This analysis of a nonprofit agency will review KIPP Baltimore, a branch of a college-preparatory school network located in several parts of the United States, KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program). The report will discuss the organization’s history, structure, leadership, culture, and external relations. Then, an investigation of KIPP Baltimore’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats will be conducted. Finally, based on the available information about the nonprofit and the evaluation of its potential problems, the report will offer a list of activities and changes that KIPP Baltimore can consider to improve its processes.
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Context and Background
KIPP is an American educational nonprofit that is focused on underserved communities’ access to learning. The national network, KIPP, was established by Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg in Houston in 1994 (“What is KIPP,” 2018). The main reason for KIPP’s development was the limited access to education for children from low-income families. Different branches started appearing in the country throughout the next decade, with KIPP Baltimore opening the first school in 2002.
The mission of the organization is to help students to start or continue their education in elementary, middle, or high school and college and prepare them by developing their character and academic skills (“The KIPP approach,” 2019). The nonprofit offers children from underserved communities a chance to enter a school with rigorous and individualized training that helps them get into college.
Moreover, the goal of KIPP is to increase the rates of college admission and completion among people from low-income communities. The rates of admission and college completion are higher among the students with high-income backgrounds, and KIPP wishes to challenge this imbalance (“Frequently asked questions [FAQ],” 2018). The organization hopes that 75% of all KIPP enrollees will graduate college (“KIPP Baltimore,” 2019). This particular objective is a part of the nonprofit’s commitment to showing that knowledge is power and that resources determine children’s success in life.
KIPP Baltimore is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with its own team and board of directors. KIPP is a franchiser that permits particular organizations to operate under its name. Therefore, all regional branches are entirely independent in fulfilling their responsibilities, but they are supported by the KIPP Foundation, a united source of financial help. Currently, KIPP Baltimore operates an elementary school, called KIPP Harmony Academy, and a middle school, called KIPP Ujima Village Academy (“What is KIPP,” 2018). Moreover, as the agency offers support to its alumni, it also has a program KIPP Through College (KTC) (“FAQ,” 2018). In contrast to other branches, KIPP Baltimore does not have a high school, which means that KIPP middle school graduates do not receive support until college.
All schools are opened to students of the age that corresponds to the year of education. The schools are charter public schools, meaning that they do not have tuition, but their rules are stricter than those in public schools to adhere to the nonprofit’s mission. All children can be admitted, regardless of race, gender, disability status, or knowledge of the English language. KIPP prioritizes children who do not have another opportunity to enter a school due to financial limitations.
Nonetheless, due to the number of applicants, KIPP has to select students using a lottery. Notably, the majority of students enrolled in KIPP Baltimore schools are African American or Black (around 97% in 2019), while the rest of the students are Hispanic or Latino, Asian, White, and other (“KIPP Baltimore,” 2019). Almost all students are eligible for reduced price or free meals, which further shows the socioeconomic background of the communities that KIPP serves. Around 10% of all enrollees receive special education services due to disabilities, and some of the students also learn English as a second language (“KIPP Baltimore,” 2019). KIPP-operated schools focus on education and achievement, extending class hours and providing students with an opportunity to widen their knowledge through school trips.
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Structure and Staffing
The structure of the organization appears to be hierarchical and strict, with the board of directors choosing the executive director and other leadership positions. Many of the managers are selected from different levels of the organization, and several teachers hold leadership positions. Moreover, some teachers and managers are native to Baltimore, while some have experience working in other branches of KIPP (“Faculty & staff,” 2018).
Thus, one may assume that the staff is as diverse as the communities the organization serves, which may benefit its goals (Gutiérrez & Nagda, 1996). Notably, the board of directors includes alumni of the organization and parents of the graduated children, which helps the organization to focus on real problems and concerns of the community, maintaining a close relationship with the residents.
The information provided on the official site of the organization highlights the diverse socioeconomic and racial background of the teachers employed by the nonprofit. KIPP also provides learning opportunities for new teachers, giving them a chance to receive accreditation compliant with the nonprofit’s standards and regional requirements (“Faculty & staff,” 2018). Most teachers have at least two years of experience, and continuous education is outlined as one of the foundations of KIPP. Currently, more than 40% of all teachers are Latino or African American, which corresponds with the majority of students in KIPP Baltimore (“Faculty & staff,” 2018).
At KIPP Baltimore schools, volunteers can perform a variety of activities, including construction, cleaning, renovation, and tutoring. These programs are open to all individuals, but the admission requirements are specified for each task. Overall, the diversity of staff is high, representing the community of Baltimore.
