A sign at a KIPP school in the Bronx. Photo by Leila Hadd.
By Carol Tannenhauser
A new KIPP charter school is opening in the Upper West Side’s school district this fall and is now accepting applications. The school will admit students through a lottery, but one designed to be “intentionally integrated,” Principal Joseph Negron said in an interview with West Side Rag. Called “KIPP Beyond,” the school was supposed to open last fall, but the pandemic postponed it.
Negron said that KIPP (which stands for Knowledge Is Power Program) wants the school to help remedy a long-running problem on the Upper West Side — school District 3 is racially and socioeconomically diverse but its schools are often segregated. District 3 includes the Upper West Side and parts of Harlem east of Morningside Park.
“We want our student body to look like the district,” Negron said.
KIPP initially discussed opening a school in 2018, at the same time that District 3 was initiating a new admissions process meant to diversify the schools. The new District 3 admissions process was designed to desegregate schools, prioritizing students from households who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, and those who score lower on state tests.
The pandemic has resulted in big changes for New York City public middle school admissions. Many of the screens that had been used by individual middle schools to evaluate their applicants — state tests, grades, attendance and behavioral records — have been eliminated in favor of a lottery system, beginning this year.
KIPP will accept 60% of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch and 40% who do not qualify. Their goal is to accept 95 students, but they will lower that number if necessary to maintain the 60:40 ratio.
KIPP is a nonprofit network of charter schools known for helping students achieve academic success, including high test scores and strong graduation rates. Like some other charter networks, it has been criticized over issues like high teacher turnover, and its discipline practices — though it has vowed to make changes in some of those areas. Most students were remote-only in the fall, though the network opened up a hybrid option for K-12 starting last month.
The school faced stiff opposition from the Community Education Council District 3 (CEC 3), a parent group that’s similar to a school board.
The board of CEC3 said at the time that the new school would undermine its own efforts to desegregate middle schools. As students are pulled out of the traditional public school system to charter schools, education funding goes with them. CEC3 launched a petition against the school that got over 700 signatures. Among other issues, several District 3 schools are underenrolled and could face more problems if students head to charters. There are 17 traditional public middle schools in the district; KIPP will be the sixth charter.
“KIPP has a 25-year record in the public charter school movement,” Negron responded. “And for those 25 years we have taken kids via lottery. We know how to take an academically diverse group of kids and do right by all of them. That’s our experience. We’ve never applied screens to our student population.”
KIPP has also had disagreements with teachers unions — charters are often not unionized. Negron explained some of the differences between traditional public schools and charters like the new KIPP school.
“A basic difference is that, as a charter school, there is a contract in which you say you are going to run a certain program, achieve certain results, in exchange for a level of flexibility in what you’re able to do,” he said. “For example, we are going to have a slightly longer school day — from 7:55 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. — but it will incorporate elements that might be found in an after-school program. Our students will have the opportunity to take an elective four times a week. They’ll also have physical fitness every single day for a half hour, and recess for 20 minutes. And they’ll meditate for 15 minutes twice a day.”
KIPP Beyond will also have a social worker for 90 children, and two learning specialists for students with special needs.
But what Negron is pushing hardest is perhaps the rallying cry of charter schools: choice. “We are trying to provide families with an option they might not otherwise have. In a year of so much uncertainty, to feel like you have some power and choice over something is part of the reason why so many families are interested in our school.”
KIPP Beyond will share a building with the Harlem Hebrew Charter School, at 147 St. Nicholas Avenue, between W. 117th and 118th Streets. It is free and open to all. Unlike other district middle schools, it is still accepting applications, until April 1st.
“Applying to KIPP Beyond is a separate process that does not impact a child’s Department of Education middle school placement,” Negron concluded. “Families will find out about their child’s admission status to KIPP Beyond in mid-April, and their child’s middle school placement on a date yet to be determined. They will then have the opportunity to choose the school that’s best for them and their child. Families can go to www.kippnyc.org/beyond to learn more and apply.