KIPP DC’s 15-year celebration culminates with new school facility

September 12, 2016

September 12, 2016

Before Kenya Johnson enrolled at KIPP DC Key Academy, she attended a traditional public school where top students earned around a 3.6 grade point average. Now a senior at KIPP College Preparatory, she has balanced athletics with schoolwork, earning a 4.21 GPA and taking classes at Stanford University.

Nine-year-old Maxwell Adrian Khairi May was in the founding class of KIPP Grow Academy, a Pre-k through kindergarten program. Now he is a fifth grader at KIPP WILL Academy, and his sister Naia Aaleahya Imani May got into KIPP Lead through a sibling preference.

“We started our search for a great school, a reputable school with proven results,” father Kevin May told “We just dipped the whole D.C. lottery and we got lucky.”

Photo by Emily Leayman

Photo by Emily Leayman

GROUNDS FOR SUCCESS: Children play on the new field at KIPP College Preparatory, a new high school facility that opened this fall.

Fifteen years ago, before KIPP DC became the largest charter network in the city, its first school opened in a church basement. It squeezed 80 students into three classrooms and a lunch room that also served as a physical education space and auditorium. Today, KIPP DC enrolls nearly 6,000 students at its 16 schools.

The 15-year anniversary coincided with the opening of the new College Preparatory high school facility to accommodate for an expanding high school program. The project, costing a little over $50 million, is less than D.C. Public Schools $127 million Roosevelt High School renovation and $58 million renovations to open the Ron Brown College Preparatory High School.

DCPS facilities receive funding through the city’s six-year capital plan. KIPP DC financed its facility through private philanthropy, New Markets Tax Credits and public bonds. The charter school network will use per-pupil facilities allotments to pay down the loaned money.

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Johnson recalls that KIPP College Prep shared its former building with middle school students, and the athletic facility had old equipment and no air conditioning.

“I am beyond privileged to say that my final memory at KIPP DC College Prep will be an authentic high school experience, where we do not have to share a building with middle-school scholars,” she said at KIPP College Prep’s campus dedication Saturday.

The Pre-K through middle school programs continue to share campuses. May, who has to get his young children from southwest D.C. to the northwest KIPP Shaw campus, said, “It’s helpful to have them in the same building.”

He said his children’s school facility allows for a diverse set of activities — it has two playgrounds, a basketball court and a nearby community field.

Photo by Emily Leayman

Photo by Emily Leayman

GRAND OPENING: KIPP DC founder Susan Schaeffler (center-left) and KIPP College Preparatory principal Jessica Cunningham (center-right) cut the ribbon to open KIPP College Prep’s new facility. The approximately $50 million project allows KIPP College Prep to double its high school program.

But the new high school facility exemplifies one reason May and his wife continue to choose KIPP for their children. “I really do believe that it’s a school that continues to invest in itself,” he said.

“Both of my kids have had very positive experiences,” said May. “It’s really easy to make friends in the classroom. The teachers are all approachable from what I found even though they have different [teaching] styles.”

Vincent Gray, former mayor and now Democratic candidate for the Ward 7 D.C. Council seat, had helped KIPP secure the building.

“It’s been an exciting time to watch the growth of public education in the District of Columbia. I think we still have people that don’t realize that charter schools are in fact public schools,” said Gray at the campus dedication. “What it has done is be able to create opportunities of choice that just didn’t exist, opportunities of competition. The beneficiaries of that environment frankly are our children, who are increasingly getting a better education in the District of Columbia as a result of the choices that have been made.”

“What KIPP has done in the city is what we need to do for all of our kids in the city,” said Deputy Mayor for Education Jennie Niles, who had worked with KIPP as founder of E.L. Haynes Public Charter School. “We need outstanding public education everywhere, in every ward, for every one of our kids.”

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