But the rare educational opportunities Sonya and other low-income students receive at the Northwest Baltimore school could come to an end this summer. The school says it will close June 30 if it cannot reach a long-term deal with the Baltimore Teachers Union over pay or garner enough support for legislation in Annapolis that would allow teachers to set their own working conditions.
KIPP's model requires a longer-than-typical 9 1/2-hour school day, which has caused tensions with the union, in order to achieve its results: some of the highest test scores in the state and a 100 percent college-acceptance rate.
"I feel like they came along to help me with my girl, and now she's not lost anymore," Jefferson said. "She just can't go backward. And if this happens, she will just be lost."
KIPP is part of a nationwide network of highly successful charter schools whose mission is to provide a stringent and structured urban education. KIPP, which opened the first of its two schools in Baltimore in 2002, says it has been hampered by sharing a building with various schools and recently operating on a one-year agreement with the union about how to pay its teachers.
Unlike many of its counterparts around the nation, Baltimore's KIPP schools are bound by the teachers union contract regarding pay, which has earned the state criticism for having a restrictive charter school law. Therefore, KIPP has had to compensate teachers for the extended days — a demand that the school says is costing an additional $400,000 to $500,000 a year.
KIPP is also negotiating with the school system in hopes of getting a long-term lease for the building Ujima now occupies. It is willing to take on debt to fix up the building, which is in poor condition, but only if it can get a long-term agreement.
Without a commitment from the school district, each year will remain as uncertain as the last, said Jason Botel, executive director of KIPP Baltimore.
"To be in this position every year, and to have to say to parents and students that we might not be here is hard," Botel said. "We cannot finance and fundraise if we have a one-year lease on life — if every year, we're at the risk of shutting down."
They don't give a damn that KIPP works in Baltimore. They find charter schools, which are public schools, a threat and want to do anything to shut it down. And