Kansas City Neighborhood Academy opened its doors Tuesday morning for its first students as classes began at the new public charter.
Buses rolled in a bit late, but the students who stepped off of them said they were excited about their new school. Neighborhood residents who came as volunteer greeters welcomed the children with big smiles, hugs and high-fives.
“I’m just so happy for the children,” said Ernestine Eriksen, a neighbor. “They will go to school for 12 or 13 years, and this is a good start. I’m just happy to be here to welcome them to the neighborhood.”
The school at 1619 E. 24th Terrace, six blocks south of the historic 18th and Vine district, is in a neighborhood served by the Urban Neighborhood Initiative. The initiative, established to revitalize about 10 Kansas City low-income neighborhoods east of Troost Avenue, is one of the Big 5 ideas backed by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
Kansas City Neighborhood Academy represents a focal point of the initiative — a target area of roughly 200 blocks where civic leaders five years ago envisioned a community-conceived idea to build a safe and prosperous, mixed-income neighborhood anchored by a “life-changing” school.
Modeled after the Drew Charter School, one of the top performing schools in Atlanta, the Kansas City Neighborhood Academy has science, technology, engineering, arts and math — or STEAM — as its theme.
It’s the school’s focus on science that caught Ismael Coulibaly’s attention. On Tuesday, Coulibaly was happy to escort his 4-year-old son, Ibrahim, through the doors of the new school.
“I take education very seriously,” Coulibaly said. “Giving a good education to my kid is really important to me. When I heard about KCNA, I said, well, he has to come here. They have science as their mission, and that is really exciting to us.”
Principal Robin Henderson wasn’t sure Tuesday morning just how many students had shown up for the first day. She said the school still has a few enrollment slots open and that parents are still signing up their children to attend.
This first year, the charter expects to serve about 220 students from pre-K to second grade. An additional grade will be added each year up to the sixth grade, Henderson said.
The Neighborhood Academy is the first charter school to be sponsored by the Kansas City school district. A charter school is a public school, subject to state standards, but is operated by an independent school board.
Like other public charters in the state, the school will be operated with state per-pupil dollars.
But unlike other charter schools in the the city, state money for Kansas City Neighborhood Academy will go through Kansas City Public Schools.
The Neighborhood Academy’s test scores will mix in with district test scores, affecting the Kansas City district’s annual performance report, which is the measure upon which the state bases a district’s accreditation.
In December, the Missouri state Board of Education approved the Kansas City Neighborhood Academy. At the time, the school didn’t have a building location.
When the Kansas City school district closed several schools earlier this summer as part of the district’s master plan, it decided to turn over the Wendell Phillips school building at 1619 E. 24th Terrace to the Neighborhood Academy.
“Today’s opening of the Kansas City Neighborhood Academy is really exciting both for the neighborhood and also for the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce,” said Pam Whiting, a spokeswoman for the chamber. “An incredible amount of work has been done to bring the school to fruition.”