by Max Brantley
HELENA-WEST HELENA, AR—October 14, 2008—KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Delta College Preparatory School, a free, open-enrollment public charter middle school in Helena for underserved students, has been awarded a $2.6 million grant by the Charter School Growth Fund (CSGF). KIPP Delta will use this investment to expand from two schools in Helena to 12 schools across the Delta region by 2019. When this expansion is complete, KIPP Delta’s charter schools will send over 240 graduates a year to four-year colleges and universities, nearly double the current number of college bound low-income students in the Delta.
The Charter School Growth Fund, a national investment fund, was founded in 2005 to build the capacity of high performing charter schools to expand their scale and impact. The CSGF will provide KIPP Delta with $2.6 million grant to help address infrastructure and operating needs during expansion. When the growth plan is complete, KIPP Delta Public Schools will become a regional cluster of 12 charter schools serving over 3,600 students. The KIPP Delta cluster will include Helena-West Helena along with three new communities that currently do not have a KIPP school.
“The Charter School Growth Fund selected KIPP Delta for this investment due to its demonstrated track record of success and strong expansion plan,” said John Lock, CSGF President and CEO. “KIPP Delta has a relentless focus on helping all students reach high standards, and its vision for growth will change the future for thousands of children in the region.”
This month, KIPP Delta College Prep was one of only three schools in Arkansas to be named a 2008 Blue Ribbon School by Secretary Margaret Spellings. Founded by Scott Shirey, KIPP Delta College Prep charter school opened its doors in 2002 with just fifth graders, aiming to prepare students in Helena-West Helena with the skills to succeed in college and beyond. KIPP Delta Public Schools now serves 365 students in grades five through eleven, and has established itself as one of the top performing middle schools in the region. In 2008, 86 percent of KIPP Delta College Prep’s eighth graders score proficient or advanced on the Arkansas Benchmark Exam in math, compared to 23 percent of students in the Helena-West Helena School District.
KIPP Delta is part of the network of 66 KIPP public charter schools across the country, which was originally started by Teach For America alumni Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin. Nationwide, more than 90 percent of KIPP students are of color, and 80 percent are low-income. Although nationally less than percent of low income students graduate from college, 80 percent of alumni from the first two KIPP academies have matriculated to college. On August 17, 2008, The New York Times Magazine writer Paul Tough called KIPP “the best-known and arguably the most successful network of charter schools in the country.”
“With a focus on results, high expectations and teachers who will do whatever it takes, KIPP Delta has opened up new academic horizons for our students,” said Shirey. “With this generous CSGF investment, KIPP has the potential to double the number of low income college graduates emerging from the Delta each year, which would be exciting for the future of the area.”
In 2007, KIPP added a high school in Helena when Luke VanDeWalle opened KIPP Delta Collegiate, and will launch a KIPP elementary school in fall 2009 after Amanda Johnson completes her leadership training under the Fisher Fellowship. To prepare for regional expansion, Scott Shirey has transitioned from School Director of KIPP Delta College Prep middle school to Executive Director of the KIPP Delta region. Jemar Tisby is now the School Director of the middle school. Like KIPP co-founders Feinberg and Levin, Shirey, Johnson and VanDeWalle are all Teach For America alum.
“The CSGF investment represents a tremendous opportunity for KIPP Delta Public Schools to replicate the success of the first two schools through a thoughtful growth process,” said Chaulk Mitchell, chairperson of KIPP Delta’s Board of Directors. “Under Scott’s leadership and with this CSGF support, KIPP Delta’s teachers will ensure that children in the Delta are prepared for college and lifelong success.
Over the next twelve years, KIPP Delta will grow from three charter schools in one community to twelve charter schools in four communities. The three new expansion areas will be chosen through a competitive application process that includes factors such as community support, parent demand and availability of educational alternatives. The expansion area is targeted for the Arkansas Delta due to restrictions in the current Mississippi charter school law. If this law were to change, however, KIPP Delta would also consider expansion bids from communities in the Mississippi Delta.
“KIPP Delta Public Schools is proving that demographics are not destiny, and that all students can climb the mountain to college,” said Richard Barth, CEO of the KIPP Foundation. “As it adds more schools, KIPP Delta’s unique educational approach-- with more time in school, strong leadership and a partnership between parents, students and teachers--will bring new opportunities for many more children across the region.”
KIPP was founded in 1994 in Houston by two teachers, Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, after completing their commitment to Teach For America. KIPP has grown to a national network of 66 public schools in 19 states and the District of Columbia serving over 16,000 students. KIPP students are in school from 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. weekdays, every other Saturday for enrichment, and three weeks over the summer. Dedicated teachers are available after school for homework help. KIPP has been widely recognized for narrowing the achievement gap in public education and putting underserved students on the path to college.