Kansas City’s school board president this week called for peace and a time of healing in the school district’s struggle over African-centered education.
Airick Leonard West, speaking on his own behalf and not the board’s, said the district has offered to discuss ways that the founders of the program could have leadership roles, although they won’t be running the school.
But the district is moving toward the Aug. 13 opening day for its African-Centered College Preparatory Academy still mostly unsure if the long-running dispute is easing or not.
The new K-12 school replaces the Afrikan-Centered Education Collegium Campus, a contract school whose leadership included the head of the campus, Audrey Bullard, and the campus board chair, Ajamu Webster.
The call for peace brought no new formal contact between the program founders and the district.
The offer West mentioned has actually been a standing offer that Superintendent Steve Green said he discussed with Webster in May in some nine hours of mediation with Mayor Sly James.
“That still stands as something we’re willing to consider,” Green said.
But there have been no formal discussions since then, he said.
Neither Webster nor Bullard returned several phone messages left by The Star this week.
The week was instead marked by delays in distributing teacher paychecks because the outgoing program needed reimbursements of federal funds that had to pass through the school district.
A federal Title I payment was made to the program Friday, Green said, and a food service payment would be sent early next week.
The school, which had some 1,000 students a year ago, has been straining to bring families back, although prospective enrollment that had been sitting at 110 has pushed well above 500 students in the past several weeks, Green said.
Some of the parents had protested at district events sharing information and promoting the new school.
Green had been hoping for a more amicable transition. He said he talked with Webster about a possible role for the program founders as “keepers of the culture.” They could serve as advisers ensuring that “the best practices around the rites and rituals that worked in the past continue in this new era,” he said.
Green also wanted to have a founders day to recognize the work they have done that made African-centered education one of the district’s most successful programs.
Bullard and Webster and others had struggled for some 25 years establishing the often misunderstood ethnic-centered education concept in Kansas City.
The program that had been successful as an elementary school at Chick Elementary School finally set up to grow into a full K-12 program when it moved onto the campus at the former Southeast High School in 2007.
Recurring disputes over funding and contracts mounted during Superintendent John Covington’s administration and reached their end under Green.
West, in a statement distributed on Facebook, said he wanted to correct several misunderstandings that he said intensified what had become a hostile dispute in public meetings.
The administration determined there were too many flaws in its contract with the founders, he said. The district is not accusing the program of stealing money, he said. The contract school funding process was simply inequitable and proved unworkable.
The district remains committed to providing African-centered education, he said. And the district values and honors the work and sacrifice of the program founders.
“It’s time for us as a community to heal,” he said.