Helping hand

KIPP charter network partners with MTSU to give under-represented students a shot at college

PHOTO: Grace Tatter
Seventh-grade students at KIPP Academy Nashville pose with (from left) School Leader Laura Miguez Howarth, KIPP Nashville Executive Director Randy Dowell, MTSU President Sidney McPhee and MTSU student Deyauna Cook.

Even high-performing low-income students are less likely to go to college than their middling affluent peers.

Addressing that imbalance is the goal of a partnership announced Tuesday by leaders of Middle Tennessee State University and KIPP, a national charter network serving mostly low-income students in Nashville and Memphis.

Beginning this school year, MTSU will seek to recruit and enroll 10 qualified KIPP Nashville and Memphis alumni annually to Tennessee’s largest undergraduate university. The Murfreesboro school also will help the students navigate the complex world of higher education, including obtaining financial aid and building a support network for success.

Low-income students lag behind their more affluent peers in college attainment for myriad reasons. In some cases, they went to struggling schools and aren’t prepared. But often, they simply lack the resources and support to get there. It’s a problem that Tennessee must overcome to reach the state’s ambitious goal of getting 55 percent of Tennesseans equipped with a postsecondary degree or certificate by the year 2025.

“The reality is that less than 10 percent of students from low-income communities earn college degrees,” said Emily Blatter, who directs KIPP’s support program for Nashville alumni attending college. Having MTSU as a partner is critical, she said, because “we can’t do it alone.”

The university is the 85th nationwide to enter a partnership with KIPP, which was established in 1994 with schools in New York City and Houston. The network is renowned for academics results, although critics say its performance is inflated through extra resources from philanthropists and a selective student body.

University logos adorn the hallway of KIPP Academy Nashville.
PHOTO: Grace Tatter
University logos adorn the hallway of KIPP Academy Nashville.

The focus on college starts early at KIPP, where walls of middle school classrooms are decorated with posters from schools that students can hope to attend with their current GPA. (According to the posters, students with a GPA of 3.0-3.49 are on track for MTSU.).

KIPP’s homeroom classes also are named for the lead teacher’s alma mater. In a surprise announcement, MTSU President Sidney McPhee said he’ll mentor seventh-grade students in the homeroom named for his university at KIPP Academy Nashville, where Tuesday’s partnership was announced. He said that will entail pizza parties, MTSU basketball games, and check-ins about their grades. He noted that research shows that mentor relationships also help students reach and complete college.

“It makes a difference when there’s someone you can trust and call on,” McPhee said.

KIPP operates four schools in Nashville and eight in Memphis.

New role

Principal Donna Taylor retiring from Brooklyn School of Inquiry, moving to DOE

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Kindergarten students at Brooklyn School of Inquiry

Brooklyn School of Inquiry Principal Donna Taylor announced this week she is stepping down from her position next month.

Taylor, who has been with the Bensonhurst school since it opened in 2009, will take a position with the Department of Education, where she will support principals implementing progressive education and gifted and talented programs — two focuses of BSI. The school, which runs from kindergarten to eighth grade, is one of five gifted and talented schools open to children citywide.

“BSI was created by a team who believes that students need an inquiry-based, arts-infused curriculum, steeped in technology, where everyone is encouraged to think critically,” Taylor said in a statement. “We came together down here in Bensonhurst to grow our practice and build capacity. I am proud of the work I’ve done together with the school’s community to build and grow BSI.”

Her announcement comes the same week that BSI graduated its first cohort of eighth-graders. Moving forward, Taylor is working with other school staff and her superintendent, Karina Constantino, to ensure a smooth transition. A new principal has not yet been named.

BSI is the only citywide gifted school that participates in the city’s Diversity in Admissions program. The admissions pilot allows principals to set aside a percentage of seats for students who are low-income, English learners or meet other criteria. In the case of BSI, the school set aside 40 percent of its available kindergarten seats for low-income students.

While it met that target in its admissions offers this year, it had few open seats because siblings of current BSI students get priority. That meant that only 20 slots were reserved for low-income students.

