Closing Southwest High School — officially Southwest Early College Campus — at the end of the just-completed school year was more evidence of decades of public school problems in Kansas City.
That once-great school was shuttered for many reasons, including a lack of enrollment. The future of the large red-brick structure is undecided, though there’s some interest in it among charter school advocates.
A few miles to the east, Southeast High School remains open, and this coming school year it will be home to many former Southwest students as Southeast recreates itself as two high schools in one: a neighborhood school and the African Centered College Preparatory Academy, which has been there several years.
What everyone wants to avoid is the chaos of a few years ago when students from Westport High School were transferred to Southwest without proper preparation. What resulted was a harsh clash of school cultures. It took several years to recover from that preventable disaster.
Lots of Kansas Citians are rooting — and working — for success at Southeast. They include:
▪ The new principal, Jason Whitt, a former Moberly, Mo., school administrator, who oversees both schools at Southeast.
▪ Neighborhood leaders, who want a stable school environment where students can succeed.
▪ Southeast alumni, who have been showing up at meetings of the transition team working toward a smooth school opening in August.
▪ School volunteers, including some from a coalition of eight or nine churches. For the last several years those volunteers have worked at Southwest but now have agreed to put their energies into Southeast.
▪ And, of course, parents, students, faculty, administration and school board members.
Transition team members preparing to open Southeast include district and school officials plus volunteers. They have divided into committees to make recommendations in several different areas — from after-school activities to curriculum, volunteers to safety.
However, because it took time to name a new principal and because Kansas City’s new superintendent is just starting, this transition work has bumped along a bit as it creates recommendations for Southeast.
A big challenge facing Southeast will be trying to make two schools in one work even as the district moves toward an academic choice system called “Pathways,” which will try to provide more elective classes to help students explore career possibilities.
The Pathways initiative, scheduled to be in place by 2018, is to take account of fast-growing careers in the metro area, including information technology, health sciences, finance and insurance and automated manufacturing.
Former Southwest students now set to enter Southeast have been promised many things the district has failed to deliver, including a consistently stable site and staff.
If Southeast doesn’t succeed it would be one more disappointment these students — and the city — cannot afford.