and have built relationships with the schools that our 8th grade alumni are attending so that we can keep track of them,” said KIPP Through College Director Sonya Fleck.

“We also regularly hold events for the students – incentivizing them if needed – so that they come to depend on us, if/when they run into trouble.”

Programming is offered in three major areas – economic literacy, life skills and academic monitoring and support.”

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