Never enough great schools in Nashville

ByKarl Dean (op-ed)

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“When is enough enough?”

That question was posed during the Metro school board’s meeting Tuesday night before the board voted to deny KIPP Nashville’s charter applications – applications that were recommended for approval by the district’s charter review committee.

It’s a question worth considering.

When will we have enough KIPP in Nashville? When will we have enough of the tireless efforts of Randy Dowell and his devoted team of school leaders, teachers and staff members? When will we have enough schools in our city successfully getting our youngest citizens to and through college?

KIPP has been part of the fabric of Nashville for more than a decade, changing the lives of some of Nashville’s most at-risk students. Kids like LaTrya Gordon, who attended seven other public schools before finding the academic environment she needed at KIPP Nashville, where she thrived.

As is true for all KIPP students, KIPP’s commitment to LaTrya didn’t end with eighth grade. During high school, her former KIPP teachers helped her navigate challenging housing circumstances so she could support her family.

Now a rising junior at Belmont University, LaTrya drives her brother to first grade at KIPP Kirkpatrick before interning at KIPP Academy Nashville, where she dedicates her time to helping the next generation of KIPP students succeed.

LaTrya’s story is not an anomaly. Just a few months ago, Gov. Bill Haslam recognized KIPP Academy Nashville as a Reward School for once again being in the top 5 percent in growth in the state.

Their scholars posted the school’s best reading and science results ever. KIPP Nashville Collegiate High School’s students posted growth scores in English and Algebra last year that were in the top 4 percent in the state.

And all of this happened in academic environments that can only be described by anyone who has walked into a KIPP school as joyful and inspired.

KIPP isn’t just serving Nashville well. More than 6,000 KIPP alumni are enrolled in colleges across the country today.

With former KIPP students graduating from college at a rate higher than the national average and five times higher than other low-income students, KIPP Nashville is part of a national team that is literally changing lives throughout the United States. Cities around the country would give anything to have KIPP serving students in their communities.

And KIPP is not the only public charter school providing Nashville’s most challenged students a high-quality option. Nine of the district’s highest-performing middle schools last year were charter schools, including KIPP. These schools are doing amazing work.

So to the question of when is enough enough, I would say this: Nashville will not have enough KIPP – or enough of any of our other high-quality charter schools – until every single child in the city has the same opportunity that LaTrya had.

All children should have access to an education, whether it’s at a charter school or a traditional public school, that puts them on the path to a future they once thought beyond their reach.

Until then, the question shouldn’t be, “When is enough enough?” The question should be, “How can we have more of these, sooner?”

Our city’s families deserve nothing less.

Karl Dean is the sixth mayor of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.