The excitement and energy surrounding the growth in population and attractions downtown has spilled over to public education. Sort of.
Two successful kindergarten through eighth-grade charter schools — Crossroads Academy downtown and Scuola Vita Nuova in the Northeast area — will merge in July 2017 and open a new high school downtown in August 2018. For many charter school programs, a quality high school has been the missing element.
Since 1998 charters have been a public school alternative with their own operating boards. The growing number of charter schools has been partly responsible for the district’s enrollment decline over the last 16 years — from 35,000 to about 16,000 today.
But families have struggled for years to find a quality high school for students within the Kansas City Public Schools boundaries. Some families leave town in search of better options.
The new downtown charter high school will enroll up to 600 students in ninth through 12th grades, offering advanced placement and associates degree options, said Nicole Goodman, principal of Scuola Vita Nuova, founded in 1999.
Crossroads Academy, co-founded by Tysie McDowell-Ray and Dean Johnson in 2012, is opening a second elementary school, Quality Hill Academy, in August at 11th and Washington streets.
In addition, the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City is closing two schools and opening a new Catholic elementary school in what used to be the Derrick Thomas Academy, south of downtown at 201 E. Armour Blvd.
The school announcements last week occurred amid continuing struggles of Kansas City Public Schools. School board elections are on April 5, but only three persons filed for four open seats and two lacked enough valid signatures to be on the ballot.
Jennifer Wolfsie obtained enough qualified signatures and was certified for an at-large seat. Because she is unopposed, her name will not be on the ballot. She will be declared the winner and sworn in on April 13.
No one filed for the Subdistrict 1 seat, which currently is held by Board Chairman Jon Hile. That means seats for Subdistricts 1, 3 and 5 will be filled by write-in candidates.
It’s disappointing that a “school-board-school,” created a few years ago to help inspire and train people to run for open board seats, attracted only a few persons to its class in December.
The write-in process shortchanges all. District parents and patrons won’t have candidate forums or answers to questionnaires to help them pick the best persons for the nine-member board to work with Mark T. Bedell, who was selected this month as the new superintendent.
Contract negotiations are underway with Bedell for the job. Bedell currently is assistant superintendent for high schools at Baltimore County Public Schools in Towson, Md.
Bedell said he wants the district to compete more effectively with charter schools. One option is for the district to restart talks with Academie Lafayette for that charter school to run an International Baccalaureate high school at Southwest Early College Campus for its graduates and the district’s.
The opportunities for change are endless and so is the vast field for academic improvement.