1. You’re starting a new school this summer, right? What’s the 30 second summary?
KIPP North Philadelphia Academy (KNPA) is a new, K-8 school proudly located in the heart of North Philadelphia. Part of KIPP Philadelphia Schools, KNPA opens in August 2018 with kindergarten and 1st grade and will grow to be a K-8 school serving almost 900 students by 2022. KIPP Philadelphia Schools has been deeply committed to the North Philadelphia community since its founding in 2003 and intentionally located KNPA in a former district building at 16th and Cumberland. Students living in the 19121 & 19132 zip codes will be picked in the enrollment lottery before students from the rest of the city, with at least 50% of the spots reserved for students living in this area. Building off the success of KIPP Philadelphia’s original elementary school, which is this highest performing public elementary school in North Philadelphia, KNPA has the potential to more than double the number of students in this community doing math and reading on grade level.
After 8 years founding and leading KIPP Philadelphia’s first elementary school, Ben Speicher (that’s me) is transitioning out of that role and will be the founding school leader at KIPP North Philadelphia Academy.
2. Why is KIPP Philadelphia starting a new school?
At KIPP Philadelphia, we know families in North Philadelphia are eager for a great elementary school for their children – at our current North Philadelphia elementary school we get over 600 families who want to enroll for kindergarten and have only space for 100 of those students. And it’s not just the numbers that show this enthusiasm, it’s the personal stories we hear. When we have enrollment Open Houses each year we talk to dozens of prospective family members who each have a unique story about why they are so interested in a KIPP education, but what they all have in common is that they are desperate for a better school for their child. Simply put there are not enough great schools for all the families looking for other options like what we offer at KIPP Philadelphia.3. Why locate this school in North Philly?
KIPP Philadelphia Schools has been deeply committed to the North Philadelphia community since its founding in 2003 with both our original middle and elementary schools being located in North Philadelphia. The greater North Philadelphia neighborhood is also where many of our current students and families live and we hear from them all the time about the need for more options in their neighborhoods. Families know that their kids have unlimited potential but they simply aren’t getting the education they deserve. We intentionally located KIPP North Philadelphia in a former district building at 16th and Cumberland and reserved at least 50% of its spots for students living in the 19121 and 19132 zip codes (basically the area of North Philadelphia from Girard to Allegheny and Broad to 33rd) directly surrounding the school’s location to make sure we were partnering with that specific community.
This area of North Philadelphia is a community rich with history, community leadership, and grass-roots organizations, but after decades of political and economic disinvestment and deindustrialization, the 19121/19132 zip codes have some of the highest rates of poverty in Philadelphia, which itself is the poorest big city in the country. The lack of economic opportunities, stable housing, and social service supports has impacted educational opportunities and outcomes for kids in North Philadelphia. As a result, even with hard work from families and educators, very few students in neighborhood schools in North Philadelphia are achieving academically at a level that puts them on a path to college and career readiness. As an example, in the 19121/19132 zip codes there are 12 different neighborhood elementary schools educating thousands and thousands of kids. In all of these schools put together, only 26 kids total passed the 4th grade state math test. A number of schools had zero students pass this test. At KIPP Philadelphia’s current elementary school, located in North Philadelphia, there were 34 students who passed this test last year. We want to build on the success our current students have achieved and KIPP North Philadelphia Academy has the potential to more than double the number of students in this community doing math and reading on grade level.
4. Why locate the school in this specific building in particular and why have a zip code preference for enrollment?
KIPP North Philadelphia Academy will be located in the former M. Hall Stanton school building at 16th and Cumberland. This building currently houses KIPP Philadelphia Prep, our original middle school and before that it was a K-8 school in the School District of Philadelphia. M. Hall Stanton was shut down in 2013 due to declining enrollment and low test scores. During the shutdown process and in the years after, local community members around the school argued passionately about having a school in this building, in particular an elementary school. The combination of this community demand and the building itself having a cafeteria, gym, and auditorium space made it great option as we looked for potential locations for KIPP North Philadelphia.
Most charters in Philadelphia have citywide admission which means someone living close to the school has no better chance of being picked in the random lottery as a family living on the other side of the city. To address this challenge, we worked with the School District of Philadelphia during the charter approval process and advocated reserving at least 50% of our spots for students in the 19121/19132 zip codes. What this means in practice is that students living in the 19121 & 19132 zip codes will be picked in the lottery before students from the rest of the city. Our goal is that all 100 spots in kindergarten and 100 spots for 1st grade are filled by students from these communities in North Philadelphia, ensuring we are really educating students who need great options the most. Additionally, having mostly students from the immediate area allows closer partnership between the school, family, and community resources. As just one example, when we do a community service project at school, we can partner with community groups so that our project is benefiting the neighborhood’s where our students live.
