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‘Earth-shattering’ KIPP schools closings spur petition drive

For parents of KIPP Memphis Preparatory Middle (KMPM) and KIPP Memphis Preparatory Elementary (KMPE) Schools, news of the schools’ closing propelled the South Memphis community into protest.

A petition launched over the weekend now boasts more than 1,500 signatures.

PTO President Gerri Rosser with her daughter, Karmen Young, a third-grader at KIPP. (Courtesy photo)

“The KIPP schools are great education options because of their college preparatory curricula, but there are so many other programs that assist the families of students who attend,” said Gerri Rosser, PTO president. “There is a bin on the side of the school where anyone in the community who needs toiletries and other household necessities can just come up and get what they need.

“We are a family, and we are all devastated. A laundry room was also added on to the school so families could come up and wash their clothes. There are dryers, and a place to iron them as well. We want to make sure our students are clean and neat in their uniforms every day.”

A news release from the board of directors said the schools operating in the former site of Corry Middle School at 2230 Corry would close June 2020. The other five KIPP schools will remain open.

“While the community welcomed our network with open arms, we’ve been unable to fulfill our academic promise to our students, teachers and families,” said James Boyd, chairman of the KIPP Memphis board of directors. “We strongly believe this decision is in the best interest of our KIPP Memphis community and is a step in the right direction to improve our organization’s ability to build a stronger network of schools.”

The COVID-19 pandemic also played a role in the decision to close the schools, as “its financial impact prevented opportunities for the schools to receive long-term funding from historic philanthropic resources,” according to the release.

Rosser and other parents immediately vowed to continue fighting the move. Seniors living in the community, families with no school-age children and friends of the KIPP schools housed have signed the online petition to have the decisions reversed.

The news was broken to parents and the community through emails as well as the weekly school news publication.

Deidre Lathan, mother of six, received her email at 4:53 a.m. on Friday, informing her that the KIPP schools could not accept student applications for the upcoming year because they would not be re-opened.

“This is not just a school to us,” said Lathan. This is the place where we can get clothes, shoes, food, employment assistance, and even help with housing.

KIPP students working in the garden before the safer-at-home restrictions. (Courtesy photo)

“KIPP is our community center and social services office. We had no say-so. The faculty had no say-so. The administration had no say-so. We were all just told that the schools were closing, like there was nothing more to be said about it.”

An email from the schools’ enrollment office read, in part: “Thank you for submitting your application to attend KIPP Memphis Preparatory Middle School (KMPM), located at 2230 Corry Road, Memphis, TN. We regret to inform you that beginning in the 2020-2021 academic year, KMPM will no longer be in operation. However, KIPP Memphis Collegiate Schools does have two other options…for we are excited to offer you…”

Rosser said although Facebook Live classes have been hosted by KIPP faculty in music, math and other subjects, the early ending of the school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic was “traumatic enough for our students.”

Each teacher still operates a Google Classroom, but it’s just not the same, parents said.

“We are a family at the schools,” said Rosser. “For us, a holistic approach to education gives our children a wider safety net. They know that if their family needs food, or if they don’t have proper clothing and shoes, students know that the faculty and staff at KIPP will make sure that families have what they need. This includes families that don’t even have children.”

Rosser said the goal of the petition drive is to show the KIPP Board of Directors that the community needs these schools to stay open, not just for a well-rounded, college-prep education, but for the social services and other supportive efforts to an impoverished community.

“I sent a letter, along with the petition and signatures to Mr. Boyd,” said Rosser. “I have not heard anything back yet, but I wanted them to see all the support we have. We want to work together along with the board to keep our school open, not just for now, but for many years to come.”

Lathan is especially concerned about her son, Steven. He is autistic and received an official diagnosis only after enrolling in KIPP.

“It looked like just a kid acting out, a real behavioral problem,” said Lathan. “But they got Steven the help he needed. We got an official diagnosis, and they formed an entire team to deal with Steven’s issues.

“There is a regular teacher, two special education teachers, two guidance counselors, a speech therapist, and an occupational therapist. He is so much better, and he is doing well in school. I just don’t know what we are going to do. Closing KIPP will be such a great setback for him.”

The Knowledge is Power Program, commonly known as KIPP, is a nationwide network of non-profit, open-enrollment, college-preparatory schools in low-income communities throughout the country.

KIPP is America’s largest network of public charter schools, with administrative offices in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City.

KIPP Memphis’ five remaining schools are KIPP Memphis Academy Elementary, KIPP Memphis Academy Middle, KIPP Memphis Collegiate Elementary, KIPP Memphis Collegiate Middle and KIPP Memphis Collegiate High.

(For more information, visit kippmemphis.org.)

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