Leadership and Management
KIPP Baltimore operates with its own board of directors and a hierarchical structure for the organization itself as well as its schools. Marsha Reeves is the current executive director of the Baltimore branch (“Leadership team,” 2018). She was chosen by the board of directors in 2016, previously working as the Chief Officer of Growth and Operations at the same organization. Alex Reese and Natalia Walter Adamson are the principles of Ujima Village Academy and Harmony Academy, respectively (“Leadership team,” 2018).
Reese occupied the positions of a teacher, leader, and assistant principal at the Ujima Academy before becoming the principal in 2019. Adamson is the founding principal of the Harmony Academy, guiding the school from its opening in 2009 (“Leadership team,” 2018). She came into the organization after completing a Fisher Fellowship as a part of the KIPP Foundation initiative (“Leadership team,” 2018). Thus, all executive positions are held by people with a long history of working with KIPP.
Apart from that, KIPP Baltimore has several directors who guide the program KIPP Through College and such departments as development, finance and administration, and regional operations (“Board of directors,” 2018). Most directors also have some experience working on other positions in the nonprofit, although some came from different nonprofit and for-profit organizations. The board of directors includes alumni of the organization, parents of KIPP Baltimore enrollees, as well as several financial partners and business owners and representatives. The organization also has employees and volunteers to work on KIPP’s finances, relations, events, and other parts of the nonprofit.
In schools, the principal is the highest level of authority and the main guiding force that connects the agency and each of the academies. Each school also employs multiple assistant principals, deans, directors of school operations, directors of family and student services, and grade level administrators. KIPP Harmony Academy has such positions as Lower and Upper Academy leaders for grades K to 2 and 3 to 5 (“Leadership team,” 2018).
Each assistant principal and director focus on several class segments, as well. KIPP puts significant effort into developing leaders from its employees and community members. As several alumni and family members hold executive positions, the inclusion of the community into the decision-making process is apparent. Moreover, the attention given to the first years of education is also substantial – leaders for grades focus on their respective age groups and develop individualized plans. Furthermore, the board of director’s diverse structure shows that the organization is committed to elevating the members of the community and keeping the nonprofit accountable to its main groups of interest.
Analyzing the goals of the nonprofit and its organizational structure, one may pose that the primary type of leadership exhibited is a people-oriented external pattern. This approach is characteristics for nonprofits working with children and youth (Schmid, 2008). In such organizations, the emphasis is put on the external environment’s management and increased responsibility of the internal agents. As a result, the staff is trained rigorously to overcome the potential challenges (Schmid, 2004).
KIPP’s goal of educating its teachers is indicative of this leadership style. Furthermore, the nonprofit seeks support from various external organizations and acts as an advocate for underserved communities, relying on its coalitions as one of the sources of financial support (Schmid, 2008). This choice to alleviate pressure from the residents and search for new opportunities outside of the internal structure is what makes the orientation of the KIPP Baltimore’s management pattern external.
KIPP’s mechanisms of accountability for the agency are unclear – the official documents of the branch do not include financial statements or annual reports that would demonstrate in detail which activities and changes happened during the nonprofit’s existence. KIPP Baltimore, similar to other franchisees, regularly releases a report card which states how many students are currently enrolled in classes, as well as their performance in comparison to non-KIPP students from different socioeconomic backgrounds (“KIPP Baltimore,” 2019). Overall, the information is limited and does not show transparent fluctuations in attrition rates and KIPP graduates’ success after leaving their schools.
Culture and Climate
KIPP Baltimore adheres to the principles promoted by the franchiser. The goal of the organization is to provide free education and intense training to help the youth from underserved communities enter and graduate from college and find a successful job. The core values of the nonprofit are hard work, perseverance, and commitment to education and character building. It appears that all members of the organization share a belief that learning has to be accessible to everyone regardless of background. KIPP’s policies and advocacy programs support that ideology.
It is expected from students and their families to be enthusiastic about learning and active in their pursuit of higher education. Moreover, apart from academic achievements, the overall transformation of character is encouraged – KIPP members emphasize the need to acquire the necessary soft skills to perform well in the workplace. As a result, the agency’s culture views extended studying hours positively, noting that such opportunities are rare for people from low-income communities.
Schools have longer open hours, and students come to class on Saturdays. Moreover, KIPP’s vacation time is three weeks shorter than that in other public schools. Overall, the culture accepts and promotes diversity and support from marginalized communities, which is visible in its students, volunteers, staff, and management.
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The nonprofit organization receives support from several funding sources. The main part of all money comes from government, state, and local taxes. Other channels include the KIPP Foundation, which provides an amount of money to all branches as well as foundations and individual donors that help KIPP Baltimore directly (“Our partners,” 2018). These individuals, corporations, and foundations are considered KIPP Baltimore’s partners. It should be noted that some of the partners are represented on the KIPP Baltimore board of directors and the nonprofit’s committee. KIPP Baltimore is partnered with such organizations as PWC Inc, McCormick & Co., M&T Bank, Lifebridge Health, and others. Overall, the nonprofit does not mention any joint efforts or campaigns that explicitly name other organizations’ support.
