Expanding KIPP Reach would help more kids in northeast Oklahoma City

ByGary Jones (op-ed)

Read the full article at NewsOK.com >

Here in Oklahoma City, a debate is underway about the expansion of a charter school called KIPP Reach. While KIPP is only one school in our city’s public school system, I know that allowing KIPP to expand could have an enormous impact for children in northeast Oklahoma City.

Why am I so convinced that KIPP should grow? Because I have seen the difference KIPP has made for my own daughter, Isabella.

When I looked for a new school for Isabella a year ago, the stakes were high. She was struggling academically and so far behind that she had an individualized education plan (IEP), and was identified for special education.

In considering KIPP Reach, I looked at the academic track record — 14 years as a top-performing school and four years with an “A” rating — as well as KIPP’s reputation for strong leadership and engaged teachers.

One year and two grade levels of learning later, I know I made the right choice.

Isabella has not only improved academically, but thanks to KIPP she has gained something more valuable: the confidence to tackle challenging material — especially in math — and persevere.

When my daughter entered KIPP Reach in fifth grade, her teachers laid out a detailed plan to make sure she caught up to her peers in reading and math. It wasn’t easy, and Isabella frequently became frustrated at the work required. But the teachers did not let her give up and offered extra help whenever needed.

I know that Isabella’s KIPP experience is not unique because I have also been a Boy Scout troop leader at KIPP Reach for more than eight years. Long before enrolling my daughter at KIPP, I observed the school’s impact on the Boy Scouts I mentored.

The first thing I noticed was KIPP’s commitment to academics. The KIPP Scouts brought their homework on campouts and parents were adamant that troop activities could not interfere with classroom requirements. It was remarkable to see how KIPP fostered a love of learning in the boys and their families.

KIPP’s intensity had a downside in the early years, as some of my boys couldn’t go on Scout trips because they were frequently suspended from school.

However, over time KIPP Reach identified its discipline challenges and adopted new strategies that were better for kids.

KIPP now has the chance to expand in Oklahoma City by moving into the Martin Luther King Elementary building and adding a prekindergarten program in fall 2017. KIPP’s proposal would let the school grow slowly over time and eventually add 600 spots.

Plus, through a partnership with Oklahoma City schools where KIPP teachers will share strategies with district teachers, local schools could help even more children like Isabella succeed.

There are lots of ways to evaluate KIPP’s expansion proposal, but ultimately it comes down to one key question: Is this a school where I would send my own child? As KIPP parent, I can answer with a resounding “yes.” And I am confident that the families in my Boy Scout troop would reply the same way.

I hope the school board can come together to support KIPP’s expansion, and give more kids in northeast Oklahoma City a chance to reach the future they deserve.