5. Why make this a K-8 school?
Traditionally KIPP schools have been either elementary schools (K-4) or middle schools (5-8) but in recent years there have been KIPP regions across the country experimenting with a unified K-8 model. We’re excited to pilot this model at KIPP Philadelphia, apply lessons learned from our existing elementary and middle schools, and then experiment to see what works best in K-8 setting.
While we don’t have all the answers, we’re excited about some of the benefits of a K-8 school, including:
- The ability to extend our elementary school student culture approach based on joy, strong relationships, and meeting individual student needs up into a middle school.
- We can provide a unified school experience for kids from the moment they first step into school up through the time they head off to high school while at the same time differentiating that experience by age. As one example, we can have high-quality and aligned extra-curricular & artistic experiences for students.
- We can sustain deeper relationships with kids & families, and forge stronger relationships with the surrounding community.
- For our older students, we can provide more opportunities for them to serve as leaders and role models with the younger students in the school.
Additionally, we’re looking forward to building a school from the ground up that integrates social justice and culturally responsive curriculum in a way that we didn't back in 2010 when KPEA opened. KNPA will educate predominately African-American kids and families in North Philadelphia and that needs to inform what and how we teach. Students must know their history/background, their place in the world, and see how they can positively impact their community.6. How will this school grow over time?
In August of 2018 we open with 100 kindergarten students and 100 1st grade students. The next year we add 2nd grade (for those rising 1st graders) and also add 5th grade. From there we fill in the remaining grades until we eventually get to K-8 and 860 students by 2022. The key idea is that students who start with us in any grade will be able to attend school at KNPA through 8th grade, all in the same building.In chart form this looks like:7. How are you building off the success at your original KIPP Philadelphia elementary school?
- 2018-2019 – K/1
- 2019-2020 – K/1/2/5
- 2020-2021 – K/1/2/3/5/6
- 2021-2022 – K/1/2/3/4/5/6/7
- 2022-2023 – K/1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8
While this is a new school and a new K-8 model, KNPA is building off the successful elementary model from our founding elementary school, KIPP Philadelphia Elementary Academy. That school achieves results on the state test that put it in the top 10% of all schools in Philadelphia. In fact, it’s the highest performing school in North Philadelphia and had the highest results anywhere in the city for schools that educate a predominately African-American student body.
We’ve accomplished all of that while also making sure we serve students and families who need a great education most. Almost 90% of our students qualify for free/reduced price lunch and about 25% have special needs of one kind. We rarely suspend students (about 2% suspension rate), never expel them, and have super high student retention numbers with 98% of students coming back each year.
We’ve achieved those results through a ton of hard work by lots of people and some best practices that will definitely be true at KIPP North:
- A school culture that is joyful, safe, and loving.
- Great teachers who get the support they need so they can be at their best for their students.
- Tons of small group and individualized instruction for kids so each student gets lots of instruction at their current academic level.
- A rich, well-rounded curriculum that includes science, social studies, art, music, yoga, and tons more.
- Active partnership between the school and families working together to support students
8. What positions are you hiring for this year?
Great teachers and school staff are by far, the biggest key to a great school. We’re looking for joyful, gritty, talented, and committed educators to join our team. All of our positions are either posted on the KIPP Philadelphia School’s job board or will soon be. We’re looking for:
- Kindergarten and 1st grade lead teachers – are you a great teacher looking to make an even bigger impact? Are you inspired by working on a team to build something new? Do you believe deeply that kids in North Philadelphia have unlimited potential and deserve fantastic teachers to help them unlock it? Do you love teaching?
- Kindergarten and 1st grade Liberty Teaching Fellows – are you new to teaching and want to be in a role that will support you in your development? Do you have a passion for our mission and will put in the hard work so you and your students reach big goals?
- Social worker – do you have an amazing ability to build relationships with kids and families? Are you an expert at connecting kids and families to services and community resources? Do you have an unshakeable belief in the potential of every kid?
- Art or music teacher – do you believe deeply that kids in North Philly deserve as rich an arts education as kids in private schools? Are you excited about building a music or art program that does that? Can you create amazing lessons that inspire kids to love the arts?
- Director of Operations –Are you skilled at creating systems to make sure kids, teachers, and families have what they need? Do you have a passion for great customer service in a fast-moving setting? Are you super-efficient and get more done before lunch than most people do all day?