KIPP Colorado: 20 years of closing opportunity gaps and disrupting systems

Editor’s note: This article was written by Tomi Amos, CEO of KIPP Colorado Public Schools.

I am the product of public education and as a first-generation American, I was raised to believe in the power of public education and the opportunities it provides.

My very first experiences and memories in public school were not always positive — my Nigerian culture and language were devalued. But a few great teachers turned it around for me, creating a sense of community and allowing me to be myself.

This motivated me to pursue a career in education, one that drove me towards earning my bachelor’s, law degree and master’s in educational leadership. After more than a decade of working in education, I can say with certainty that my life’s work is to close opportunity gaps and ensure equitable outcomes for all students.

Today, I’m extremely fortunate to serve as the CEO at KIPP Colorado Public Schools and to be the first Black CMO (Charter Management Organization) leader in the state of Colorado.

I’ve been in this role for two years, and this year, I’m grateful to be a part of a truly special celebration: the 20th anniversary of KIPP’s first public charter school in Denver.

Why did I choose to lead KIPP Colorado, despite my lived experience in public schools?

I am here because I believe in the promise of KIPP Colorado’s mission and vision. I have deep ambitions for KIPP to provide the best educational outcomes for under-resourced populations; to set the stage and pave the way for what it means to see an educational community thrive with joy, love, identity affirmation and rigor.

In 2002, KIPP opened its first school in Colorado with 80 fifth-grade students in Southwest Denver, and it grew to full capacity with 294 students in 2005. By 2009, KIPP Denver Collegiate High School had opened.

Seeing the need and popularity of the KIPP model, a second middle school opened in Montbello in 2011 and both a high school and elementary school were added in Montbello in 2015. After adding the early childhood education program in 2017, more than 2,000 students were enrolled at KIPP Colorado schools.

Today, we have an elementary school with ECE, middle and high school in both the Southwest region of Denver and the Far Northeast. There are more than 2,500 students enrolled; 96% identify as BIPOC and 69% are multilingual learners.

We are here deliberately disrupting the public education system that I was accustomed to. Proudly, KIPP Colorado is the only ECE-12th grade public charter school network in the state of Colorado. Our pipeline, starting at just three years old and going into early adulthood, is about limitless opportunities and potential. From early childhood on, we see the gifts of each and every one of our KIPPsters and work to amplify them.

Our ECE programs are accessible to every family who joins us, and our youngest KIPP learners have access to world-class early childhood education, which is critical to their development.

Through college advising, university partnerships, career coaching and more, our KIPP Forward program supports our students post-graduation to help them choose and prepare for their educational and career paths that fit their goals. We help our alumni discover what a fulfilling life means to them, and we help them break through barriers that stand in their ways of achieving it.

As of now, our KIPP Forward Program has more than 1,000 KIPP Colorado alumni who, in 2022 alone, received more than $6 million in scholarships; 99% of our high school seniors graduate, and 100% of KIPPsters report having post-secondary plans.

Later in their education journey, our graduates get support from our KIPP Forward team as they navigate the complexities of post-secondary life. We provide individualized counseling and support for each of our alumni as they progress through their ideal college or career pathway.

Tonight, May 19, the KIPP community will gather for an in-person celebration with families, students, friends and supporters at the Denver Art Museum for the “Growing Minds: Past, Present, and a Future Without Limits” gala.

The goal of the gala is to highlight our Early Childhood Education (ECE) and KIPP Forward programs.

We will reflect on the impact KIPP Colorado has made over the last 20 years and share more about our vision for our future.

As our students prepare for college, career, and beyond, I wholeheartedly believe that our collective power will provide students with joyful, academically excellent schools, and that KIPP and our students will become a beacon of what is possible in public education.

As we look to the future, by 2025 KIPP Colorado’s strategic plan will be fully implemented across all schools and we will be preparing for the next strategic plan.

In the next 20 years we hope to support more KIPPsters from three-years-old through graduation and beyond. We hope to bring back more KIPP alumni as teachers, leaders and facilitators in our buildings. We hope to expand access to a world-class education for more families in Denver.

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