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SRC mum on KIPP plan to move into closing Wilson Elementary

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by Sonia Giebel

Backed by several neighborhood parents, KIPP Philadelphia CEO Marc Mannella publicly asked School Reform Commission members Wednesday night to endorse -- or at least discuss – his offer to open a kindergarten in the closing Wilson Elementary School.

“If we were to want to do something with this for the ’13-’14 school year, obviously time is getting late, but this is something that we feel we could do today,” he told the commissioners.

But he was met by stony silence.

Several parents pleaded with the SRC to keep Wilson open, with KIPP operating a kindergarten and gradually taking over the 1st through 5th grades.

“Closing Wilson … has given parents grief and despair,” said Patricia Carr, whose child is graduating from Wilson this year. “Our neighborhood will be losing one of our central institutions.”

But the SRC is determined to freeze any expansion by charter schools until it solves its budget crisis, which has forced it to lay off more than 3,800 employees and cut personnel and operations in its schools to a bare minimum -- just a principal and classroom teachers.

As part of its austerity plan, the District has been tussling with charter organizations, including KIPP, about agreeing to enrollment caps as a condition of their renewal.

Mannella, however, has formed an alliance with several parents in the Wilson area who have not stopped protesting the decision to close their school and send its students to Lea Elementary, which is more than a mile away. They see KIPP's offer as a chance to save the school, and KIPP wants to expand its operations in West Philadelphia to create a K-12 network.

The 100-seat kindergarten at Wilson would be the start of a new school called KIPP: Encourage.

Wilson supporters hope to retain the 1st through 5th grades, to be run by the District at first, with KIPP phasing into Wilson gradually, absorbing those grades in the coming years.

Mannella has not endorsed that idea specifically.

This partnership “will be building community and relationships,” said parent Zandria Carr.

“We think we can be helpful to the School District, which is our key strategic partner at this time,” said Mannella in an interview after being rebuffed by the SRC. “We think we can be helpful to a community that’s going through some turmoil, and we think we can help a whole bunch of kids.”

Mannella said he could run the kindergarten at KIPP: Encourage for one year without incurring costs to the District. He has not disclosed how he intends to do this and did not comment on whether a $1.5 million expansion grant from the Philadelphia School Partnership, awarded to KIPP in March, played a role in his budget. 

After one year, KIPP would require District funding.

Mannella first aired the plan last week at a community meeting chaired by City Council member Jannie Blackwell. At the time, he said that he had been in discussions with Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn and had not received a definitive answer one way or the other.

Sonia Giebel is an intern at the Notebook.

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