Monday, February 9, 2015

My Visit to KIPP: North Star Academy

I don't really watch movies in the theater anymore.  The combination of the ever rising ticket prices, the ever diminishing quality of the movies, and the quickness that I can get new movies streamed into the comfort of my living room has just made the process obsolete for me.

One of the last movies I saw in the theater was the 2010 documentary Waiting For Superman, which takes a very critical look at the state of education in this country.  The notion of seeing a big screen documentary that framed charter schools in a positive way was exciting enough to get me out of the recliner and into the theater.

(Yes, I realize how old and curmudgeonly those first two paragraphs make me sound. I have chosen to embrace, not fight this. Get off my lawn.)

It was Waiting For Superman that first introduced me to the KIPP School.  KIPP is a national network of charter schools that specializes in "preparing students in low-income communities for success in college and life," according to their literature.  Some of the KIPP schools were profiled in the documentary.

A few weeks ago Cam Winton posted a link on Twitter to a Go Fund Me page for a teacher who was raising money to bring his students to go see the movie Selma.  This seemed like a good use of a few bucks to me so I made a donation.
I met Cam when he was running for Mayor of Minneapolis in 2013.  He and I have kept in touch since then, but I somehow overlooked the fact that earlier this year Cam joined the board of KIPP: North Star Academy, the first KIPP school in Minnesota.  The Go Fund Me page was for one of the KIPP classes.

Last week Cam invited me to one of the school's open houses for a tour.  I walked in semi-informed, I walked out amazed.

KIPP: North Star Academy is located in North Minneapolis, and currently serves 265 students in grades 5-8.  98% of their students are minorities, and 92% are eligible for federal lunch aid.  KIPP alum graduate college at a rate four times higher than the low-income average.

The small group I toured with had the opportunity to observe a few classes in action. It was immediately clear that this was not the average school. Probably the most striking thing that I observed was that no matter the classroom or subject, when the teacher asked a question, almost every hand in the room shot up, enthusiastically, to participate in the discussion.  These were students who were engaged and interested in learning.  It's been a while since I was in 8th grade but that's certainly not the environment I remember.

It's a statistic that is repeated so much that it has almost lost meaning, but Minneapolis has one of the worst achievement gaps between students of color and white students in the entire country.  Only 30% of the students who live in North Minneapolis are likely to graduate from high school.  This immoral statistic leads to a gap in employment later in life, which feeds the cycle of poverty.

A lot of politicians like to bleat on about this statistic, but very few actually do anything about it.  At KIPP I saw an amazing group of people who rolled up their sleeves and are actually addressing the achievement gap each day.  And with great results.

The average KIPP student grows 1.9 grade levels in proficiency for each year they are at KIPP.  This means that even students who are far behind their peers when they enter, can be back on track for success by the time they leave 4 years later.

The vision is to eventually grow to a pre-K through 8 school by 2020.

KIPP delivers amazing results but they can't do it alone.  As a charter school not associated with a school district they receive about 31% less per student than a "regular" district school.  They also pay their teachers more than average to account for longer than average school days, and a few Saturday classes per year.

There are a number of ways you could help KIPP, but one of the best ways is to start with a tour.  The next two are at 9:00 AM on March 5 and April 9.  Details are on their website.

Please consider attending a tour.  This curmudgeon is incredibly glad he did.