June 2014

KIPP San Francisco College Prep Finishes Its First Year on the Hill

Liz Melchor

This is the fourth in a series of View interviews with principals of public schools located in the neighborhood. A different school will be featured monthly throughout the summer.

Caroline Gifford is the principal of KIPP San Francisco College Preparatory, which opened in Potrero Hill for the 2013 school year with a ninth grade class of 120 students. She started her education career as a teacher at a charter school in Washington, DC before becoming a history teacher and later an administrator at KIPP San Jose Collegiate.

View: What should the community know about the school?

Gifford: KIPP San Francisco College Prep, we are what we sound like, we’re a public charter school dedicated to getting all students to and through college. We serve students predominantly from low-income communities. About 83 percent of our students are on free or reduced-price lunch. Our goal is that all of our students will not only graduate from high school, and not only go to college, but get all the way through college. We’re trying to prepare all of our students with the academic skills, knowledge, and strength of character to succeed in college and in the world beyond.

We opened this past August with 120 ninth grade students. We’ll eventually be ninth through twelfth. We’ll add a grade each year. Right now we share a building with International Studies Academy. We’re on the first floor and they’re on the second and third floors. We don’t know if we’ll be able to stay on this campus; like all charter schools in the area we get our facilities every year through the district, and so we reapply every year. 

View: How does a student get into a charter school, and more specifically into KIPP College Prep?

Gifford: We’re an open enrollment public school; we’re just a public charter school. We have an application process; it’s just a form. It doesn’t require any essays or recommendations or anything. The parent and the student fill out the form together, and then we have a lottery. This year, we did our lottery last December for next year. And it’s open enrollment; it’s whoever gets picked in the lottery. We take about 140 students in a class. This year we had over 200 students in the lottery. We have a wait list of 80 students right now. We take students off the wait list as we can. This will change year to year as we grow and become more well known in the City. Around two-thirds of our current ninth graders came from the two KIPP middle schools in the City, KIPP San Francisco Bay in the Western Addition and KIPP Bayview in Bayview-Hunters Point.

View: What are some recent or ongoing initiatives?

Gifford: A couple of things make us unique. We’re a blended learning school. Blended learning means that we integrate technology into every classroom. All of our students have Chrome books that the school provides for use on campus, and every teacher integrates them to some extent. Some teachers might use them every day, all day; some teachers might use them every few days, but we really believe that technology can help our students learn better because we can individualize learning better that way. It’s also really important in preparing them for college, since once they get there everything they do will be on the computer. 

Another interesting component is we have a partnership with The Boys and Girls Club of San Francisco. We have a full-time staff member and a part-time staff member from the Boys and Girls Club on our campus, and they teach electives during the day — this year art and yearbook t— and offer an after-school program at the end of the day. 

View: How can community members volunteer or get involved?

Gifford: We have some tutors already from the community who found out about our school; some people came up to us at the Potrero Hill neighborhood festival back in the fall and were really interested in volunteering, so we have a few people come in and tutor students once a week in math or English, that’s the best way right now. We’re always looking for volunteers, and they can just contact us directly at 643.6951. 

View: What are some current challenges?

Gifford: Being a brand new school, and for our students is not having a full host of extra-curricular activities or electives to take because we’re so small right now, so we will add these things as we grow, but right now they’re kind of limited.

View: What are some current strengths?

Gifford: We’re very academically focused. We have really high expectations for our students, both in terms of academics and in terms of character. Those two things really complement each other. We really want our students to have a college-going mindset, so we really try to create a college-going culture here, where everything we do is tied back to this idea of you’re going to go college, be successful, and graduate from college, even when the majority of our students will be the first person in their family to graduate from college. All of the ninth graders take a college-readiness seminar every day. They do a lot in this class. They do research about different colleges and universities. They have a financial literacy unit to learn about scholarships, grants, and loans. They learn how to do note-taking and annotations, so basically skills that you need in both high school and college. 

View: Any last words?

Gifford: We’re really excited to be a part of the Potrero Hill community. This is a really vibrant and exciting place to be. In the little bit that we’ve started to integrate ourselves into Potrero Hill, we’re really happy to be here. Part of our mission for our students is that they’re engaged citizens in their communities, so we’re always looking for ways to engage our students more in the community. 

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