Board Approves Alliance Of Public, Charter School

By Sue Anne Pressley Montes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 15, 2006

The D.C. Board of Education approved a collaboration yesterday between an underenrolled public elementary school and a charter middle school that supporters praised as an innovative -- and unprecedented -- approach.

Under the plan, Scott Montgomery Elementary will join forces with a new charter middle school called KIPP D.C.: Will Academy, operated by the nationally acclaimed KIPP organization. The two schools will share the Montgomery building at 421 P St. NW, with Montgomery students moving to the KIPP school after fourth grade.

Supporters had hailed the plan, which was encouraged by Montgomery's principal and staff, as a creative way to deal with dwindling enrollment and the incursions made by charter schools in recent years. In the past five years, D.C. public schools have lost about 10,000 students, largely to charter schools, and Montgomery was in danger of being closed because of low enrollment. Now, Montgomery stands to gain students because of its relationship with the well-regarded KIPP program, proponents of the arrangement said.

"We are ecstatic. We've been trying to get this for a long time," said Susan Schaeffler, executive director of KIPP D.C. The collaboration will begin this year with the 200 Montgomery students and 80 KIPP fifth-graders, she said, but will eventually involve about 600 students when KIPP adds a sixth, seventh and eighth grade.

Superintendent Clifford B. Janey called the new relationship "a national breakthrough" of "joining two schools at the hip," saying he believes it is the first partnership of its kind in the country. Janey had opened talks last year with KIPP about taking over an underachieving public school -- a proposal KIPP declined -- then began considering other collaborations.

"I'm excited for a number of reasons," he said, "including the fact that we had two school communities engaging with each other . . . to elevate the opportunity for high achievement."

The school board vote was 5 to 1, with board member William Lockridge the dissenter.

Lockridge, along with other critics of the plan, had questioned how school officials could guarantee that students leaving Montgomery after fourth grade would get a slot in the KIPP academy. Charter schools, by law, are required to admit students citywide.

"I think this has not been thoroughly thought through," Lockridge said as he attempted unsuccessfully to stall yesterday's vote. "It interferes with one of our guiding principles of neighborhood schools if neighborhood kids can't go to that school."

Schools general counsel Abbey Hairston said the school board has the right to set attendance zones.

Under the plan, KIPP will operate on the second floor of the Montgomery building and will make lease payments. The two schools will collaborate on curriculum and teacher training. KIPP, which stands for Knowledge is Power Program, operates 47 schools in 15 states and the District; one of its D.C. middle schools, in Southeast, had the highest reading and math scores in the District last year.

"The charter school movement is a mixed bag, but KIPP has a track record of excellence," board member Tommy Wells said. "We're not taking a huge risk in that it's an unknown quantity."

Board member JoAnne Ginsberg said she is "happy this day has come.

"It will benefit both schools," she said. "I hope it will come to be one of a lot of partnerships."

Staff writer V. Dion Haynes contributed to this report.

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