TPS board approves new KIPP high school

BySam Hardiman
KIPP Tulsa student sitting at a desk and smiling

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Tulsa is getting another high school — KIPP Tulsa University Prep High School.

The Tulsa School Board approved the charter school’s expansion to high school, paving the way for the school to open with an inaugural freshman class of 125 next year.

Organizers plan to lease the Edurec Youth and Family Fun Center, 5424 N. Madison Ave., to house the new school.

Andrew McRae, executive director of KIPP Tulsa, said the school will offer something unique among the educational offerings in north Tulsa.

“It would bring an AP (Advanced Placement) for all approach…,” said McRae, something that he noted isn’t available for every student in TPS. “We believe that every student should have access to high-quality curriculum.”

“One of the things that KIPP as a network, KIPP Tulsa as an existing middle school does incredibly well is KIPP through college counseling, so we would bring our model of college matriculation and persistence counseling to our high school,” said McRae.

“Of all the kids that have ever come to KIPP, 77 percent of them have matriculated to college and are still there … so we know that our program works and we want the opportunity to serve more kids on the north side,” McRae said.

KIPP Tulsa is a part of the San Francisco-based Knowledge is Power Program. The charter school opened in 2005 and serves fifth through eighth grades. The existing middle school will remain at 1661 E. Virgin St.

The charter school expansion will bring another education option to north Tulsa. At a prior school board meeting, some north Tulsa residents expressed concern about the new charter program, which will have close 500 students when all built out, could supplant McLain High School for Science and Technology.

Darryl Bright, McLain PTSA president, said then that items like KIPP often have “a very short walk” to be approved by the school board and that the community shouldn’t have to worry about a McLain takeover.

A recent TPS presentation showed that most of the students who could attend McLain don’t. Many attend a magnet program such as Booker T. Washington.

TPS’ enrollment projections show McLain High School picking up 15 more students in the 2018-19 school year. The current enrollment is 639 students. It is unclear if those projections were made accounting for the potential KIPP Tulsa high school.

When addressing the board Monday, Bright said the addition of KIPP would add four high schools to a tightly packed area.

“What are we doing here?,” said Bright. “The context is why has McLain languished in that low performing mediocrity for generations. You’ve given more discussion over the years that I’ve been here to charter schools than you have public schools.”

He said the rise of charter schools in Tulsa is because of the continued decline of north Tulsa schools such as McLain.

Andrea Castaneda, the district’s design and innovation officer, said the district believes that the expansion of KIPP could mean about 60 students across the district don’t attend neighborhood schools, but stressed that the district loses students to nonsanctioned charters or drop out all the time.

School board members had some pointed words for the process that surrounded the KIPP proposal, not the school itself.

Board member Jennettie Marshall voted against the proposal.

Marshall said it’s alarming that KIPP can provide an education for black students that “our own system can’t provide.”

She said she had concern about the proposed facility, Edurec Tulsa, and the adequacy of the building’s restrooms.

“I’m not arguing the point that KIPP educates. My problem is what are you going to do when I hear ‘we’ll make it work.’ The children in north Tulsa have been served up so much of ‘we’ll make it work.’”

Board member Amy Shelton, who voted for the proposal, listed all of the plans that have been made for education in north Tulsa, plans that Bright and others had shared with the board, and noted that some of them hadn’t been given the time or resources to succeed.

She said because of state charter laws KIPP high school would happen regardless. It could go to Langston University or the Oklahoma State Board of Education, and that there needs to be changes on the legislative level.

“I don’t believe expansion of charter schools is a sure path to equity …” said Shelton. “Our most vulnerable students … will almost always be served by our neighborhood schools.”