300 to 4,500 – Reflections on the Growth of KIPP Memphis

By Jamal McCall, Executive Director, KIPP Memphis

As our academic year in Memphis comes to a close, I am compelled to reflect on a rewarding and humbling fact: I have had the pleasure of working in the KIPP network for nine years. When I first came to Memphis, we were 300 students and staff crowded in two hallways within an existing Memphis City School facility. Now here we are, having opened our first high school and looking ahead to our first elementary school and second middle school this summer. By 2016, we seek to operate ten schools across Memphis with the capacity to serve 4,500 students in grades K-12. We have also established a partnership to bring pre-kindergarten programming into our elementary school facility, giving us the potential to serve students and their families for up to 14 years and making sure our students never know the achievement gap.

Our expansion and partnerships will directly affect our capacity to serve deserving families and students – students like Kendarius. This summer, Kendarius will join the rest of his kindergarten class, our first kindergarten class ever, as a member of the Class of 2025. Though it will be his first time as a KIPP student, Kendarius is not new to KIPP. Kendarius’ grandmother is one of our original advocates; she canvassed door to door to invest our community in KIPP’s arrival in 2002, and even serves as a Parent Coordinator today.

Now, through the phenomenal efforts of our staff and of Grace Williams, our new elementary school leader and a recent alumnus of Teach For America, we have the opportunity to revolutionize how we are able to serve Kendarius, his peers, and their families. We are driven by a few simple questions: What will it mean for our KIPPsters to never fall behind? What will it mean for our middle schools to enroll fifth graders that are at or above grade level, instead of years behind? Our vision, our promise, is to provide KIPPsters an education that will truly put them on a track to college completion, and we believe that serving our students from grades K-12 is critical to meeting this promise.

To grow to this extent – from serving 400 students across 4 years to serving as many as 4,500 students across 14 years – is remarkable and gratifying. Our growth also reflects the incredible work of KIPP and our sister organizations in telling our story and empowering policy makers, educators,  and funders, state and nation-wide. Having witnessed the success of KIPP and other high performing charters in Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee’s elected officials passed laws to make it easier for charter schools to grow and the brightest minds to migrate to the Volunteer State to work for the State Department of Education.

The tireless work of our students, our teachers, our staff, and you, our friends, have made what’s happening in Memphis and in Tennessee possible. I think of Kendarius and his classmates, and I am in total awe.  Kendarius will graduate from college in 2029, and our team will be lucky enough to watch him grow and to support him in every step of his journey. So thank you to our Team & Family across the entire KIPP network – to our colleagues, alumni, families, and friends nationwide. Thank you for pushing us, for empowering us, and for helping us get to where we are today.