The Secret of KIPP's Success

By Naomi Dillon

The last thing staff at the KIPP Ujima Village Academy expected to deal with was a dead body in the school parking lot. Nevertheless, just a few days before school began, Baltimore police found a man face down on the asphalt with a gunshot wound to the back.

It was, unfortunately, just another day in Baltimore, where the per capita crime rate is among the highest in the country and the performance of the city’s school system is among the lowest.

That the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) decided to bring its charter school model here was not a lapse in judgment, but a continuation of its mission.

“We serve children who live in challenging environments, where there is a lot of crime and poverty,” says Jason Botel, who opened the academy in the wing of an old junior high on the western edge of Baltimore in 2002, and until recently served as its principal. “Our hope is that with the education we give them, they will have a choice to either make their community better or move on.”

Giving students, and their families, a choice is where it all began back in 1994, when Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, two graduates of the Teach for America program, put all of their energy and ideas into a fifth-grade academy charter school in inner-city Houston. A year later, Levin brought the model to his hometown of New York City.

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