Girls-only school planned for Kansas City has picked its first principal

Tara Haskins, a vice principal at a school in Houston, Texas, has been selected to lead the all-girls public middle and high school planned to open in Kansas City in 2019
Tara Haskins, a vice principal at a school in Houston, Texas, has been selected to lead the all-girls public middle and high school planned to open in Kansas City in 2019 Kansas City Girls Preparatory Academy

An all-girls charter school planned to open in 2019 in Kansas City has selected its founding principal.

Tara Haskins, an assistant principal at KIPP Voyage Academy for Girls in Houston, Texas, has been picked to lead the Kansas City Girls Preparatory Academy set to serve middle and high school girls who live in the Kansas City School District.

The school, which would be the only single-gender public school in Kansas City, plans to start by enrolling about 100 fifth-grade students and then add a new fifth grade each subsequent year. It will have a full enrollment of just under 750 students when all grades 5 through 12 are completed.

School planners said Haskins was one of five finalists from a pool of more than 120 applicants. The pool was narrowed to 64 candidates who were interviewed before the final candidates — three found through a national search and two local entrants — were chosen.

"She stood out for a number of reasons," said Christine Kemper, a member of the charter school's founding board. "Her experience was right on the money and her energy and passion are fantastic. She was the whole package. One of her references referred to her as the parent whisperer."

In searching for the first principal "we wanted to make sure we stayed committed to our core values of equity and community," said Tom Krebs, chief executive officer for the girls academy.

He said the school pledges to support feminism, fight racism and will give preference in enrollment to students living in ZIP codes populated by the city's least served demographics.

The girls school "seeks to ensure that young women growing up in neighborhoods negatively impacted by de jure and de facto racial segregation achieve equitable educational outcomes," academy founders wrote in the school's charter application.

"Too often, young women living in segregated neighborhoods – and especially young women of color – do not have access to equitable educational opportunities. KCGPA aims to change this reality."

Candidates for principal had to show how they had responded to the academy's values and mission in their past and current positions.

Krebs said candidates were asked to participate in role playing exercises in which they were asked to solve real-world problems.

Krebs said the school organizing board, which includes Mayor Sly James, had hired a national recruiter to reach out specifically to talent pipelines filled by people of color, such as historically black colleges and black sororities.

Haskin's father is African-American. Her mother’s family emigrated from Honduras. She's the product of a military school education. Haskin said she was immediately interested in the job after reading the charter application. "It was the fact that they recognized the segregation in the city," she said.

Being a former history teacher, Haskins said, she understands the important role knowing one's history plays in any move forward. "I can say that learning my history as a black and Hispanic woman is what has helped me find my voice."

A graduate of Hampton University — a historically black college — Haskins began her career teaching middle school English in Shreveport, Louisiana. While there, Haskins developed a middle school all-girls mentoring program that focused on mindfulness, college preparation and community service.

She left Louisiana and joined the KIPP girls academy in Houston, where she taught U.S. history.

There, in addition to her teaching duties Haskins, was a teachers' leader and helped develop teachers in their delivery of history and English content. As Dean of Restorative Justice and Culture, she led an effort that cut out-of-school suspensions by half in a single year.

Krebs said Kansas City Girls Preparatory Academy was conceived by Julie Tomasic, a 28-year veteran of the Kansas City Police Department. Having worked in urban communities, Tomasic was looking to make a difference for the city's youth and thought that could be done through an education platform that has not been available to public school children in minority and poor neighborhoods.

The academy would be an affiliate of the Young Women’s Leadership Network, a network of all-girls schools founded over two decades ago by Ann Rubenstein Tisch, a Kansas City native who 20 years ago opened an all-girls school in Harlem that was modeled after top elite schools.

She later opened schools in every other borough of New York in an effort to ensure college access for young women from low-income neighborhoods.

Kansas City's all-girls academy has yet to be submitted for review and approval by the Missouri State Board of Education. That won't happen until after the academy's sponsor, The Missouri Charter Public School Commission, holds a public forum and public interview with school board members, Krebs said.

He expects the charter to go to the state board by September. Currently the board is without a quorum and cannot conduct any official business. If a charter application is submitted to the board and is not reviewed within 60 days it is automatically approved.