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A teacher inside struggling KIPP school reports improvements

According to the teacher, who asked to be anonymous in order to protect her job, teacher morale has improved at the KIPP AMP (Knowledge is Power Program: Always Mentally Prepared) school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Several weeks ago, dispirited teachers said that the majority of their colleagues had been told that they would not have jobs next year.

But since then the school’s new principal, Debon Lewis, has told the staff that he’s looking to improve the staff rather than replace it entirely.

“Now that Debon is stepping up and playing a more active role as a leader people are feeling more comfortable,” the teacher said. “The impression that I get is that people who want to stay are hustling and doing what they have to do to improve.”

Two years ago, concerns about teacher turnover were the driving force behind KIPP AMP teachers’ decision to join the teachers union against the will of the school’s board. A year later teachers opted out of union membership, kicking off a prolonged fight in which the United Federation of Teachers accused KIPP of intimidating teachers who wanted to unionize.

“I do want the union to get the message that we’re ok,” the teacher said. “Things feel the best they’ve felt since the first year.”

For some KIPP AMP teachers, improvement will mean taking steps to get their certification, the teacher said. New York charter schools can hire no more than five uncertified teachers, or 30 percent of their staff, whichever number is lower. Beyond that, schools can run into trouble with their authorizers and the State Education Department.

KIPP AMP has also been struggling academically. Of the four KIPP schools that have been open long enough to get progress reports, KIPP AMP’s C grade put it at the bottom last year. Like most public schools, its test scores were hurt when the state made it more difficult to pass the annual math and English exams last year. The percentage of KIPP AMP students who tested proficient on the English exam fell from 78 in 2009 to 34 percent in 2010 and from 87 to 47 percent on the math exam.

“Recognizing that we had a C grade last year, we’re just trying to keep our kids motivated, keep parents in the know and involved, and maximize the energy level,” the teacher said.

KIPP co-founder David Levin, who is also the superintendent of KIPP’s New York schools, did not immediately return a request for comment.

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