KIPP Cevallos Taking Shape on San Pedro Creek

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Downtown San Antonio is getting it’s first new public high school in more than 40 years. KIPP San Antonio hosted a beam-signing at the construction site of the KIPP Cevallos campus on Wednesday. Elected officials, community leaders, and friends of the top performing charter network gathered amid dust and heavy machinery to celebrate the coming facility set to open in Summer 2016.

Mark Larson, CEO of KIPP San Antonio addresses the crowd at the future site of KIPP Cevallos. Photo by Bekah McNeel

Mark Larson, CEO of KIPP San Antonio addresses the crowd at the future site of KIPP Cevallos. Photo by Bekah McNeel.

Mark Larson, CEO of KIPP San Antonio, compared the skeleton structure around him to this year's graduating seniors. They have come far, but they are still works-in-progress as they develop into citizens who will make a difference some day.

“There’s still a lot of imagining left to do,” Larson said.

KIPP San Antonio’s first ground-up construction will house three of the network’s current schools: KIPP Esperanza Dual Language Academy (elementary), KIPP Aspire Academy (middle school), and KIPP University Prep (high school). The 165,000-square-foot structure sits on 18 acres along San Pedro Creek. The construction is part of a future phase of the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project. All together, there will be 105 classrooms and 1,900 students enrolled in grades K-12.

KIPP Through College, an initiative that provides counseling and resources to KIPP graduates throughout their undergraduate careers, also will be housed on the KIPP Cevallos campus.

I asked KIPP senior Luke Gonzalez-Ruiz, a student greeter working the event, where he was planning to go to school. Abilene Christian University has offered a substantial scholarship package, but he’s still waiting to hear University of North Texas, Hofstra University, and others.

KIPPsters Arlene Serna, Daniel Montez, and Luke Gonzalez-Ruiz at a beam-signing for KIPP Cevallos. Photo by Bekah McNeel.

KIPPsters Arlene Serna, Daniel Montez, and Luke Gonzalez-Ruiz at a beam-signing for KIPP Cevallos. Photo by Bekah McNeel.

Gonzalez-Ruiz is disappointed he won’t get to experience the new campus, but he plans on maintaining a strong connection to KIPP Through College.

Glenn Pierce of Turner Impact Capital praised the students greeters for their ambition and bright futures.

“They are ready for the rest of their lives,” Pierce said.

A Google Map of KIPP San Antonio's property on San Pedro Creek.

A Google Map of KIPP San Antonio's property on San Pedro Creek. Click to enlarge.

On a K-12 campus, younger students are able to look at those juniors and seniors, and see the vision of the school in action.

“The challenge to them is to stand on the shoulders of the giants that went before them,” said Michael Shay, founding principal of KIPP Esperanza.

For Daniel Montez, a junior at KIPP University Prep, the first “giant” in his family was his sister. When she told their mom that she wanted to go to college, their mom felt a personal calling to go ahead of her daughter and serve as a role model. She completed college, and went on to get a graduate degree. Montez’s sister currently is enrolled at UTSA.

That wasn’t the end for the Montez family. Soon after their mom graduated, their father decided to do for his sons what his wife had done for their daughter. He is currently at Texas A&M working on a graduate degree in cybersecurity. Montez’s older brother graduated from KIPP University Prep and was accepted to Trinity University on full scholarship. His younger brother is a KIPPster as well.

“As you can see, my family is very committed to KIPP, just like KIPP is committed to my family,” Montez said.

Larson later confirmed that KIPP provided guidance for both parents, as it will do for any KIPP family member seeking to enroll in higher education.

The family and community impact is exactly why Councilmembers Shirley Gonzales (D5) and Rey Saldaña (D4) were on hand to show their support for KIPP.  Gonzales praised the diverse network of developers, architects, teachers, and advocates who contributed to the project, and to the wider community of support rallying around San Antonio’s children.

“I want for my children the same thing I want for all children,” Gonzales said.

Those well-supported children will come back to invest in their city, she said. KIPP Cevallos will be located in the heart of its target population, bringing opportunity closer than ever to families. It also connects those families to downtown and investments like San Pedro Creek.

Saldaña is KIPP’s chief engagement officer, but his enthusiasm is very much linked to his commitment to serving the city. If San Antonio has a Achilles heel, it's educational attainment, Saldaña said. If San Antonio can get a virtuous cycle of education started in the city’s core, not only will people be attracted to live here, but home-grown talent will have a strong bond with the city center.

“This campus is physical evidence that the decade of downtown is a real thing,” he said.

One of the most notable guests at the beam-signing was Patti Radle, president of the San Antonio Independent School District Board of Trustees. Her presence indicated an inclusive posture on the part of the district. She welcomes the accountability, and believes the two systems can accomplish more through cooperation than competition.

“We have to work together to compete against mediocrity,” Radle said.


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15 thoughts on “KIPP Cevallos Taking Shape on San Pedro Creek

    • That is actually very wrong. KIPP is held accountable like every other public school district through the Texas Education Agency. EVERY Charter school in the state of Texas is required to have a lottery for admissions. That is the case because there are more people who want their child to attend a Charter school than there are Charter school seats.

  1. I’d like to hear from a happy, content, teacher from Kipp that doesn’t care that they are overworked, underpaid, and unhappy with the fact that KIPP is functioned like a business.
    It started out with great intentions, but is nothing more than a for profit business.


    • Jennifer–I tend to think that the private sector does a much better job running things than the public sector. KIPP being private and for-profit is a benefit to me. Money is the best motivator, and getting their graduation rates and college-readiness levels high means more money and students for KIPP. They are financially motivated to produce successful and intelligent students. The public schools may not share that motivation because they know they’ll always be around. Having more competition holds schools accountable to providing the best education they can and being fiscally responsible.

      • Money is a great motivator for making more money, not necessarily providing the highest quality education to students. I would rather schools be responsible to students, parents, and teachers than to investors and shareholders.

        The education system is different from private business for a reason. A salesman makes a commission per sale. Teachers, principals, schools and districts do not get commissions or bonuses for each student that graduates. Would you care to elaborate on how economic or capitalist competition between schools, or really any aspect of the free market in education, is beneficial for students?

        • I am curious as well. After all… the for-profit system in the university world sure doesn’t seem to be working – it’s just a factory churning out workers.

          The biggest problem is that you cannot compare charter schools with public schools. Charters, while they supposedly must take all students, are blessed with one crucial advantage – active parents. I’ve seen my wife’s school try multiple and innovative ways in an attempt to engage parents. I’ve seen my kids’ schools try other approaches. And yet, some of the most active parents will leave each year because they are tired of doing ALL of the work (chaperoning, PTA, etc.). They put their kids in a charter or private school where they can at least SHARE the load with other active parents. Our kids recently moved to public schools from private because they wanted new experiences and options (even though I initially thought, “what?! Public middle school?!”). One thing I’ve noticed is that their teachers are just as excellent and just as personally involved, but the amount of parental engagement is not even close. Education at the primary and secondary levels cannot rely on just the teachers and students – the PARENTS fill an important role. Dedicated teachers and students can help make up some of the gap, but we need to first acknowledge that there IS a gap.

          Can the public schools be improved? Absolutely! Is the system of 5 million school districts in San Antonio absurd? Most definitely! Is there a place for charter schools in the education system? Yes! But let us at least recognize that public schools and charter schools aren’t playing on a level field, and that comparisons between them cannot be made.

        • There are many for-profit Charters out there. KIPP is not for profit. It does take a special teacher to work for KIPP. You are willing to work with kids who come into your classroom from a traditional public school who are a few grade levels behind but have been promoted. You take calls from students after hours for help with homework because typically, the student’s family are not in the position to be able to help. In some schools, there is Saturday school… because you need more time on task to get the kids caught up to grade level. You are a high achiever and thrive on knowing that all the teachers around you motivate you to think about lessons differently, do your best and encourage you. Then, the worst frankly, you get to read comments on website with people complaining about the “system of Charters” where few have taken the time to step foot into your classroom but make broad generalizations. Yep, you are right. It IS hard to be a teacher.

    • The negative comments about KIPP repeat some myths and ignore several salient facts:

      1. KIPP schools are public schools. They are not part of an ISD, but they are public schools.

      2. KIPP’s success in graduating college-ready students far exceeds any of the results produced by any of the area ISDs. Everyone, including KIPP, acknowledges that the ISDs face great challenges not faced by small public charter schools, but to say the schools are not accountable to parents flies in the face of the proven results. The fact that demand far exceeds supply, and thus results in lottery selection of students, points to the great demand among families for a place in the schools. The schools also are held accountable by the state, which is why San Antonio continues to see the closing of low-performing public charters.

      3. Most observers agree that the arrival of schools like KIPP has led the ISDs to become more open to establishing their own in-district charters and magnet schools, all of which produce more successful education outcomes than those realized by the traditional campuses. Interestingly, families who place their children in KIPP or in in-district charters tend to be highly motivated, engaged parents determined to see their children attend and graduate from college.

      4. KIPP and other schools like it receive less state funding per capita than ISDs because they do not receive building funds, cannot finance debt with public bonds and are otherwise restricted by the the Texas Legislature. To suggest there is a some driving profit motive or that bonuses and commissions play some role in their financial structures is unsupported by any facts.

      We welcome civil disagreement and debate on this and all other issues, but going forward, we will not post comments with blatant misstatement of facts.


        • Thank you Bob! I would encourage anybody to stop by a KIPP San Antonio school on a First Friday and take a tour. Once done, I suspect many of the negative comments would change simply based upon learning facts as opposed to suspicions. The dates and locations are easily found on the website.

    • Check the facts. KIPP is a public Charter school that gets less money than a traditional public school because they don’t get facility funds. They have the same kind of accountability as a public school district. They have the same requirements as a public school. And, if you would check the Councilman’s record, he is a strong advocate of public schools, public Charter schools and education in general.

  2. Perhaps I’m missing it, but I don’t see any engagement in the renderings with the San Pedro Creek. That would be a shame and a lost opportunity as the city and county and other stakeholders work so hard to tie the redeveloping Creek into the community.
    I remember many attendees at one of the San Pedro Creek meetings specifically pointing out numerous opportunities for connecting the KIPP campus and the Creek. That would be great for the student and the neighborhood.

    Could somebody please let us know if there are any plans along those lines?


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