On opening day, Kansas City school enrollment up

Kansas City Public Schools opened Monday with about a thousand more students than a year ago, including a full house at the district’s new African Centered College Preparatory Academy.

“I’m happy they chose us,” new principal Joseph Williams III said.

The district spent the spring and summer in a recruiting campaign, hoping to keep families connected to a school system that lost its accreditation and is in a turnaround effort with the state.

A steady enrollment decline had put the district’s K-12 enrollment at 15,826 in 2011-2012, but the preliminary enrollment was at 16,787 Monday and will likely grow as late enrollments occur.

Two charter schools — Renaissance Academy and the Urban Community Leadership Academy — closed at the end of the last school year, so many families were looking for new school options this year.

The district also was working to keep families in its African-centered school after it ended a contract with the founders of the program at the end of the last school year.

The African-centered campus at Meyer Boulevard and Swope Parkway, which had about 1,000 students a year ago, had more than 1,200 enrolled by opening day this year.

Earlier this summer, Williams wasn’t sure if his school would have enough students to support programs such as band and sports, he said.

But now everything seems in play. District athletic director Kimble Anders brought a team into the school to recruit more boys and girls during lunch.

“And he had 50 more names,” Williams said, “signing up for football, volleyball, soccer and cross country.”

Board member Carl Evans visited several schools throughout the day and was relieved, he said, to see signs of a smooth opening everywhere he went.

“It brings a smile to my face,” he said.

Superintendent Steve Green spent the morning touring many of the schools and helping volunteers distribute 10,000 backpacks — one for each elementary student. A partnership with Heart to Heart International and other sponsors for the second year provided the backpacks, which are also stocked with school supplies and personal hygiene items.

“I think there is some hope and optimism,” Green said. “I’m encouraged that people considering exiting have decided to stay.”