Saving a school

June 26, 2007

An 11th-hour attempt to rescue the KIPP Harbor Academy in Anne Arundel County is a welcome development. Two possible solutions that are being pushed by County Executive John R. Leopold and schools Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell would try to solve a problem that should not have been allowed to progress so far. Given the lackluster performance of middle schools throughout the state, it's disheartening that one with a good, even if short, track record of educating students had to think about closing for lack of space.

Mr. Leopold and Mr. Maxwell are urging all parties to reconsider either allowing the academy to operate classes at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts or putting up temporary trailers on the grounds of Central Elementary School, near where the academy is housed. Either proposal - especially the Maryland Hall idea - involves relocation and inconvenience. The best solution is to allow the academy to use Annapolis Middle School for a year.

Since 2005, the KIPP Harbor Academy has challenged mostly low-income and minority students with a demanding, college-focused curriculum, but it also provided a lot of support to help them meet requirements. The charter school planned to become a full-scale middle school by adding seventh- and eighth-grade classes by 2009.

But there is no room to expand at its present location, the satellite campus near Annapolis of Baltimore-based Sojourner-Douglass College. The board of Maryland Hall narrowly rejected a proposal to house the school. And previous attempts to push for trailers were not met with enthusiasm. An offer by KIPP to lease space in Annapolis Middle School for a year was rebuffed by the school board.

Mr. Leopold, a strong advocate of charter schools, and Mr. Maxwell are right to urge a solution, but they should also push the school board to reconsider use of the middle school for the next year. The nonprofit Knowledge is Power Program, which the KIPP Harbor Academy is part of, has an impressive record of success across the country. And a recent Abell Foundation report cited a number of special characteristics - including smaller classes, longer hours, a strong principal and more per-pupil spending - that help explain why KIPP Ujima Village Academy in Northwest Baltimore out-performs the city's traditional middle schools.

All sides are encouraged to reach a solution that will allow the KIPP Harbor Academy to continue to expand in the hope of matching - or even surpassing - that record.

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