KIPP Delta College Preparatory School of Helena announced Tuesday that the Charter School Growth Fund has awarded the school a $2.6 grant, which will be used for expansion.

Officials from KIPP, which stands for Knowledge Is Power Program, say the award is the largest the school has received to date. It will allow the free, open-enrollment public charter middle school for underserved students to expand from two schools in Helena to 12 schools across the Delta region by 2019. When the expansion is complete, KIPP Delta’s charter schools will send more than 240 graduates a year to four-year colleges and universities, nearly double the current number of college bound low-income students in the Delta, the school said in a news release.

The Charter School Growth Fund will provide the school with money for infrastructure and operating needs during expansion. When the growth plan is complete, KIPP Delta Public Schools will become a regional cluster of 12 charter schools serving more than 3,600 students. The KIPP Delta cluster will include Helena-West Helena along with three communities that currently do not have a KIPP school.

The three new expansion areas will be chosen through a competitive application process that includes factors such as community support, parent demand and availability of educational alternatives, officials said. The expansion area is targeted for the Arkansas Delta.

“The Charter School Growth Fund selected KIPP Delta for this investment due to its demonstrated track record of success and strong expansion plan,” John Lock, CSGF president and CEO, said in a news release. “KIPP Delta has a relentless focus on helping all students reach high standards and its vision for growth will change the future for thousands of children in the region.”

This month, the school was one of three in Arkansas to be named a 2008 Blue Ribbon School by U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.

Founded by Scott Shirey, the school opened in 2002 with just fifth-graders and now serves 365 students in grades five through 11.

KIPP Delta is part of the network of 66 KIPP public charter schools across the country, which was originally started by Teach For America alumni Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin. Nationwide, more than 90 percent of KIPP students are of color, and 80 percent are low-income.

“With this generous CSGF investment, KIPP has the potential to double the number of low-income college graduates emerging from the Delta each year, which would be exciting for the future of the area,” Shirey said.

In 2007, KIPP added a high school in Helena when Luke VanDeWalle opened KIPP Delta Collegiate. It will launch a KIPP elementary school in fall 2009 after Amanda Johnson completes her leadership training under the Fisher Fellowship. To prepare for regional expansion, Shirey has transitioned from school director of KIPP Delta College Prep middle school to executive director of the KIPP Delta region. Jemar Tisby is now the school director of the middle school.

“The CSGF investment represents a tremendous opportunity for KIPP Delta Public Schools to replicate the success of the first two schools through a thoughtful growth process,” said Chaulk Mitchell, chairperson of KIPP Delta’s board of directors.