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Courier-Post: Great Schools of All Types are Part of Solution

Editor’s Note: This piece originally ran on the Courier-Post online on June 9, 2014.

Commentary: Great Schools of All Types are Part of Solution

Drew Martin

In March, we were proud to break ground on New Jersey’s first Renaissance school, the KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy. When construction is complete next year, Camden will gain a state-of-the-art school with modern classrooms, sports facilities and everything else kids need to succeed.

As we grow, every student at the grade levels we’ve opened who lives in Lanning Square or Cooper Plaza will be guaranteed enrollment, and — like all Renaissance and charter schools — it is free to attend. Starting this fall with preschoolers and kindergarteners, our Camden students will begin their journey, with the help of great teachers, all the way to and through college.

I know school policy can be controversial, and the lively debate in Camden is proof that we all care deeply about our kids’ futures. This is a good thing, but we shouldn’t lose sight of what’s really important. First and foremost, schools should be judged by two things: the quality of education in the classroom, and how well-prepared their students are for life after graduation. Because different students have different needs, families should have the freedom to choose the school they feel is best for their kids — whether public charter, district, Renaissance or otherwise.

Jose Delgado’s op-ed (“Charter schools are not the solution,” Commentary, May 29) makes a spirited political argument against certain types of schools. I’m not a politician; I’m an educator. Let’s do a little math.
Delgado claims KIPP New Jersey’s Newark schools had a 64 percent student attrition rate over eight years. That number is completely false; I don’t know where it came from. In fact, we lose less than 8 percent of our students each year — most due to families moving to other cities — and our 92.4 percent student retention rate last year was among the best of all Newark schools.

We’re proud that our parents are happy with their kids’ progress and choose to stick with us.

While we’re at it, here are some more numbers:

  • 90 percent of our high school students go on to college;
  • 78 percent of our eighth-graders go on to college, regardless of whether or not they stayed with us for high school;
  • 87 percent of our kids are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
  • 98 percent of our students are African-American or Latino — this year, we are sending more African-American students to college than any other school in Newark.

In 2013, the third-graders who have been in our schools since kindergarten scored higher on average in both reading and math on standardized tests than our new fifth-graders who attended other Newark elementary schools.

This month, the scholars who started with us in our founding fifth-grade class are graduating from college, at a projected rate of more than five times more than other students of their demographics nationally. We couldn’t be prouder of them.

Delgado is right that there are generational challenges that limit opportunities for kids in Camden, but any kid can succeed with the right support. We’ve seen this in Newark for 11 years, and we’re excited to prove what is possible in Camden.

We’re excited to see bright futures for our Camden students, and we invite anyone who wants to learn more about what we do to come see our schools and meet our scholars. Our mission is to make sure they go to college and lead successful and happy lives. That’s why we’re here.

My sincere hope as we finish one school year and get ready for the next is that, as a community, we can come together and all focus on student success instead of politics.

Drew Martin is executive director of KIPP New Jersey’s KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy.