When Executive Director Hannah Powell started at KIPP Columbus, five people oversaw 50 students in the fifth grade.
Now heading into its ninth year, the school has over 1,100 students and 115 staff members. It just opened a high school to go along with schools for grades K-3 and 5-8, as well as starting an early learning center in partnership with the YMCA of Central Ohio.
Powell says by the end of the decade KIPP Columbus is on track to have 2,000 kids.
“There’s a lot going on,” she says. “We’ve built about 300,000 square feet in less than three years.”
KIPP, which stands for Knowledge is Power Program, is a national network of public schools for students in underserved communities.
Even though every KIPP school is a little different, Powell says one way the Ohio school is unique is because everything is in one place — 130 acres on a former golf course.
KIPP Columbus typically enrolls students who are two to three grade levels behind, but its students improve at nearly 1.5 times the average growth on reading and math assessments.
That’s partly due to longer days — some students are at the school from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., staff support and an environment of high expectations and commitment, Powell says.
“We deeply believe that all kids can and will learn — and do whatever it takes to help them go to and through college,” she says.
Scale with excellence
KIPP’s growth strategy has been important, especially as its leaders oversaw a large construction project, but with that, Powell still has to find ways to connect with the kids and families.
“Just because we’ve gotten bigger doesn’t mean that portion of the role goes away,” she says.
KIPP Columbus also isn’t afraid to try new things or take strategic risks. Just like the Albert Einstein quote outside its building states: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
However, Powell does worry about growth bringing the same results and culture.
“I obsess about that — how to actually get better as we get bigger, to make our culture stronger, to scale with excellence,” she says. “We don’t want every year to do what we’re doing just because we’ve done it that way before.”