Rendering of KIPP San Antonio's future Cevallos campus. Courtesy image.

Downtown San Antonio is getting it’s first new public high school in more than 40 years. KIPP San Antonio hosted a beam-signing at the construction site of the KIPP Cevallos campus on Wednesday. Elected officials, community leaders, and friends of the top performing charter network gathered amid dust and heavy machinery to celebrate the coming facility set to open in Summer 2016.

Mark Larson, CEO of KIPP San Antonio addresses the crowd at the future site of KIPP Cevallos. Photo by Bekah McNeel
Mark Larson, CEO of KIPP San Antonio addresses the crowd at the future site of KIPP Cevallos. Photo by Bekah McNeel.

Mark Larson, CEO of KIPP San Antonio, compared the skeleton structure around him to this year’s graduating seniors. They have come far, but they are still works-in-progress as they develop into citizens who will make a difference some day.

“There’s still a lot of imagining left to do,” Larson said.

KIPP San Antonio’s first ground-up construction will house three of the network’s current schools: KIPP Esperanza Dual Language Academy (elementary), KIPP Aspire Academy (middle school), and KIPP University Prep (high school). The 165,000-square-foot structure sits on 18 acres along San Pedro Creek. The construction is part of a future phase of the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project. All together, there will be 105 classrooms and 1,900 students enrolled in grades K-12.

KIPP Through College, an initiative that provides counseling and resources to KIPP graduates throughout their undergraduate careers, also will be housed on the KIPP Cevallos campus.

I asked KIPP senior Luke Gonzalez-Ruiz, a student greeter working the event, where he was planning to go to school. Abilene Christian University has offered a substantial scholarship package, but he’s still waiting to hear University of North Texas, Hofstra University, and others.

KIPPsters Arlene Serna, Daniel Montez, and Luke Gonzalez-Ruiz at a beam-signing for KIPP Cevallos. Photo by Bekah McNeel.
KIPPsters Arlene Serna, Daniel Montez, and Luke Gonzalez-Ruiz at a beam-signing for KIPP Cevallos. Photo by Bekah McNeel.

Gonzalez-Ruiz is disappointed he won’t get to experience the new campus, but he plans on maintaining a strong connection to KIPP Through College.

Glenn Pierce of Turner Impact Capital praised the students greeters for their ambition and bright futures.

“They are ready for the rest of their lives,” Pierce said.

A Google Map of KIPP San Antonio's property on San Pedro Creek.
A Google Map of KIPP San Antonio’s property on San Pedro Creek. Click to enlarge.

On a K-12 campus, younger students are able to look at those juniors and seniors, and see the vision of the school in action.

“The challenge to them is to stand on the shoulders of the giants that went before them,” said Michael Shay, founding principal of KIPP Esperanza.

For Daniel Montez, a junior at KIPP University Prep, the first “giant” in his family was his sister. When she told their mom that she wanted to go to college, their mom felt a personal calling to go ahead of her daughter and serve as a role model. She completed college, and went on to get a graduate degree. Montez’s sister currently is enrolled at UTSA.

That wasn’t the end for the Montez family. Soon after their mom graduated, their father decided to do for his sons what his wife had done for their daughter. He is currently at Texas A&M working on a graduate degree in cybersecurity. Montez’s older brother graduated from KIPP University Prep and was accepted to Trinity University on full scholarship. His younger brother is a KIPPster as well.

“As you can see, my family is very committed to KIPP, just like KIPP is committed to my family,” Montez said.

Larson later confirmed that KIPP provided guidance for both parents, as it will do for any KIPP family member seeking to enroll in higher education.

The family and community impact is exactly why Councilmembers Shirley Gonzales (D5) and Rey Saldaña (D4) were on hand to show their support for KIPP.  Gonzales praised the diverse network of developers, architects, teachers, and advocates who contributed to the project, and to the wider community of support rallying around San Antonio’s children.

“I want for my children the same thing I want for all children,” Gonzales said.

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Those well-supported children will come back to invest in their city, she said. KIPP Cevallos will be located in the heart of its target population, bringing opportunity closer than ever to families. It also connects those families to downtown and investments like San Pedro Creek.

Saldaña is KIPP’s chief engagement officer, but his enthusiasm is very much linked to his commitment to serving the city. If San Antonio has a Achilles heel, it’s educational attainment, Saldaña said. If San Antonio can get a virtuous cycle of education started in the city’s core, not only will people be attracted to live here, but home-grown talent will have a strong bond with the city center.

“This campus is physical evidence that the decade of downtown is a real thing,” he said.

One of the most notable guests at the beam-signing was Patti Radle, president of the San Antonio Independent School District Board of Trustees. Her presence indicated an inclusive posture on the part of the district. She welcomes the accountability, and believes the two systems can accomplish more through cooperation than competition.

“We have to work together to compete against mediocrity,” Radle said.


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Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog,, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.