Children would gain from KIPP expansion


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It’ll be awhile before we know whether Principal Tracy McDaniel succeeds in his effort to expand his successful KIPP Reach Academy. This much is certain: The proposal has grabbed the attention of parents in northeast Oklahoma City, and that’s a very good thing indeed.

More than 200 people, many of them KIPP supporters, turned out Tuesday night at Fairview Missionary Church, 1700 NE 7, to hear more about McDaniel’s plan to place 600 KIPP elementary school students in an existing Oklahoma City elementary school, and eventually have the KIPP model in place for preschool through high school. Presently, KIPP serves 300 fifth- through eighth-grade students in a building it shares with F.D. Moon Academy.

During a portion of the meeting where attendees lined out their hopes and concerns, one longtime resident noted, “This is the first time ever that I’ve seen this many people in a room regarding northeast Oklahoma City schools.” That sort of interest needs to continue, she said, and she’s right.

But such interest and support is rare in most of the city’s schools, sad to say. The district has considerable issues with poverty and single-parent homes, which contribute to a high dropout rate, poor test scores and generally poor outcomes.

KIPP has been a beacon of success and hope during its 14 years in operation. McDaniel and its supporters note that it’s an A-plus school according to the state’s A-F report card, with 99 percent of KIPP students scoring “proficient” or “advanced.” Most of the nearby elementary and middle schools received D’s and F’s.

Critics say, among other things, that KIPP “cherry picks” its students and that its student body isn’t reflective of the rest of the district. McDaniel counters that 70 percent of the students are black and 15 percent are Hispanic, and that 76.5 percent of KIPP’s students qualify for free or reduced lunches (districtwide, the figure is closer to 95 percent). Most fifth-graders also arrive a year or two behind grade level in their reading and math skills. After four years of long school days and rigorous coursework, most KIPP students go on to top high schools, including prep schools across the country.

McDaniel is looking to give more students the same opportunity. His plan would result in relocation of students now in the undisclosed building he has targeted, which naturally has parents concerned. Other concerns mentioned Tuesday, and at a meeting last week, touched on discipline issues, exclusion of children and potential problems in KIPP’s future high school students sharing space at Douglass High School.

McDaniel, who grew up not far from the site of Tuesday’s meeting, acknowledged that his plan wouldn’t help every student on the northeast side. But it would help many, and his plan to share KIPP’s best practices with administrators and teachers in existing schools has the potential to benefit others.

“We’re saying, ‘Let’s do this together.’ … What we want to do is be transformative in this community,” he said. Ultimately, his hope is that instead of him going to the district to ask for a charter, “I want the community to go to the district and ask for a charter.”

Two more community meetings are planned in the coming weeks, to provide further vetting, and venting. Those with questions and concerns should attend. Our hope is that in the end, the community will buy in to McDaniel’s vision of taking KIPP’s winning model beyond the walls of F.D. Moon.