Is the KIPP School a Viable Alternative?

About three weeks ago, as you may recall, I wrote my first post in the new category of  “Good News.”  Unfortunately, at least for the time being, today’s post and Friday’s will be the last ones in that category for a little while.

What follows is an unsigned editorial that appeared recently in the Florida Times-Union.

You can get a good read on a school the moment you step through the doors.  Are the students working hard or goofing off?  Are they carrying books or not?

Are teachers and administrators in the hallways and out of their offices?

The first impression of the new KIPP school in Jacksonville’s Northwest neighborhood is a sense of intense work.  The students have their noses in books, their attention focused on the teachers.  It’s a serious school for academics; rightly so, since most of the students are behind their more fortunate peers.

There is one grade of 90 fifth-graders.  Next year, there will be another fifth-grade class.  It’ s planned growth on the way to opening several schools.  The object is to make sure the new public charter school gets off to a good start.

And it is a public school, emphasized Tom Majdanics, executive director of the KIPP Jacksonville schools.  Students were recruited from the general neighborhood.  When there were more applications than openings–130 applications for 90 slots–a lottery was used to fill the class.

This, despite the fact that demands are large.  The day starts about 7:20 AM with breakfast, the first class at 7:45 AM.  It ends at 5 PM.

Student, parent, and teacher sign a contract that underscores their commitment.

The students have about 700 more hours of instruction during the school year than their public school peers.  It’s a hothouse of academic expectations.

The KIPP school supplements its regular state funding with about $1500 per student for additional class time, additional staff, and extra overhead.

It’s not all hard work, though.  Each KIPP school is allowed to set its own culture.  One feature of Jacksonville’s school is an emphasis on music.

Every student is expected to participate.  Principal Robert Hawke said it not only establishes a common theme for the students, but the process of learning a musical instrument produces the character traits of discipline, hard work, and a beautiful outcome in the end.

During a music class taught by Jim Daniel, the students were drilled in the basics.  Sit straight in your seat.  Pay attention.  Keep your feet flat on the floor.  The students were taught the right way to play their instruments before they proceeded playing tunes.

The typical group of fifth-graders plays music only a tone-deaf parent could love.  As this group played their wind instruments, it was pitch perfect.

It’s hard work for the teachers too.  More about that in my next post on Friday.

Coming Friday:  KIPP’s Teaching Demands