KIPP closing two Memphis charters: ‘We’ve been unable to fulfill our academic promise’

Kipp Memphis is closing two of its charter schools June 30. Five others will remain open in the city. (Photo by TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP via Getty Images)

KIPP Memphis is closing two of its charter schools citing unsatisfactory academic progress and its struggle to secure long term funding in the midst of the pandemic.

KIPP Memphis Preparatory Elementary and KIPP Memphis Preparatory Middle will close at the end of the 2019-20 school year, the board voted. The charter school network will continue operating its five remaining KIPP schools in Memphis.

The closings will mean hundreds of students will have to find new schools this fall, though officials say they will continue remote learning plans through the end of the school year. 

KIPP is the country’s largest nonprofit charter school network with more than 100,000 students in 242 schools across 20 states and Washington, D.C.

In a letter Wednesday to the Memphis KIPP team, board Chairman James Boyd applauded the work done at the school, but said it wasn’t enough. “While the community welcomed our network with open arms, we’ve been unable to fulfill our academic promise to our students, teachers, and families.”

The two schools are in the Achievement School District, the statewide district for Tennessee’s lowest performing schools. Based on the state’s most recent scores, both schools ranked at the bottom for academic achievement and student growth. 

According to KIPP’s website, officials will provide parents a list of nearby public schools along with school performance data. 

Boyd said the move is the best decision for the network and the community and will enable KIPP to “build a stronger network of schools.”

Additionally, Boyd said the coronavirus also contributed to the closure decision.

“We’d like to add that, the COVID-19 pandemic played a role in the decisions to close the schools, as its financial impact prevented opportunities for the schools to receive long-term funding from historic philanthropic resources.”

KIPP Memphis Preparatory Elementary School serves 412 students in kindergarten through fourth grade, according to 2018-19 data, the most recent information from the state education department. KIPP Memphis Preparatory Middle School enrolled 296 students in grades 5-8, according to the 2018-19 state data.

If the state chooses not to seek a new operator for the KIPP schools, the ASD will shrink to 28 schools in Memphis and Nashville. In January, the education department unveiled a plan to restructure the turnaround district and remove  all of its schools from state control by 2020.

A spokeswoman for the education department said that every student deserves a high quality education. “We commend KIPP for this difficult but necessary decision, and will work with leaders at KIPP and Shelby County Schools to help ensure as smooth a transition as possible for students and families in the next school year,” the state education department said in a statement.

“We know this will be hard for families who have built relationships and shared great memories at these schools over the years,” said Dr. Maya Bugg, Tennessee Charter School Center chief executive officer.

“But the top priority right now for KIPP and partners like us at TCSC is to ensure that these families have the information they need to find a new school home in a quality, high performing charter or traditional school within the district,” she said.

Kajavia Mulligan has children at both schools – a daughter in the fourth grade and a son in the seventh grade. She said she was shocked by the announcement. 

“Yesterday, the school was sending information about the work packets for students to complete,” Mulligan said. “This morning, I wake up to a letter that the school was permanently going to close.” 

Mulligan said she was already planning to send her daughter to another elementary school, one she had attended previously before moving to KIPP last year. But her son was planning to finish out his middle school years with KIPP. 

“My children were learning, I don’t know what problems anyone else was having,” Mulligan said.

And finding another school is incredibly difficult with school buildings closed indefinitely due to the coronavirus. Mulligan said she’s found a couple schools that offer virtual tours and information sessions on the phone. 

“It’s all stressful right now – and this just makes it really hard,” she said.

Chalkbeat reporters Marta W. Aldrich and Caroline Bauman contributed to this report.

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