The city’s decision to lease the vacant Ferebee-Hope Elementary School building in Southeast Washington means citywide enrollment on KIPP campuses could grow to more than 7,600 students in coming years — representing about 15 percent of the city’s charter sector and 7 percent of all public school students.
The D.C. Council must approve the lease, but in past deals that has proved to be little more than a formality.
KIPP is a well-respected national charter network with seven campuses in the nation’s capital and serves students in preschool through high school. KIPP DC said it will bulldoze the Ferebee-Hope building and construct a high school for 800 students in time for the 2021-2022 academic year. It will be KIPP’s second stand-alone D.C. high school.
Charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, receive extra funding to search for school buildings on the private market, although many lease unused facilities from the city. Details of KIPP’s lease for the Ferebee-Hope property are being finalized with the city Department of General Services.
“We know that we have a demand at KIPP. We know that we have a lot of parents east of the river asking us for this,” said Jacque Patterson, KIPP DC’s chief community engagement and growth officer, referring to a swath of the city in Wards 7 and 8 with a high concentration of low-income families. “This is parent-driven.”
The opening of a KIPP DC high school in Southeast Washington could pose competitive troubles for the three high schools in the traditional public school system east of the Anacostia River, which are struggling with low enrollment.
If the KIPP school reaches the projected maximum enrollment of 800, it would exceed current enrollment at each of the three neighborhood high schools.
The charter operator’s existing high school in Northeast Washington, KIPP DC College Preparatory, has a waiting list of students hoping to attend and draws many of its students from Wards 7 and 8.
Last year, Paul Kihn, deputy mayor for education, cautioned the D.C. charter authorizing board against approving too many new middle and high schools, saying the city has ample seats to accommodate projected enrollment growth.
Kihn said he does not anticipate the second KIPP high school cutting into enrollment at nearby neighborhood campuses. The goal of the new school, he said, will be to attract students from the neighborhood who are traveling across the river to go to other campuses.
KIPP DC’s middle schools graduate more than 450 eighth-graders each year, and many of them are expected to enroll in the new high school.
Last year, KIPP DC took over a failing charter middle and high school, Somerset College Preparatory Academy Public Charter School in Southeast Washington.
The KIPP Somerset high school students will move to the former Ferebee-Hope campus in 2021. Somerset’s middle school will expand to fill the building.
“It is going in a part of the city where many of the students migrate out of the wards,” Kihn said. “This is part of the renaissance of high schools east of the river.”
Under federal law, charter schools in the District have the right to make the first offer on surplus school campuses that the city owns. Preference is given to charter schools that are considered high-performing and financially sound.
Ferebee-Hope closed in 2013, along with more than a dozen other city campuses facing declining enrollment.
The Bowser administration has come under fire from charter advocates, who say the city is holding on to unused buildings instead of ceding them to charters.
Still, KIPP DC was the only charter school to apply to lease the Ferebee-Hope building, city officials said.
As part of the agreement, KIPP agreed to replace the existing recreation center adjacent to the school building. Patterson said KIPP DC will build a $15 million recreation center while keeping the current facility open during construction.
Patterson said the high school, sport fields and recreation center will cost $90 million. KIPP hopes to raise $40 million from donors in the next 18 months, with the remaining $50 million coming from KIPP’s funds. The D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation will operate the recreation center.
KIPP DC plans to partner with the MedStar Georgetown University Hospital Department of Psychiatry to provide mental-health clinics for neighborhood residents. The city says a job-training program will open on Ferebee-Hope’s grounds.
Keith Moore, student body president at KIPP DC Somerset College Preparatory Academy, said he has been an advocate of a stand-alone high school. Somerset middle and high schoolers share a facility, and he said there is inadequate space for athletics and electives.
“We have been hearing so much that this is not a real high school,” Moore said. “So, we really want to get the kids to have a nice high school experience that they desperately crave.”