ACT charter opening on Nash campus

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Come August about 90 fifth-grade students will start school again at Austin’s Academy of Community Technology.

The charter school, located at 4319 W. Washington Blvd., opened in 1997 and voluntarily suspended services in 2010.

But it will re-open this school year as Kipp Create, a Knowledge is Power Program charter school on the Henry H. Nash Elementary’s campus, a result of the Chicago Board of Education’s various school actions approved in February.

The Kipp-managed charter school will share space with the under-enrolled public school Nash, located at 4837 W. Erie St., according to CPS’ transition plan for the merger.

Nash has an annex building that will house the charter school, which is expected to phase in a grade each year and will house up to 400 fifth- through eighth- grade students.

It’s still looking to fill remaining slots for its first fifth-grade class. If more students apply than the open 93 seats, a lottery will determine who gets a spot.

Amaka Unaka, director of advocacy and community engagement for Kipp Chicago, said the school’s main goal is to see its entire student body graduate from college.

The school prepares its students with academic and social skills to help them be more competitive at the high school level for college, she said.

The Kipp network also helps its students navigate the college process by holding financial aid workshops, assisting in the college application process and working to get students internships, among other efforts.

Unaka said Kipp acts as a family even after students leave the school.

“We still track our babies. We never lose sight of them and their grades,” she said. “We do not part from these children until they part from college. It’s like a big family.”

There are a total of 125 Kipp schools across the country.

The company operates a middle and primary school in Chicago called Kipp Ascend at 1616 S. Avers Ave. It shares space with William Penn Elementary.

Deja Manuel was one of Kipp Ascend’s first students when it opened in 2003. She’s now a sophomore at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.

“When I went to Kipp Ascend, it was about climbing the mountain to college,” Manuel said.

She said the Kipp Create school in Austin is about creating a better life for the students and their families.

Manuel is an intern with Kipp Chicago and helps to open schools and recruit students. She’s also a tutor.

One West Side education activist, Dwayne Truss, said he’s worried the charter school will recruit students away from the other public schools in Austin, although Nash would be off limits.

Truss said Kipp’s academic record is questionable.

“When you look at Kipp’s performance, Kipp should be on probation,” he said.

“Some neighborhood schools are doing better than Kipp.”

Seventy-one percent of Kipp Ascend students met or exceeded standards across all subjects during the 2011 ISAT.

Neighborhood school Robert Emmet Elementary, located at 5500 W. Madison St., had 73 percent of students meeting or exceeding the ISAT standards, and its test scores are on the rise.

CPS will continuously monitor KIPP’s performance to ensure that it’s meeting the guidelines in its contract, according to an official at CPS’ Downtown office.

“If KIPP does not meet these guidelines, CPS holds the right to take action,” CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said in an emailed statement.

Manuel said she received a great education at Kipp Ascend.

Kipp brings together students, faculty, parents and the community, she said.

“I had a whole support system behind me until I finally got to college,” Manuel said.

Nationally, KIPP is a high-performing school operator that has a proven track record for driving academic success among its students, wrote CPS’ Ziegler. KIPP’s national statistics show 89 percent of the eighth graders who graduated from a KIPP middle school enrolled in college within five years.

“Locally, KIPP also runs the KIPP Ascend Charter School, which has shown significant progress in preparing students for college readiness,” wrote Ziegler. “Of the eighth graders who have graduated from KIPP Ascend, 100 percent have gained admission to a college preparatory high school, and 90 percent of the students went on to enroll in college.”

Kipp and other charter schools are an alternative form of public education, and there is no tuition for the school.

Truss calls charter schools “privatized education.”

That’s because charter schools aren’t subject to some of the rules and regulations other public schools adhere to, such as disciplinary actions and procedures, in exchange for meeting certain academic results. Charter schools can also cap class sizes, which Truss said is not in line with other public schools.

The Nash campus has 56 classrooms.

Nash will use its 34 classrooms in the main building, and Kipp will use the 22 classrooms in the annex building.

Some spaces, such as the auditorium, gym, cafeteria and kitchen, would be considered shared space in the main building.

Truss said CPS is bending over backward for the low-performing Academy of Community Technology, and he’s not sure why that is.

“ACT was shut down because of their performance and financial reasons and allowed to be a voluntarily-suspended charter until they could come up with a game plan,” he said. “Someone somewhere did a lot of bending and stretching to make that (merger) happen.”

CPS made the decision to co-locate KIPP and Nash based primarily from feedback from the community during community meetings, meetings with individual community leaders and a public hearing, wrote Ziegler in an e-mailed statement.

“Twenty-Eighth Ward Alderman Jason Irvin has also been supportive of CPS bringing more high quality school choices to the Austin community,” Ziegler wrote.

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