Charter operations have had a stormy relationship with Kansas City Public Schools, and the school board vote this week on a proposed district-sponsored facility reflected that history.
After heated discussion, the board voted 5 to 3 in favor of the Kansas City Neighborhood Academy. The grade school would be part of Kansas City’s Urban Neighborhood Initiative, one of the “Big 5” ideas in the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s 2011 vision for prosperity. The target area is bounded generally by Troost Avenue and U.S. 71, from 22nd to 52nd streets.
Speakers at the school board meeting said the elementary school would focus on literacy and STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Dianne Cleaver, executive director of the Urban Neighborhood Initiative, told the board the project goals include creating mixed-income housing with the charter school, providing a quality education for children “to break the cycle of poverty.” The model is Drew Charter School in Atlanta, which has become a top performer.
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However, a lot of questions remain unanswered about the proposed charter here. Location and cost estimates have yet to be specified. Nor are there estimates for how many kindergarten through sixth-grade students the school would drain from the district.
Board members critical of the plan said the district’s priority ought to be serving the students it has. “The charter can get other sponsors,” said Amy Hartsfield. Opponents also complained about a lack of community input, though district officials said there would be time for that before the school board approves a contract by the end of the year.
Board member Airick Leonard West called the charter an “imperfect plan” but worthy of pursuing “to get the best outcome” for kids.
The district will have oversight while the Urban Neighborhood Initiative would run the school under a separate board.
On balance, the plan is worth pursuing. A successful school could boost the district’s educational image and increase the likelihood of attracting new residents and new development to the urban core.