EPHS graduate named executive director of KIPP LA schools

Some of the 100 students in the first kindergarten program at KIPP LA.

Some of the 100 students in the first kindergarten program at KIPP LA.

Pick up the Aug. 25 Time Magazine, a recent U.S News , or other publications such as a Washington Post, Education Today, Forbes, L.A. Times or The Economist over the last year and there will be either an article or a positive reference to a charter/public  school called KIPP.

KIPP means Knowledge is Power Program. It was established in 1994 in Houston with 50 children by Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg. Today there are nearly 66 schools across the United States serving some 16,000  students in 19 states as well as Washington, D.C.  There are seven high schools and seven or eight elementary schools. The remainder are middle schools for grades five through eight.

KIPP’s focus is college prep. They put learning first and show clear evidence that demography does not define destination. Ninety percent of the middle school students go on to a college prep high school. And, 80 percent go to college. Nationally, in low-income populations, one in five (20 percent) go to college.
On the West Coast, KIPP has schools in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
In Los Angeles there currently are two middle schools (grades 5-8). One is the KIPP Academy of Opportunity in South LA and KIPP LA Prep in East LA., and on Aug. 11, they opened their first kindergarten in L.A. It is serving 100 children.  They will add one grade per year until eventually they will service 500 students in K-4.

About 53 percent of their LA students are Hispanic, 46 percent are African-American and the remaining one percent is Asian or Native American. Eighty-three percent of their students are low-income.

The majority of students who enroll in KIPP are two years below grade level in core subjects at the time of enrollment. As an example, in 2003 tests showed fifth graders entering KIPP had 19 percent performing at or above the national average in reading and 28 percent scoring at the national average in math as evidenced by the SAT-10 test. When they completed eighth grade, 66 percent scored at or above the national average in reading and 89 percent reached this benchmark in math.  Nearly all of the KIPP Middle School graduates in the LA program receive scholarships to attend private college prep high schools. 

How do they do it?

Students attend school Monday through Thursday from 7:25 a.m. until 5 p.m. and on Friday from 7:30 until 1 p.m. They attend school every other Saturday for four hours and they attend school for two additional weeks every summer. The average KIPPster spends 62 percent more learning time in each year of middle school than they would in a traditional setting in the LA system. Traditional public school students in middle schools spent 1,170 hours while KIPP students spent 1,878 hours.

The Aug. 25, 2008 issue of Time Magazine has an article entitled,  Four-Day School Weeks. The reporter, Kathleen Kingsbury, said …”the Knowledge is Power Program keeps its 16,000 students in class 60 percent longer than a typical public school, and last year 100 percent of its eighth grade classes outperformed their district averages in both language arts and mathematics on state administered exams.”    

All students receive extended instruction in reading, writing and math.

They are taught there are no shortcuts to reaching goals.

A typical middle school student’s day includes two hours of English language arts and two hours of math, as well as one hour of social studies and one hour of science. They also have two hours a day for electives. Electives include technology, Spanish, PE, Trumpet, Chess, Business 101, High School Prep, Media and Study Hall.

The Saturday school mission is to “give students the opportunity to select enrichment classes the develop academic skills, character and intellectual habits necessary to succeed in competitive high schools, colleges and the world beyond.”

Students who attend KIPP come because they and their parents want them to. They are not selected nor are they made to attend this school. It is a choice. But when they make that choice, they make a commitment, just as does the staff toward a sound education.

The school is free for the students. As part of the public school system, the charter school typically receives 60 to 90 percent of its operating funds from the state. They do not receive funds for capital needs. It costs more to run a KIPP school because of the extended days. Teachers put in nine hour days Monday through Friday, plus the alternate Saturday school and they spend three weeks during the summer. In addition, each teacher has a cell phone and is available after hours if a student has a homework question or other pressing need. KIPP traditionally spends less on administration than do regular public schools.

The commitment to KIPP was made some 3 ½ years ago by EPHS graduate Marcia Leonard Aaron. She was searching for some meaningful way to be of service and was most interested in becoming involved in improving childrens’education. After moving to the Los Angeles area, she learned about KIPP and quickly found this program was what she was looking for.

Aaron became founding Board Chair of KIPP LA and the Board Chair of KIPP Academy of Opportunity in LA. Most recently she was named Executive Director of KIPP LA and has spent the summer involved in establishing the KIPP Kindergarten in LA. Previously, she worked as a Senior Analyst at Pacific Growth Equities and as a Managing Director at Deutsche Bank and Montgomery Securities. She is currently a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Oregon Foundation, where she is the Chair of the Development Committee and part of the Investment Committee. She also serves as a member of the University of Oregon Journalism Advancement Council and as a member of all Stars Helping Kids’ Board of Directors. She holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Oregon.

In announcing that she had re-entered the working world by being name the executive director of KIPP LA, Aaron said, “I am working harder than ever, but loving it more than I could imagine. The responsibility of trying to help kids who aren’t expected to graduate high school let along college is humbling. Our students hard work and determination is inspiring on a daily basis.”

For more information on KIPP, visit www.kipp.org
By Nancy Leonard
Of the Independent

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