The Florida Times-Union
By: Topher Sanders
August 15, 2010
Staff introduces its first fifth-graders to KIPP's style, high expectations.
Just in case the fifth-graders forgot, KIPP Impact Middle School math teacher Shawn Jackson reminded them that it's the No. 1 reason they were at the school.
"Where is it, KIPPsters?" Jackson asked at a recent orientation session.
"College," the students yelled.
"In what year do you go?"
It's the thing that students attending the state's first Knowledge is Power Program charter school learn right out of the gate, said Principal Robert Hawke.
"We don't leave it to chance like 'maybe you're going to college, maybe you'll be prepared,'" Hawke said. "Instead we just say, 'Here's the year that you are going to college.'"
The school opens today with half-day sessions for an abridged summer school. Full-day classes start Aug. 23.
Check out more photos of the Jacksonville location's first day of school
KIPP is a network of public college preparatory charter schools that target underprivileged students and have been cited by the White House as examples of education reform. The charter schools feature longer school days, Saturday classes twice a month and mandatory summer school. And they boast statistics like sending nearly nine out of 10 of their eighth-graders to college.
"They're giving her the best opportunity to succeed," said Elijah Felder, whose daughter Sydney Franklin will be a student at the school. "I'm happy for her. It's the opportunity I've been looking for."
With the opening of Jacksonville's KIPP Impact, the network now has 99 schools in 20 states. There are more than 26,000 students in KIPP schools. The schools receive the same public funding for the number of students they serve but must provide their own facilities.
The local one is at the old Jacksonville Kennel Club on McDuff Avenue.
Renovation of the first floor and demolition throughout the building cost $4 million. Costs for the facility are being paid for with federal funds, private donations and loan dollars that will be repaid by private donations and state funds. It will take another $4 million to $5 million to complete the second and third floors, said Tom Majdanics, executive director for KIPP Jacksonville Schools.
The 150,000-square-foot structure is large enough to house three KIPP schools with a total of 37 classrooms. Plans for the fourth floor are pending.
KIPP Impact will initially serve 92 fifth-graders selected by lottery and will grow a grade each year until it has grades five through eight. The long-term plan for KIPP in Jacksonville includes opening four more schools and serving about 2,100 students, Majdanics said.
KIPP Impact's incoming students now rank in the fifth percentile of the state in reading and in the 10th percentile in math, Hawke said. The school is testing the students to see how many grades some of them may be behind, and about 20 percent of the school's students are special needs students.
"We've got a lot of work to do," Hawke said. "But I know we're going to get there."
The school and its eight staff members used the voluntary orientation week to familiarize students with KIPP's language and norms. There's "tracking," which tells students to pay attention to a teacher, "P" for positive body language, "F" for focus and "college hands," the only way to raise your hand in a KIPP school.
Parent Sheronda Clark said she has already bought into KIPP's vision to prepare her son Demare Ezell for college.
"It's going to take him in a positive direction in life," she said. "Though he's in a low-income environment, he can still be somebody, he can still go to college, he can still achieve."
Demare, 10, said he is on board.
"They want us to go to college so we can get a better education," Demare said. "I think it's really good."
The students were also exposed to a series of musical instruments during orientation. Music will be one of the school's themes, and each student will have access to an instrument.
On Thursday, the school's students, most of whom haven't played music, selected three instruments to try out.
Ja'nya Stephens, 9, startled herself when she got a loud, smooth sound out of an alto saxophone.
"It was kind of scary when I first heard the sound," she said. "This is my first time playing an instrument but I think I can start to get used to it once I play it more."
The school hired Jim Daniel, formerly of LaVilla School of the Arts, as its music director. He paid attention to how students' mouths, teeth and muscles were shaped to help them pick the best instrument.
"The opportunity to use music as a vehicle to help them develop their character, a sense of discipline and to help them achieve academically is a win-win all the way around," Daniel said.
There is a spotlight on the school, and parents are excited to have their children enrolled, but Hawke said he knows there must be results.
"This is when the real work starts," Hawke said. "This is not the finish line. Now we get to put our kids on a path to go to college."
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