Charter School Program ‘Exploring’ District 3 for New Middle School, Sparking Emergency Meeting

KIPP STAR (433 West 123rd Street) is one of 13 schools in KIPP NYC’s network. Image via Google Streetview.

By Alex Israel

KIPP NYC, a free public charter school program with a network of 13 schools between the Bronx, Brooklyn, Harlem, and Washington Heights, is considering plans to open a new middle school in District 3, which spans 59th Street to 122nd Street on the West Side.

A letter that detailed the proposal, penned by KIPP Superintendent Jim Manly, was sent to families of current students on Monday. It was also shared publicly by education website Chalkbeat, prompting discussion at December’s Community Education Council for District 3 (CEC3).

CEC3 President Kimberly Watkins introduced the letter during the council’s calendar session, expressing disdain that she received it from a reporter rather than from KIPP directly.

CEC3 has historically been skeptical of charter schools, which board members have criticized for “cherry picking” students and using resources that could be used for traditional public schools. Much of their ire in the past has been directed at the Success Academy charter network. KIPP is a national charter network headquartered in San Francisco known for helping students achieve strong test scores, but also criticized for student attrition rates.

According to the letter, the proposed school would open in August 2020 and enroll 355 students between 5th and 8th grades. It would be KIPP’s “first intentionally integrated school,” aiming to serve a “socioeconomically diverse group of students.” While the letter states there are various neighborhoods that are of interest for the expansion, District 3 is the only location specifically mentioned. As a part of their exploration, KIPP representatives are in the midst of hosting outreach sessions with parents to gather feedback and field questions.

CEC3 First Vice President Kristen Berger was first to comment. “I’m alarmed from the middle school perspective,” she said. “This would be a particularly vulnerable time to have additional middle schools in our district … We, in fact, have space in our [existing] middle schools. We are not over-enrolled in any way. So I do not see an space for an additional middle school in the district — much less a charter middle school.”

CEC3 Secretary Genisha Metcalf wondered if the concern was premature, and suggested the council focus their efforts on improving their own communication strategy and driving a sense of urgency, with the letter as a catalyst. “This is what the charter [schools] are doing … But what are we doing?” she asked, pointing to the four full-day feedback sessions KIPP is offering.

CEC3 Second Vice President Dennis Morgan agreed, adding that the Department of Education’s lack of innovation is putting them at a disadvantage. “We can’t continue to think people will come to our schools just because it’s next door,” he said, comparing the DOE’s relationship with charter schools to Blockbuster’s with streaming services. “We have to think out of the box.”

Joseph Negron (left) waits to speak as CEC3 discusses the letter.

KIPP representative Joseph Negron, who distributed copies of the letter at the beginning of the meeting, shared his perspective during the public comment session later in the evening. “Integration lifts all boats. It’s good for all kids,” he said in defense of the proposal, adding that for the last 25 years, KIPP has “solely educated black and Latino kids.”

Negron also addressed the distribution plan for the letter, which he believes was leaked to the press. He said he had been having conversations with members of the KIPP community and District 3 families about his idea for an integrated school for months. He had intended to share the letter with KIPP families first, and then have individual conversations with members of CEC3 and DOE to discuss further. Some of these meetings had already been scheduled.

But the leak threw a wrench in his process, culminating in a public conversation that he believed to be premature. “When you come up with an idea, you need to start by talking to the people within your organization,” he said. “I don’t want the spotlight. I want to do the work.”

CEC3 is hosting an emergency meeting of the Charter School Committee to discuss the proposal on Monday, December 17, 9AM at the Joan of Arc Complex, 154 W. 93 Street, Room 204.

The remaining KIPP outreach sessions are on Tuesday, December 18, from 10 a.m to 6 p.m. at St. Agnes Library, and Wednesday, December 19, from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at KIPP STAR Elementary / KIPP Infinity Campus, 625 West 133 Street, 3rd Floor.

SCHOOLS | 10 comments | permalink
    1. Beth says:

      This is a land-grab, pure and simple. There is
      a limit to how many charter schools can open.
      There are only 7 more charters left under the charter cap. KIPP is in competition with other charter chains to get one of the last spots, and is clearly desperate and anxious to do so.

      Enough is enough already. District 3 doesn’t even have its own high school and this parasitic charter operator wants to open a middle school. NO, THANK YOU.

    2. Me3 says:

      We will need more of these charter schools as Carranza, the Mayor, and Rosentha and the Mayor seems intent on killing the public schools in the district.

      • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

        yes, Me3, because we all know that INTEGRATING the public schools will “kill” them.

        many of these comments seem right out of the playbook of the Mississippi White Citizens Council, circa 1963.

        what has become of the UWS?

        • Me3 says:

          No need to be so dramatic.

          You might have an argument if schools stayed integrated and diverse. But what happens when affluent families leave their schools en masse, leaving those schools (and sometimes entire districts) segregated the other way? Is your answer, “good riddance?”

          More importantly, how do we integrate the schools that are segregated mostly in favor of black and brown students now? How do we infuse those schools with more affluent families, which will help provide much-needed resources for programs and other opportunities that would help those schools thrive?

          Integration won’t work if it’s a one-way street.

      • UWSer says:

        I have never been a fan of the charter school system, but it is worth noting that the KIPP system is posing an interesting question here: Can we apply new diversity requirements to our Kipp system (which has been 99% Black and Latino) to create a middle school which reflects the broader diversity of a school district? In the case of the Kipp system, more diversity means attracting more White and Asian students.

        The DOE set up their diversity initiative from the opposite approach – their plan only directly influences diversity in 4 or 5 of the district’s most popular schools while leaving increases in diversity at the remaining dozen schools up in the air.

        If the Kipp middle opens, there could unfortunately be negative impacts on the struggling D3 middle schools as the flight out of the district increases. However, could the DOE eventually realize through such an example that applying enrollment mechanisms from the opposite side can actually work?

        The ironic reality here is that chances are the Kipp system would actually better reflect the diversity of our district than the DOE’s new policy. The DOE’s policy will be creating an inverted bell curve at the district’s top middle schools – an increase in the number of students at the extreme lower end (with a quota) that disproportionately affects average students while maintaining the level of the highest performing kids.

        On paper this situation looks more diverse, but diversity isn’t just a number; it is also a distribution that allows for meaningful connections and interelationships. This isn’t happening when the top schools merely represent a new “tale of two cities” and others are left unassisted.

    3. Danny says:

      When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.

      Our schools are more segregated than any time since the 1960s. If you are against proposals for equity you, by definition, believe in separate can be equal. Either you believe in Plessy v Ferguson or you believe in Brown v Board. Plessy is the wrong side of history as are the people against desegregation today.

      This is a BABY step in the right direction. Taking on segregation in education means taking on segregation in housing and the basic structures that preserve the status quo. We need to take this step and move A LOT further.