Kansas City Public Schools’ first sponsored charter school on Tuesday received a $1.6 million boost from local philanthropists.
The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation made a $1 million gift to the Kansas City Neighborhood Academy charter and a $600,000 gift came from the Hall Family Foundation to support the implementation of academic instruction centered on a science, technology, engineering, arts and math theme.
Both grants will be given over a three-year period.
The charter public school, established through a partnership between the Urban Neighborhood Initiative and Kansas City Public Schools, is set to open Aug. 2 in the district’s old Wendell Phillips Elementary School building at 1619 E. 24th Terrace.
The charter, in its inaugural year, will serve about 220 students from pre-K to second grade. An additional grade will be added each year up to sixth grade, said Robin Henderson, the charter school principal.
The school, six blocks south of the historic 18th and Vine district, is in a neighborhood served by the Urban Neighborhood Initiative. The initiative was established to revitalize about 10 Kansas City low-income neighborhoods east of Troost Avenue.
The program, one of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s “Big 5,” initiatives, was designed to support children and families through mixed-income housing, wellness services and cradle-to-college educational opportunities, with a school at the center.
“We deeply appreciate the generosity from both the Kauffman Foundation and the Hall Family Foundation,” said Dianne Cleaver, the initiative’s executive director and chair of the new Kansas City Neighborhood Academy charter school board.
She called the gifts “a tremendous vote of confidence” in the charter school’s intent to provide families the opportunity to choose a school promising a rigorous academic curriculum.
A charter is a public school funded through per-pupil state funds but operated by an independent board. Missouri charters are within the boundaries of the St. Louis and Kansas City school districts.
Kauffman Foundation president Wendy Guillies said the foundation believes the opening of the Kansas City Neighborhood Academy “is an important move in improving education in Kansas City.”
The Kansas City Neighborhood Academy is one of three charter school startup projects in the city that are supported through the foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman School and Citizens of the World are the two others.
New superintendent Mark Bedell said he was happy to see the district partner with the community as the sponsor of the Urban Neighborhood Initiative’s charter school.
Bedell, who officially took leadership of Kansas City Public Schools on July 1, said the charter will give students living within the district’s boundaries the choice for a curriculum that’s not provided by the district. At the same time the district, as the charter’s sponsor, is responsible for holding the new charter accountable for providing the academic rigor it is promising.
“From the beginning, this project was envisioned as an innovative way of leveraging resources from across the community in order to create a high-quality educational experience for students who live in this neighborhood,” Bedell said. “It makes me very happy to see all of us come together in order to serve our community. I want everyone to understand that my position as a superintendent of the Kansas City Public Schools is to do everything in my power to ensure that every kid that lives within this Kansas City zone, that they are given an opportunity to receive a rigorous education.
“And if that means that we have to partner with various community entities to ensure that all of our kids graduate globally competitive, then here is a start.”
Wendell Phillips was one of three schools the district closed earlier this year as part of the new district master plan. Parents at the time were upset with the closure since Phillips had been a high-performing district school.
The Urban Neighborhood Initiative gets the Wendell Phillips building for its Kansas City Neighborhood Academy charter as part of its partnership with Kansas City Public Schools. But the building remains owned by the school district. Additional fundraising is underway for improvements to the school.