KIPP Gaston plans to start a kindergarten through fourth grade elementary school with the introduction of kindergarten students at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year.
School officials say when the elementary school is fully integrated, KIPP will boast 1,100 students between the grades of kindergarten and 12th.
That number would put KIPP’s enrollment totals on par with the Weldon City Schools district, which according to the UNC Center for Civil Rights, enrolled 1,015 students for the 2009-10 school year.
The charter school opened its middle school (KIPP Gaston College Preparatory) in 2001 with 80 students and has grown into a valuable educational option the entire Roanoke Valley can take pride in.
However, a growing KIPP Gaston will inevitably be a drain on surrounding school districts that aren’t exactly flush with inflated student totals.
Halifax County alone has three public school districts, and declining student numbers in Northampton County will surely force the consolidation of the county’s two public high schools into one, most likely for the 2012-13 school year.
Though real concerns, none of those problems are KIPP problems.
Tammi Sutton, executive director of KIPP Gaston, outlined her thinking clearly for The Daily Herald last week, saying KIPP students come from more than six school districts across the region.
“Enrollment at neighboring schools should not be dramatically affected,” she said. “By creating an additional school of choice for families, we hope to strengthen the opportunities available for underserved students in our shared community.”
Strengthen the opportunities is something KIPP has already done. According to KIPP leaders, the school is one of the highest performing public schools in North Carolina and was named one of America’s Best High Schools by the Washington Post for 2011.
Instead of seeing KIPP as a threat, neighboring school districts should adopt the mantra of Halifax’s Charmaine Smallwood, who expressed her opinion during the unification forum in Roanoke Rapids Thursday.
“The school systems — Halifax County Schools, Roanoke Rapids Graded School District and Weldon City Schools — tend to blame their low enrollment on GCP,” she said. “You don’t need to blame them, but compete with them.”
In this case, healthy competition could make Roanoke Valley students the ultimate winners.
Stephen Hemelt, managing editor