New KIPP campuses have younger focus

ByJennifer Radcliffe

Conscuqlia Jackson waited on edge for months before getting word that KIPP’s new Sunnyside primary school would open this summer for kindergartners – perfect timing for her young son.

With a 12-year-old daughter already attending KIPP, Jackson is sold on the Houston-based charter system, which opened a decade ago with the mission of setting low-income middle schoolers on a course for college.

She’s thrilled that KIPP is expanding to include more students as young as 3.

“My children are not going anywhere else unless the building collapses, and, then, I’m going to try to find another KIPP,” she said.

Ready to grow

KIPP has opened three elementaries in the area since 2004 but is set to double that number this summer with new campuses in Sunnyside, the East End and Galveston.

About 30 elementaries are planned nationwide by 2011. Each school will expand to include 3-year-olds to fourth-graders.

The growth plan is adding competition to a market that the Houston Independent School District has counted on to offset declining enrollment in recent years. Pre-kindergarten is the largest- and fastest-growing grade level in the district with roughly 16,000 students. District takes notice

Houston ISD officials said they plan to step up marketing efforts of their pre-K offerings to help compete with KIPP and others.

“A lot of folks are going to be two-career families again, and so this is certainly an alternative to day care, which can be very expensive,” said Lee Vela, HISD’s assistant superintendent of communication. “We think we have a superior product and we want to make sure people know about it. KIPP has a great product too, but there are other options for parents.”

KIPP’s original program was aimed at helping students catch up during extended-class time. By starting with preschoolers, KIPP officials say they’ll have much less catching up to do.

“When we started the school, there were some people who weren’t sure, who were skeptical. People would say, ‘If we’re having this kind of success at middle school, why start an early childhood education school?'” said Aaron Brenner, head of KIPP primary schools in Houston. “But there were flaws in the outcome of the program. They weren’t able to reach their full capacity.”

Diverse programs offered

At KIPP SHINE, the original primary campus that Brenner founded, students use the extended day to learn Spanish, reading and math. They play soccer, participate in the arts, and undergo character development.

Children are also taught the importance of preparing for college.

“It’s never too early to start climbing the mountain to college,” said Frank Cush, leader of the new East End campus. “We don’t call them kindergartners. We call them the Class of 2022.”

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