Cooper Leabo is a senior at Lee’s Summit West High School, but spends most of his days taking classes at Metropolitan Community College-Longview.
Technically Cooper is still enrolled at West as well as at Summit Technology Academy and the Missouri Innovation Campus in Lee’s Summit.
The 18-year-old is one of about 100 of Summit Tech’s 515 students participating in the Missouri Innovation Campus program.
Last summer, Cooper was one of 64 students from the Kansas City metropolitan area who competed in the national championship round of the 50th annual Skills USA conference at the Kansas City Convention Center.
He was among 10 of the area-wide students named national medalists, earning a gold medal in Internetworking.
Despite not attending West during the day, Cooper participates on the robotics team, the Cyber Patriot Team at Summit Technology Academy, and is a Missouri Innovation Campus intern at Cerner Corporation.
Cooper will obtain not only his high school diploma this June, but will also have an associate’s degree from MCC-Longview. He will enroll at the University of Central Missouri’s Summit campus in the fall and needs only two years to complete a bachelor’s degree.
The transition from high school to college, Cooper said, hasn’t been all that hard.
“It hasn’t been too much too handle so far,” Cooper said after a recent day at MCC-Longview. “I’ve gotten used to it.”
Cooper spends two days per week as a paid intern at Cerner and will add another eight weeks of paid internship at the business this summer.
He personifies the type of student that the MIC program aims to produce; high-school students interested in high-demand fields such as information technology or engineering.
“I don’t feel like I’m sitting around doing nothing all the time,” Cooper said. “It’s good work experience.”
Elaine Metcalf, director of Summit Technology Academy, said when Summit Tech started 16 years ago only about 20 students were enrolled.
Teaming up three years ago with the MIC program, the academy has steadily grown with more than 500 students enrolled this school year.
Some students, such as Leabo, have taken advantage of being enrolled at Summit Tech by participating in the MIC program, now in its third year.
“It is a very unique program,” Metcalf said. “It has been a game-changer for the students.”
One of a kind
The Missouri Innovation Campus is a highly acclaimed partnership involving the school district, UCM, Metropolitan Community College-Longview and local businesses.
Students enroll in their junior year of high school and take classes at Summit Tech. Upon graduation from high school, students will also have associate degrees from MCC-Longview. They can then complete their final two years of study at UCM.
The business partners offer paid internships along the way.
The arrangement allows students such as Leabo to obtain a bachelor’s degree only two years after graduating from high school. It’s been seen as a way to reduce the cost of higher education and enable students to graduate debt-free.
“Getting out of college faster and into the workforce is one of the benefits of the program,” Leabo said. “It’s also a great opportunity to get hired by some of the companies who you have interned for.”
The MIC currently offers three cohorts: systems engineering technology; engineering technology/design and drafting; and computer science/software development.
The program is also open to students outside of the R-7 School District, Metcalf said.
This past summer Metcalf, Ambrose, David McGehee, R-7 superintendent, and Kirk Nooks, president of MCC-Longview, were among a group that traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with U.S. Department of Education officials including Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Munoz, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell during the White House College Opportunity Summit.
“The Missouri Innovation Campus is a national model on how to cut the cost of college,” Metcalf said.
The trip, Ambrose said, shows the MIC program is growing in stature.
“At this level, I think it’s the most aggressive K-16 partnership for shared facilities and programs in the country,” he said. “The exciting dynamic is more and more people are absolutely invigorated about what we have been able to accomplish.”
Mark James, chancellor of the MCC system, said although the college is not affected by the pending vote, MCC is heavily involved in the program’s future.
James added he is not aware of a situation that mirrors the specifics of the MIC program.
“Metropolitan Community College students are benefiting from the Missouri Innovation Campus and seeing great success,” James said. “As a college, we value that partnership.”
What’s at stake
Voters in Lee’s Summit will decide April 7 whether to approve a $40 million bond issue to build a new Summit Tech and innovation campus.
The Lee’s Summit school board agreed unanimously in January to place the measure on the ballot. If passed, it would not result in a tax increase.
With the bond money, the district would contribute about $17.5 million to build a new facility for Summit Technology Academy and the Missouri Innovation Campus. A little more than $22 million is marked for improvements and deferred maintenance at current district schools.
The remaining funds would be designated for contingencies.
If the bond is endorsed by at least four-sevenths of voters, construction on the Summit Technology Academy/Missouri Innovation Campus would begin soon after the election with the new school opening in August 2017.
The school improvements and maintenance projects would also begin soon after the election with the majority of projects complete by either fall 2015 or fall 2016.
“This is a big project,” school board member Bill Baird said shortly after the board’s approval. “We’re all excited about the magnitude of this. It’s cutting-edge.”
The current Summit Technology Academy/Missouri Innovation Campus facility totals 42,000 square feet in leased space at 777 N.W. Blue Parkway.
The current lease has favorable terms but ends in 2018.
The district and the UCM have a deal whereby the university would pay 60 percent of the cost to acquire land for the new facility and build it.
The district would own the $64 million building – UCM is providing $24 million to the total project – after 20 years and then lease space back to the university for its Lee’s Summit campus.
A location has not been announced.
Ambrose said if approved the new facility would be a destination for education.
“It gives an educational sense of destination to (the area) and a pipeline for new talent,” Ambrose said.
Leabo added a new facility would be beneficial for future students.
“The program has been expanding a lot and we’ve had more and more students enroll in the classes at Summit Tech to be able to start the Missouri Innovation Campus,” he said. “It seems like the classes are getting pretty packed.
“I don’t feel like the current resources will hold up like we need them to.”
April 7 election
A group of volunteers formed recently to establish an advocacy campaign in support of the bond issue.
To date, no known entities have publically opposed the proposal.
The Building Our Future Committee began working in February to help reach out to voters in advance of the election.
The theme for the campaign committee is “Smarter Tomorrows: Leadership and Innovation for Brighter Futures.”
Chaired by Elaine Bluml, Bill Brown and Terri Harmon, the team launched its website this month, located at www.smartertomorrows.org, as well as a Facebook page and Twitter account.
The Facebook page may be found at “SmarterTomorrows” and Twitter is @Smarter2morrows.
Harmon said the group’s goal is to raise awarness on the bond issue.
“We hope voters will visit the campaign website at SmarterTomorrows.org to learn about the bond issue projects and how they will positively impact our schools, our children and future prosperity in Lee’s Summit,” Harmon said.