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Education News

KIPP Charter School Network Eyes More Expansion, 25 Years After Starting In Houston

Earlier this year, KIPP was awarded over $80 million from the U.S. Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program to open more campuses.

Laura Isensee/Houston Public Media
KIPP’s national network of charter schools started as a program for Houston fifth graders 25 years ago.

In 25 years, KIPP has grown from a program for fifth graders in Houston to a national network of charter schools, enrolling over 100,000 students in 20 states and Washington, D.C., including nearly 30,000 students in Texas.

As more than 6,000 KIPP teachers and alumni gathered in Houston this week to mark its 25th anniversary, leaders with the charter school are planning more growth, including new campuses and a new focus on graduates.

In an interview with News 88.7, Richard Barth, the president of the KIPP Foundation, said they’re creating a network for alumni, who can support each other and KIPP after college.

“We believe the KIPP alumni network will become one of our greatest accomplishments because they have the ability to help each other, help themselves, help KIPP and I think build a better world for us all — and we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

MORE: Richard Barth’s Full Interview on Houston Matters


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Barth said that it reflects a continued evolution, noting how KIPP went from being a fifth grade program to including middle and high schools, from there to college access, then college completion and now life after college.

KIPP is also planning more brick-and-mortar expansion. Earlier this year, it was awarded over $80 million from the U.S. Department of Education's Charter Schools Program to open more campuses, which will include at least four new schools in Texas.

Laura Isensee/Houston Public Media
KIPP teachers Nadia Abdalah and Chae Ray say that they’ve seen the charter network change in other ways than sheer numbers.

Teachers with the organization say they’ve seen KIPP grow in other ways as well, beyond sheer numbers. Chae Ray, who teaches reading and English at KIPP Courage College Prep in Houston, said that she’s become more focused on the whole child and alternative approaches to discipline, such as restorative justice.

I know that I’ve really begun to understand kids as humans. I think when you go into the classroom you're thinking, ‘Academics, academics, I need you to learn, I need you to learn!’ And then you sit back and realize this baby is not going to learn until all these other things are taken care of,” Ray said.

Nadia Abdalah, who teaches second grade at KIPP Austin Leadership, said that with KIPP’s anniversary and expected continued growth, she sees power in numbers.

“The more that we grow, the more that we can advocate for students all across the nation. And with that power of numbers, we reach as many as kids as we can. And then having everyone driven by the same mission, by the same passion, by the same love in the classroom, that’s what reaches the students, most importantly,” Abdalah said.

KIPP educators pushed back against criticism that charter schools drain resources from traditional public schools. For example, the Houston Independent School District saw enrollment drop last school year, in part because of students leaving for KIPP, YES Prep and other charters.

“We’re not close to providing the number of good schools to families,” Barth said.

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