KIPP SoCal Public Schools operates 24 tuition-free charter schools in underserved communities. As the nonprofit explores whether it should add more schools in the future, it has received input from four recent graduates of the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.
The students analyzed school site expansion options in San Diego for their capstone project, in which students tackle real-life policy challenges to complete their degrees. The group made two major recommendations: KIPP SoCal should open a charter school for transitional kindergarten (TK) through fourth grade students, and the school should be in San Diego’s Barrio Logan and Logan Heights communities.
The findings of the students not only helped KIPP SoCal, but also won the John Randolph and Dora Haynes Foundation Recognition Award for Outstanding Performance – the USC Price School’s top honor for capstone projects. The students were Jared Barnett (MPA ‘23), Chelsea Guevara (MNLM ‘23), Michael Schumer (MPA ‘23) and Nadia Watts (MNLM ‘23).
“It was great to get a chance to utilize all of the skills that we learned throughout our program and apply it to this project,” Guevara said. “We had such a great partner in KIPP and also in each other.”
There’s a lot to consider when deciding whether to open a school. The graduates analyzed student demographics, graduation rates, and enrollment trends. They considered the demographics of different neighborhoods and the environmental justice issues associated with potential sites. The group also examined how KIPP SoCal could engage stakeholders from students to community members and compared different charter management structures.
KIPP SoCal has no concrete plans to grow at the moment, said Andrew Simmerman, director of Community and Donor Relations at KIPP SoCal. The nonprofit “really appreciated having the partnership of the Price students to provide such comprehensive input on our newly developed greenlighting process, along with their researched-backed recommendations for utilizing the framework as we consider potential growth in San Diego,” Simmerman said.
“It’s very important to us that we have a process that engages our community from the start, and the work of the USC students will help us determine how to best engage specific communities,” Simmerman added. “I was impressed with this group of students who took what little we gave them and were able to produce something that has given us a lot to think about.”
The grads suggested a school focused on younger children in large part because of financial resources. California has made additional state funding available for TK programs, which could benefit KIPP SoCal, Guevara said. There’s also evidence suggesting that schools serving a broader range of grades often dedicate more resources for older students, leaving less support for younger grades.
As for the site location, the USC Price School grads landed on the 92113 zip code for several reasons. One consideration was how KIPP SoCal could benefit Barrio Logan, a neighborhood that faces disproportionate air pollution, which negatively affects education and youth development, Schumer said.
“KIPP SoCal can work with environmental justice advocates to build the new school,” Schumer said. “Environmental justice stakeholders have political and social capital to advocate for the new school.”
The group also examined neighborhood demographics, including average family incomes, in deciding where a school was needed.
“We wanted to make sure that we picked the right location for KIPP because their main goal is to serve communities that need help the most,” Barnett said.
In addition to their skills, the graduates incorporated some personal experience, too. Watts, who has a daughter in a charter school, researched parents’ perspectives and expectations as part of the project. As a parent herself, she had insight into their concerns, such as ensuring low student to teacher ratios.
“For me personally, as a parent, I want to make sure there’s enough attention and staff for students,” Watts said.
Nicole Esparza, USC Price School associate professor and faculty advisor for the project, credited the graduates for thoroughly analyzing many independent data sources.
“What I say about the capstone is you want to take this and make it into a piece of work that you are very proud of, that you could show to an employer and that shows your skills,” Esparza said. “And you could really see four different people’s skills making one comprehensive project.”