October 6, 2008

Jacksonville is Finalist for KIPP School The Next Charter in the Program Will Be Here or Baton Rouge.


Representatives of one of the nation's most celebrated education programs will be in Jacksonville on Monday to announce the location for its next charter school.

The Knowledge Is Power Program is a Houston-based organization with 66 public charter schools in 19 states. Jacksonville and Baton Rouge, La., are the organization's 2008 finalists.

"Jacksonville's put together quite an impressive package to entice us to come to Jacksonville," said Steve Mancini, a KIPP spokesman, "and we felt at the very least we wanted to give them the news face to face."

KIPP schools differ from most because they have longer schools days, Saturday classes and summer classes. KIPP schools also pay teachers 15 to 20 percent more to work the extended school days and to be available by cell phone to all their students and parents, virtually around the clock, for homework and school questions.

About 60 percent of the program's teachers are from the Teach For America program, in which college graduates commit at least two years to work in challenged schools. The Teach For America program came to Jacksonville this year.

KIPP's two oldest programs -- in New York and Houston -- opened in 1995, and it says 80 percent of those students go to college.

After four years, 100 percent of its eighth-graders outperformed average district scores on state tests, according to its Web site.

"It's a movement to change expectations about what's possible in public education," Mancini said. "There's no magic bullet, there's no secret sauce, it's just great teachers working longer hours, with a focus from the beginning on [getting into] college."

Mancini will give that news to a group of community leaders who have been working to bring the program to Jacksonville. The First Coast would be home to the first KIPP school in the state; it will open in 2010.

That first school would be for fifth-graders and grow by a grade each year.

"It looks very promising," Mancini said. "It's a very impressive application."

Donor support, facility availability, teacher pool, ongoing community support and a commitment to develop at least five schools are all precursors to being selected for a KIPP school, Mancini said.

KIPP officials were impressed by the broad community support reflected in Jacksonville's application for the program, he said.

Chartrand Family Foundation founder Gary Chartrand, chief executive of a Jacksonville food industry sales and marketing firm, was part of the community group that submitted the application. Chartrand said KIPP's track record was his reason for advocating for the program.

"The success rate," he said. "The results are fantastic. It's just one of the best, successful charter schools in the country."

It will cost more than $600,000 over three years to start the school. Chartrand said he is committed to providing substantial financial support to the program.

"I will also take the lead in fundraising if in fact we do get it," he said.

Although KIPP has not submitted a formal application to obtain a charter, it can apply through the state or through Duval County Public Schools.

School Board Chairwoman Betty Burney said the KIPP program would be treated like any other charter school. But she visited a KIPP school in New Orleans and was impressed.

"There was awesome work going on," Burney said. "Don't take that as an endorsement; I'm always impressed with any environment where education is going on and kids are learning."[email protected], (904) 359-4169

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