The support of the mentioned above organizations and KIPP Baltimore’s reliance on federal tax contributions impact the nonprofit’s decisions and lower its flexibility. Members of the committee and board of directors may influence the decisions of KIPP Baltimore, thus making them less resistant to change. Furthermore, the flexibility of government-supported nonprofits is substantially limited in comparison to organizations that operate separately from state and federal governments (Rana, Rana, & Rana, 2017).
Overall, the organization is focused on internal changes, but it also advocates for more accessible education and better facilities for local schools. For instance, in 2019, KIPP Baltimore encouraged its members, families, and Maryland residents to advocate “on behalf of KIPPsters” to improve facilities and funding for the state’s public schools (Bacot, 2019, para. 1). Thus, it is clear that the nonprofit has a clear goal of shaping the external environment in regards to learning and policy change.
The analysis of KIPP Baltimore’s information shows multiple strengths of the nonprofit’s structure. First of all, KIPP is a national organization that allows its franchisees a level of freedom and autonomy while also providing financial support and guidance through the KIPP Foundation. Thus, KIPP Baltimore does not operate on its own, having a basis with clear guidelines, policies, and goals. The transparency of the aims is another strength – all achievements reached or planned by the organization are measurable and realistic.
They are presented in scorecards that can be compared to national averages for a better understanding of the state of education in the United States. Furthermore, the leadership and the staff of the nonprofit has many highly committed professionals with a background in teaching and working at KIPP Baltimore or other branches of the nonprofit. As an outcome, the board of directors and executive positions are held by people who understand the goals of the organization.
The weaknesses of KIPP Baltimore include the absence of a high school, the lack of transparency in reports and financial statements, unclear admission rules, and high dependency on government support. Currently, KIPP Baltimore helps students to go through elementary and middle school. The organization does no offer high school education but supports college students. Arguably, the principal preparation for successful college attendance happens in high school, and KIPP Baltimore fails to provide the students with the assistance they may need to meet the organization’s central goal of receiving higher education.
Next, the organization does not present any reports of its financial activity and performance outcomes, which may lower the trust of the government and other partners and cause criticism about the nonprofit’s actions. The lottery admission rules are not transparent, which reduces the possible admittance rates and may reveal biases in selection. Finally, the reliance on government funds makes the nonprofit inflexible and resistant to change.
Opportunities for KIPP Baltimore include a new high school to provide a full range of education to students and additional programs to target children with disabilities and language learning needs. KIPP Baltimore may also consider developing new facilities for the existing schools to accommodate more students and decrease the need for lottery-based admission. Programs and advocacy initiatives pushing better educational resources is another opportunity that KIPP Baltimore can explore. Finally, KIPP Baltimore may consider lowering the share of government support by relying on its other partners.
Finally, the risks are lowered support form either the government or independent partners, franchise ownership problems, and criticism based on the intensity of educational programs. As KIPP Baltimore is reliant on federal, state, and local tax, its financial situation is at constant risk if the federal budget introduces cuts to nonprofit educational programs. The change in volunteers and donations may also limit the nonprofit’s abilities to operate smoothly. If KIPP presents significant alterations to its franchise guidelines or comes under threat due to image or financial issues, KIPP Baltimore may suffer as well. Next, KIPP Baltimore has a high drop-out rate due to its strict achievement-driven conditions, and this attitude may lower the status of the organization due to criticism.
Plan of Action
The SWOT analysis reveals some recommendations that one can offer to KIPP Baltimore. First, the nonprofit should consider its current financial situation and aim to find new donors. Additional funds or the structuring of expenses could lower the organization’s reliance on government support and help it to open a new high school. Second, KIPP Baltimore should create a system for delivering transparent regular reports that demonstrate its commitment to the community and goals’ achievement as well as the financial performance of the nonprofit.
This action should limit the criticism of the organization and, potentially, attract new supporters and activists to improve KIPP’s performance. Finally, the nonprofit has to introduce new opportunities for students who cannot adhere to the current strict rules due to health-related and personal reasons to address the low rate of student retention.
Overall, KIPP Baltimore has optimistic, measurable, and well-defined goals that lie in the foundation of all activities the nonprofit performs. The staff and management are diverse and committed to the organization and the community it serves. The central problems are the lack of transparent accountability channels, the absence of high school education, and overreliance on government support. To combat these issues, KIPP Baltimore should restructure its budget, attract new sponsors, advocate for better support, build a high school, and introduce new training programs.
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