Published in Ft. Bend Star on September 9, 2015
With 233 students and a brand new campus, KIPP Public Charter Schools hopes to make an impact with its first foray into Fort Bend County.
KIPP Unity Primary and KIPP West Academy Middle School opened last month at 8500 Hwy. 6 South, just south of the Harris County line.
“I chose to live in Fort Bend because there are good schools, and it’s a good community – KIPP is a new option for the community,” said KIPP West Academy school leader (principal) Steve Khadam-Hir, who lives in the Fort Bend part of Katy. “We’re seeing what KIPP brings into a brand new community.”
KIPP stands for Knowledge Is Power Program, and it started as a program within a Houston school in 1994.
A year later, KIPP set up its first campus in Houston. They’ve since expanded to 24 campuses around Greater Houston that serve 12,500 students, and several campuses spread across 21 American cities.
KIPP receives 90 percent of its funding from state and local governments, and they fundraise for the remaining 10 percent.
Although Fort Bend already has various charter schools, this is their first experience with KIPP, which usually sets up campuses in underserved communities.
Most of their students would have otherwise attended schools in Fort Bend ISD or Alief ISD. Priority in the lottery is given to students from the surrounding neighborhoods, but others travel from Sugar Land or as far away as 40 minutes away in eastern Fort Bend County.
Parents apply for the school in a lottery for their children to be accepted. Upon acceptance, school officials visit each new student at their home.
At that point, the school officials, the parents and the student sign a contract with a “Commitment to Excellence.”
The new KIPP campuses currently house Kindergartners and fifth graders, but they’ll add a grade each year until the primary school has Pre-K through 4 and the middle school has grades 5 through 8.
At that point, the campus will have approximately 1,200 students – a little smaller than some Fort Bend ISD high school campuses.
Upon graduation of eighth grade, the KIPP students will have the option of attending a KIPP Houston High School, near Bissonett and Beltway 8.
KIPP officials have said there are no plans to expand farther into Fort Bend County, but that could change if demand exists.
“Once a community sees what KIPP is, wait lists grow and as wait lists grow, we decide where to open next,” Khadam-Hir said.
‘A campus and a culture’
KIPP is a distinct culture where principals are called school leaders, and students are “KIPPsters.”
Summer school involves raising high expectations through “KIPPnitizing.”
There are motivational programs, such as LEAD, which encourages the students to ‘Love, Explore, Achieve and Dream’, and parents who pick up their kids see a sign every day that asks, “Parents, what are you going to children to your children, tonight?’
The students wear uniforms to “look professional”, and they celebrate their diversity of speaking 11 different languages, with a large map of seven continents on the wall.
The school day lasts from 7:25 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., except for Fridays when school is dismissed at 3 p.m.
Everything in the KIPP culture evolves around encouraging students to attend, and to graduate from college.
“If you talk to our Kindergarten students, they’ll tell you that they’re going to college in the year 2028,” said Kaleena Rosenbauer, the Primary School’s School Leader.
The emphasis on college is so strong that the school has a banner for the Class of 2035, even though the students from that class aren’t even yet a twinkle in their parents’ eyes.
“College opens doors and it allows you to be what you want to be when you grow up,” Rosenbauer said.
Ninety percent of KIPP graduates attend college, as a college acceptance letter is a requirement to graduate from a KIPP high school.
But only 51 percent of them graduate, and that’s something KIPP officials are working on. It is considerably higher than the schools in the surrounding area, but not nearly high enough for KIPP’s lofty standards.
KIPP employs counselors, who stay in touch with students after they graduate high school to ensure and encourage academic progress in college.
“The ultimate measure of success is if they’re finishing college,” said KIPP Marketing Manager Lupita Talley, one of KIPP’s original students and a graduate of Trinity University in San Antonio.
Written by: Michael Sudhalter