For decades, some of Dallas’ most vulnerable children filled the red brick building at the corner of South Ewing Avenue and Korgan Street in east Oak Cliff.
Abandoned and neglected wards of Dallas County lived there, followed by juveniles in trouble for offenses from truancy to attempted murder. Then the lot sat vacant, blending in with the run-down area surrounding it.
But now, the children are back, this time with hope for their future, as well as the neighborhood.
KIPP Truth Elementary, part of a national network of charter schools and one of four KIPP schools in Dallas-Fort Worth, moved into a new campus on the corner last month.
Surrounded by a vacant car wash, old auto shops and shaky single-family homes, the sprawling 77,000-square-foot building looks out of place. But the location of the new building was no mistake.
Michael Horne, head of schools for KIPP DFW, said the mission of KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) is to come into communities where children are generally underserved educationally and to provide them with options.
“All kids and families deserve a chance at a high-quality public school education,” Horne said. “We are grounded in the idea that schools are a beacon of hope, and we want to create a place where parents and kids feel proud to enter. There’s a big need for that in this community.”
Out of the more than 30 KIPP schools in Texas that were rated in 2014-15, nearly all met state standards, according to the Texas Education Agency.
Charter schools are public schools run by private groups. Their growth in southern Dallas has recently come under fire from opponents who argue the schools are taking too many students and resources from Dallas ISD. But charter supporters, including at KIPP, say families deserve more options beyond the neighborhood public school.
KIPP Truth, which opened in the fall, moved into the new building after sharing a campus with KIPP Destiny Elementary School in Red Bird. KIPP Truth currently enrolls students in pre-K through first grade, and a grade will be added each year. A middle school, KIPP Truth Academy, is under construction on the campus.
Inside the massive building, the walls are painted the school’s vibrant colors — blue and orange — and excited children wear orange shirts to match. The hallways feature praise for students who have made good choices and those who are performing well academically.
Classrooms are named and themed after universities where KIPP graduates have attended, part of the effort to make college top of mind for even the youngest students.
Katie Hill, founding leader of the school, said many students came in several grade levels below where they should be and had no notions of college.
“The vast majority of these kids will be first-generation college students, so we have to start getting them to think about college now,” Hill said.
Emphasis is also placed on values and good choices. To promote good behavior, students and faculty gather every Wednesday for what they call Truth Fest, where each teacher shows off their student of the week.
Ericka Johnson visited the school on Wednesday to see her 6-year-old grandson, Sherrod Bell, receive recognition.
“I am truly pleased with what this school has done for him,” Johnson said of Sherrod, who has been at the school for just a month.
Before coming to KIPP Truth, Sherrod went to school in Red Bird, where he was struggling with reading and behavioral problems. Johnson said he now is focused and well-behaved and talks about his plans to go to college one day.
“These kids are coming here and being told that yes they can, and some are hearing this for the first time,” KIPP Truth social justice teacher Emily Deaso said. “It’s cool to see these kids being proud of themselves and taking ownership of their new home here at this campus.”
Aside from changing lives, the new school will transform the neighborhood surrounding it, said former Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway.
Caraway served east Oak Cliff as a council member and said he worked for years to turn around the economically depressed and crime-ridden neighborhood. He is running for a county commissioner seat.
“This is remarkable for the area; this school changes the whole game. The vibrancy of these little kids going to receive an education there is going to transform that entire neighborhood,” Caraway said. “You will see new development coming and surrounding the area. You will see criminal activity being dissolved and being pushed away from the kids.”
By CLAIRE BALLOR
Dallas Morning News