Dead end for a good school

July 13, 2007

The closing of KIPP Harbor Academy just outside Annapolis after the resignation of Principal Jallon Brown this week is sad news, mostly for the students who have benefited from the school and their parents who have invested so much energy and hope in it. There is surely enough blame to go around in this woeful tale, but the failure of Anne Arundel County school officials to offer meaningful, timely help is especially lamentable.

The nonprofit Knowledge Is Power Program has improved educational results for low-income and minority children through more than 50 schools around the country. KIPP schools, which focus on grades 5 through 8, are able to achieve better results by keeping schools open longer; by using a challenging, college-focused curriculum; and by recruiting and training strong principals and quality teachers.

Students who attended the KIPP Harbor Academy have improved their scores on state tests since the school opened in 2005, but a combination of factors has now overwhelmed those good results. Following the national model, the charter school was trying to add seventh- and eighth-grade classes by 2009. But the school could not easily expand at its temporary quarters on the satellite campus of Sojourner-Douglass College. More than two dozen sites were considered during the last two years, but all were disqualified for various reasons.

Ms. Brown and other KIPP officials should have engaged in broader and more timely community outreach in their search for space. But a reasonable temporary solution would have been for the school to lease available classrooms at Annapolis Middle School for a year. County school officials, however, shut the door on that option, lamely insisting that the space has to be held for students in other schools that will be undergoing renovations. And a last-minute offer for modular trailers was fraught with problems.

Uncertainty about the school's future caused most of the teachers to seek other jobs. And it was the inability to replace them quickly that finally prompted Ms. Brown to call it quits, ending KIPP Harbor Academy's run. County school officials should honestly examine their role in the school's demise - and learn to treat other charter schools with more respect.

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