To which school would you send your teenager?
Central High School?
OrCentral Academy of Excellence
The first one, said its principal, Linda Collins, “had a tough year” in 2011-2012.
The second one? It’s the same school, still in the heart of Kansas City Public Schools, but with a potential new name.
“This year will be different,” Collins said, summoning all the good will she imagines in an academy.
She realizes it will take more than a change in name to remake a school.
But one trend seems clear.
Within the Kansas City district boundary, whether your school is private, public or charter, you don’t want to be branded as a “high school.”
Instead we have campuses, upper schools and education centers.
We have hosts of academies.
Schools like East and Northeast that still have “High School” in their names are now a rarity.
“It’s a national trend,” said Doug Thaman, executive director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association, at least in urban centers where public, charter and private schools compete.
Schools want to distinguish themselves, he said.
“Some are doing a great job living up to their name,” he said. “Some are working on that.”
And therein lies the risk, said Gene Brown, a professor of marketing at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Bloch School of Management.
“A name is like a brand,” he said. “It makes a promise of expectations.”
There has to be a mission and a strategy for getting there, Brown said.
“Changing the name isn’t magic,” he said. “If you don’t show real change, it will have a negative impact.”
Central has attempted transformations before.
The most recent was Collins’ first year as principal two years ago. The school enjoyed a strong year that was often overlooked as another school, Southwest Early College Campus, went through highly publicized turmoil.
But last year, the school district shifted boundaries to ease the load on overcrowded Southwest. The district also didn’t have an alternative high school for students who needed a different setting.
Central tumbled back.
When Central Academy opens in August, Collins said, students will see more technology in their classrooms and less outside.
No more rampant cellphones and MP3 players in the halls.
The dress code will be enforced. No more sagging pants. Students will be wearing identification badges.
The district also will have an alternative high school, enabling teachers to spend more time with students focused on their work.
The “academy” can’t be the old “high school.”
Collins said, “I promise you as principal of Central Academy we are going to do our part.”