KIPP Indianapolis

ByAmos Brown

Highlights from August 10 interview with KIPP Indianapolis school leader Emily Pelino and assistant school leader Aleesia Johnson:

AMOS BROWN: Emily, what’s the specialty at KIPP?

EMILY PELINO: So at KIPP, our goal is to get all of our kids to and through college. So, really working with parents and kids together, putting in that extra time, communicating, and making sure that all of our kids are on that path to college, and then keeping them there once they do enroll.

AMOS BROWN: Aleesia, after all these years that we’ve had charter schools here in the state of Indiana and Indianapolis, I am still amazed that people still think you have to pay tuition to go to a charter school. […] KIPP Indianapolis is a free-enrollment public charter middle school. People still think that it’s not a public school.

ALEESIA JOHNSON: I think they do. I think that is a common misperception, and one that charter schools continue to battle against, even after all this time. I think a lot of people hear “college prep,” hear about the extra time, the rigor of instruction, they sort of naturally associate that with a private school education or an education that you typically have to pay for. But we are-we’re a public school, which means we are open to all students to enroll.

AMOS BROWN: Now, you guys-KIPP took the challenge of being a middle school only. Different charter schools, some have stressed the elementary, some have stressed elementary and middle, some have […] stressed high school. You guys started middle from jump street. Did that make it more difficult? Because middle school-they’re some tough kids.

EMILY PELINO: Well, I think that it’s certainly-we get our kids at a different phase, and it would be great, I think, to see them starting at the elementary school level. However, middle school is such a great age to have students, and the national model for KIPP started in middle school. And so, when we came here to Indianapolis, we started that way. I think, looking to the future, it would be wonderful to have-to be deeper in the community in Indianapolis and serve more kids, either younger or older.


AMOS BROWN: When I look at KIPP’s performance over the years, it had some improvements in the third year and in the fourth year […] and kind of slipped a little the last couple of years. Is the pressure on, because this is a renewal year under the mayor’s charter school program?

EMILY PELINO: I mean, when I think about it, the pressure is on, simply because of our kids. You know, we saw last year, or this past year, the state average was about 4 percent growth, and we saw 6 percent growth in our math scores and 16 percent growth in our reading scores. Which is great, but still, we need to raise the bar further. And I think about more in terms of what our children deserve than the renewal.


AMOS BROWN: Is the challenge that you’re getting students who, the schools they came from, they weren’t properly prepared, so you’ve got to do double duty with kids at KIPP?

ALEESIA JOHNSON: I think, certainly in fifth and sixth grade especially, we really want to make sure that our kids have strong foundational skills. If they don’t have those skills, they won’t be able to meet the rigor that we put forth in seventh and eighth grade. So we want our kids, you know, taking algebra and being able to test out of that by eighth grade. We have to make sure that those foundational skills are strong and that, kids coming from all different schools in fifth grade, getting them on a level playing field takes a little bit of time.