Boston Globe - "State gives Lynn charter academy ok to add high school"

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by John Laidler | December 31, 2009
Five years after it opened its doors, a Lynn charter school is preparing for significant growth.

KIPP Academy Lynn, which currently consists of a grades 5-to-8 middle school, will gradually add a high school (grades 9 to 12) and expand enrollment by 430 students to a maximum of 750.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted 8 to 2 on Dec. 15 to approve an amendment to the Lynn school’s charter that allows the expansion.

The Lynn academy is part of a nationwide network of 82 KIPP charter schools that share core principles and methods, including providing its mostly low-income students with a longer school day.

“We are thrilled with this vote of confidence from the Board of Education,’’ said Steve Mancini, spokesman for KIPP, which stands for Knowledge is Power Program, the national organization that provides training and other support to schools in the network.

He said the expansion “will allow us to keep our current students in KIPP Lynn on a path to college’’ by providing them the chance to continue on to a KIPP high school. And “it will allow us to expand enrollment at the middle school to meet the demand for the existing school.’’

“This is something that is very exciting and a tribute to the hard work of the teachers, parents, and students,’’ said Mancini, a former Massachusetts public school teacher who previously served on the board of the Lynn school.

The expansion comes at a time of renewed debate over charter schools in Massachusetts. State lawmakers are poised to consider lifting limits on charter schools, which are public schools that operate independently of local school committees.

Meanwhile, two proposals for new charter schools that would serve Lynn - Lynn Preparatory Charter School and Road to Success Charter High School - have drawn opposition from Lynn officials. Road to Success is also opposed by officials in Peabody and Salem, the other two cities that the school would serve.

Lynn School Superintendent Catherine Latham said she also opposes the KIPP Academy expansion.

“I don’t see that they have anything to add except possibly after-school programs, which we are now adding to some of our schools,’’ she said.

But Mancini said the academy is “a school that works,’’ pointing out, for example, that its seventh-grade students last year scored in the top 5 percent in the state on the MCAS math test. He said another indicator of the school’s success is a waiting list of more than 200 students for admission to the fifth grade next year.

“That shows the school is doing something right because parents are voting with their feet,’’ said Mancini, noting that the Lynn academy is one of KIPP’s flagship schools. “This is a school where we train other principals from across the country . . . because they do such a wonderful job educating students, particularly special education students.

Latham said that, while she is not against charter schools, “What I am against is the comparison made between charter schools and public schools because they are not required to play by the same rules we are.’’

For example, she said, “we are required to hire only licensed teachers. They are not. We are required to take all children. They are not,’’ noting that KIPP does not accept new students at all after the fifth grade.

“We are focused on our goals of getting kids ready for college. We’ll leave the comparisons to others,’’ Mancini said.

Nationwide, 85 percent of students enrolled at KIPP schools are low income, and 85 percent go on to college, he said.

The academy plans to establish the high school by adding one grade a year beginning in 2011-2012, until it reaches full enrollment of about 320, Mancini said. About 110 students will be added to the middle school, starting next fall.

The increase is less than the 530 KIPP had requested, but Mancini said it would still allow the school to add the high school and meet about half of its unmet enrollment demand. The middle school is located in a building on Bessom Street that the academy leases from the adjacent Holy Family Church. Mancini said the academy will need to construct a new building for the high school alone or the entire academy. It is looking for a site in Lynn.

Rose Egbuiwe, mother of two girls at KIPP Academy Lynn, said she is “extremely happy’’ that the school’s expansion plan was approved. She said it means her daughters - one now in seventh grade and the other in sixth - can attend the future high school and “and more kids will be able to benefit as my children are.’’

“It’s not just a school, it’s a collaboration between parents and teachers to bring out the best of students and the community,’’ she said of KIPP.

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