There’s a new nonprofit in town, and it’s going after public schools in Kansas City with more than $50 million to help improve student performance within the next decade.
SchoolSmartKC is a collaboration funded by the Kauffman Foundation, the Hall Family Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. Its goal is to close the achievement gap in public schools in Kansas City.
In a statement Tuesday, SchoolSmartKC said it wants “to double the percentage of Kansas City schools and students that demonstrate performance at or above the state level over the next 10 years.” The effort is targeting Kansas City Public Schools and public charter schools within the city’s district boundaries.
Partnering with the district, charters, faith groups, social services and the business community, SchoolSmartKC intends to focus on three key strategies:
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▪ Increase parent engagement in city schools.
▪ Link schoolchildren with social service agencies that would held repair social challenges outside the school that affect pupil performance in the classroom.
▪ Serve as an unyielding voice communicating the needs of schools in Kansas City with state officials responsible for setting policy that affects K-12 education across Missouri.
At the Tuesday evening SchoolSmartKC launch, the nonprofit announced the first of three financial investments it will make this month.
An initial grant of more than $563,000 is to be spent over two years creating new support programs for low-income students at six Kansas City district schools and four charter schools through a program called Communities In Schools. Two other investments, to total about $3.4 million, will be announced later in April.
School-to-community coordinators will be placed in charters — Alta Vista High School, Benjamin Banneker Elementary, Frontier School of Excellence and Crossroads — and district schools — Central Academy of Excellence, Central Middle School, George Melcher Elementary School, Northeast High School, Northeast Middle School and Kansas City Neighborhood Academy, which is a district-sponsored charter.
“We are excited to be part of a conversation that brings all education stakeholders together to find common ground and solutions for kids,” Dean Johnson, executive director of Crossroads Charter Schools, said in a statement.
Coordinators, working with services already in schools, such as Mayor Sly James’ Turn the Page KC and AmeriCorps’ red-jacket-wearing City Year volunteers, will help identify students with out-of-school challenges including poverty, health and violence in the home. They will then find the appropriate social services and link them to the child and the family.
“Then the schools can focus on what it is they are there to do — educate the students. And the students are in a better place to learn,” said Awais Sufi, president and CEO of SchoolSmartKC.
“My goal as superintendent is to ensure that we have quality seats for every single kid in this city, and SchoolSmartKC is providing a real opportunity for us to work together to demonstrate that the education landscape in Kansas City is a model for the country,” said Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell.
Sufi, a Topeka native, left a leadership position with the International Youth Foundation in Washington to run the new Kansas City charity. Since November 2015, he has been meeting with local education stakeholders to establish a framework for the nonprofit.
SchoolSmartKC will first assess which schools are already performing above state levels, which are just under the mark and which are fairly far behind and then figure out what each school needs to pull performance up.
Over 10 years, SchoolSmartKC expects to invest $56 million in schools in Kansas City. The first 10 schools are expected to act as pilots generating data and best-practice information, Sufi said. And “hopefully this will initiate a set of models that can be expanded throughout the city.”