It will be up to Taylor’s successor, alongside city officials, to decide where to take the pilot program next.

“We have no way of knowing what the new leadership will do or who they will be or what their position will be on the program,” said Sara Mogulescu, the parent of two children currently studying at BSI. “But I know there is a very strong core of commitment to that pilot and to continue to strengthen our community in all kinds of ways, regardless of whether Donna is the principal.”

Despite her many accomplishments, Taylor’s eight years at the helm of BSI were not without controversy. In 2014, Taylor made headlines for a comment she made at an open-house meeting at BSI. She remarked to prospective parents, “If you don’t speak Spanish, you’re going to clean your own house.” Taylor subsequently apologized.

Mogulescu said Taylor had built a solid foundation at BSI, and she and other parents were confident about the school’s future — and Taylor’s.

“As much as we are all sad to see her go,” she said, “I think the parents take solace in the fact that she is going to be spreading her wisdom and experience to other schools.”

planning ahead

Big assignment for group of Colorado education leaders: rethink the state’s education priorities

File photo of student at Marrama Elementary School in northeast Denver. (The Denver Post)

A newly constituted group of educators, lawmakers and state officials led by Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne will be charged with creating a sweeping new strategic plan for education in Colorado.

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order this week giving that task to a reconstituted Education Leadership Council, which formed in 2011 but has become inactive.

The new-look council will identify statewide priorities for how to better educate the state’s children so they can contribute to Colorado’s workforce, according to the order.

In an interview Thursday with Chalkbeat, Lynne said she expects the plan to include recommendations for how the governor’s office, relevant state departments, the legislature or others can work toward the state’s goals.

The group will begin meeting in August and will spend its first year setting priorities. It is supposed to give recommendations for possible legislation by 2018 or 2019.

Lynne said various state departments and groups already work on initiatives tied to education, but “we don’t have a place where we weave it all together.”

For example, Lynne said, the group could examine whether certain districts still need help getting access to the internet, whether students are being introduced to STEM careers early enough and whether graduates are prepared for the workforce.

Having a strategic plan and clear goals for what schools should be accomplishing could also give officials a better chance of changing school finance, Lynne said, if the group determines that is needed. Reports routinely rank Colorado near the bottom in per pupil funding among states.

“I think it’s hard when people want to talk about changing school finance or they want to address things like compensation for teachers, if you don’t have the core foundation of what do we want to achieve and how do we get there,” Lynne said.

Bipartisan legislation introduced this spring would have created a group with similar goals, but Republicans killed the so-called “vision” bill. Critics said the bill would have created more state bureaucracy and potentially conflicted with school districts’ strategic plans, and called it a ploy to ultimately ask taxpayers for more money.

Lynne said the group commissioned by the governor — which will have as many as 25 members — will include a diverse group of people representing different interests across the state to ensure local districts have a say in the statewide work. It will include directors from five state departments, a superintendent, a school board member, a teacher and a principal.

The original Education Leadership Council was commissioned in 2011 by a Hickenlooper executive order. Recently the group stopped meeting. Members’ terms had expired, and excitement had decreased after the 2013 defeat of Amendment 66, which would have raised taxes for schools. The council helped push for the measure.

When Lynne succeeded Joe Garcia as lieutenant governor, she said she knew she wanted to revive the group.

Her office started planning to regroup the Education Leadership Council in late 2016 before the legislature considered the same work, but she said she paused while legislators considered their bill. When that effort failed, Lynne said her office got back to organizing the council.

The group, Lynne said, will work under a shorter timeline than the one outlined in the failed bill.

Rep. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican who sponsored the “vision” bill, said the council is the right avenue for this kind of work.

“The legislature is not suited for long-term strategic thinking,” Rankin said. “It’s more about shorter-term action. This is a better way to do it — with our involvement.”

Sponsors of the vision bill, including Rankin, will be part of the leadership council.

Here is a copy of the executive order:

EO Education (Text)