More time for students to grow

While other students soak up the last days of summer, about 180 fifth- and sixth-graders are getting a jump ahead today, starting classes at a school that has generated national buzz for its effectiveness.

Students at KIPP Academy Charlotte are to report back at 7:30 a.m. this morning – two weeks earlier than their public school counterparts – to review old material and prepare for the upcoming regular school year.

The summer boost is part of KIPP's strategy. In addition to the extra August session, KIPP's regular school day lasts from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 7 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. on Fridays. Every month, the students report for two four-hour Saturday classes.

“The longer hours can be hard to adjust to at the beginning, but the results are phenomenal,” said Michelle Alexander, mom to KIPP student Alesha Alexander. “Just within the last year, I have seen my daughter become a leader. She's become more confident in herself, and I am just in awe.”

The longer days allow teachers to spend more time on math and reading skills, a focus that produced significant results in the school's inaugural year last year.

At the beginning of last year, incoming fifth-graders scored in the 35th percentile in math and 25th percentile in reading in the national Stanford test.

By the end of the year, the results nearly doubled, with students scoring in the 66th percentile and 51st percentile, respectively.

There was also a 9 percent improvement in the number of students who passed North Carolina state tests.

More than 70 percent of the student body are considered low-income, and 95 percent of the student body is black.

“There is an apparent achievement gap here in Charlotte,” said Keith Burnam, principal of the school. “And the community here made it clear that there was a need and desire for the KIPP program. Everyone from the grass-roots level to local corporations worked to establish this school.”

There are 66 KIPPs – the acronym stands for Knowledge Is Power Program – throughout the U.S. Established in 1994 by Teach for America alums Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, the program provides free schooling focused on high achievement for low-income students.

“The heart and soul of this program is instilling in kids the belief that they can go to college and that they will go to college,” said Debbie Fine, public affairs associate for KIPP. “Education can really be an equalizer and open doors for people, so our goal is to level the playing field for all students in this country.”

With dedicated teachers who are available via phone for after-hours questions and an intense “no shortcuts” philosophy, KIPP is what many parents praise as the future of public schools. Despite the school only being in its second year in Charlotte, many parents of current KIPP students are already pushing to establish a KIPP high school.

“The program requires a lot of hard work and commitment from both the kids and the parents,” Alexander said. “But it's the best thing I could have done for my daughter's education. I wouldn't trade it for anything.”