As we shine the light on charter schools this National Charter Schools Week, several of the 100 plus public school options in Indiana are deserving of special attention and high praise.
One Indianapolis-based school network, where I served as a director, is a community centered option fortified by a national network with a decades long mission of rigorous, high quality education for traditionally underserved students.
With a network of over 200 college preparatory charters serving over 80,000 students nationally, the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) Schools are built on a foundation that demands and expects excellence from its students regardless their stations upon entry.
One of the most recognizable among charter school operators, 95 percent of the network’s national profile is African American or Latino, with just under 90 percent qualifying for free and reduced lunch. And, with students’ growth and academic outcomes outperforming the averages nationally and in most locals, there is much for KIPP to celebrate since the founding of the its Houston based school in 1994 under founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin.
KIPP Indy, based on the near Eastside of Indianapolis, represents this vast network locally, but has established its own unique identity as a neighborhood-based school deeply invested in the overall community well-being. In 13 years of operation, the network has grown to serve over 600 students across two schools, KIPP Indy College Prep and KIPP Indy Unite Elementary. Over that time, school leadership will admit results have been mixed, downright dissatisfying early.
However, under the leadership of KIPP Indy Executive Director Emily Pelino, the school began a cultural reversal that took stock of its full community assets in the effort to gain support and collective buy in through community investment. Working alongside its regional and national networks, KIPP Indy diligent approach has poised the school for an accelerated growth trajectory for which the surrounding community is taking notice, a very intentional strategy she notes.
“We’re deeply committed to the Martindale Brightwood community and the near eastside of Indianapolis,” Pelino said. “At KIPP Indy, we know that schools have the opportunity to be the cornerstone of communities and through our significant partnerships with neighborhood organizations, community leaders, and families, we are able to work together to leverage the many assets of our neighborhood to best support our students and families, inside and outside of the classroom.”
While challenges such as discipline and attendance metrics continue to adversely affect too many KIPP Indy Students, the school’s most recent academic data support its focus on complimenting high quality educators with comprehensive and strategic community partnerships. On the Indy networks’ most recent ISTEP report card, the school achieved enough growth domain points in English/Language arts and Math to earn the distinction as an “A” school.
Still there is much work to be done. For the dedicated leadership of KIPP Indy, a year’s state letter grade does less to satisfy this work than does the greater student achievement anticipated over the near and long terms. If successful in their aims, and by “their” I mean “our”, the schools network will expand to a full K-12 continuum with the prospective launch of a KIPP Indy High School in 2018-2019.
As evidenced by last week’s City of Indianapolis Charter Board hearing in consideration of this pursuit, the school’s national network, students, families and surrounding community are firmly behind them…..us.