Judge halts closing of Gordon Parks Elementary School

Gordon Parks Elementary School can remain open at least through June.

A circuit court judge on Tuesday granted a temporary stay sought by the school after state education officials voted last week to pull the school’s charter.

The state cited years of poor performance by Parks students on tests. School officials countered that the children, most of whom live in poverty, were making progress.

The ruling by Cole County Circuit Court Judge Daniel R. Green will allow Gordon Parks to remain open through the end of scheduled classes in late June. A court hearing is scheduled for July 26 on the school’s request for a permanent injunction.

In the meantime, the judge instructed the state to continue to fund the charter school at 3715 Wyoming St.

Sarah Potter, spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, could not be reached Tuesday.

Cheers and hugs erupted during a rally at the charter school Tuesday afternoon when board President Doug Curry made the announcement. Teachers, students, parents and former students had assembled in the midtown school’s gymnasium to gather momentum to fight the school’s ordered closing. Supporters had planned a petition drive, a letter-writing campaign and possibly other measures to fight the state’s decision.

The judge’s reprieve came one day before what would have been the state-directed last day of school.

“This is a great thing because it allows us to continue to focus on our mission, which is helping an urban population of kids at the school,” Curry said of the ruling. “We certainly have some operational challenges because we’re still faced with the uncertainty of what happens in July.”

Curry said that means uncertainty for staff about their jobs and for the children and their parents about where they will be going to school next year.

The State Board of Education, on the recommendation of the department, voted unanimously to deny the school a new charter. Officials cited poor results on state achievement tests over the school’s history. Last year, fewer than 13 percent of Parks students were proficient in English language arts, and fewer than 17 percent were proficient in math.

School officials said the 2011-12 year saw a significant loss of teachers and top-performing students to the new Crossroads Academy charter school.

Nonetheless, the state’s decision shocked staff members and parents at Parks, and disappointed students.

Celestria Gilyard, whose son is in the fifth grade at Gordon Parks and who hoped to send her younger son there for kindergarten in the fall, said students just recently took this year’s achievement test.

“We haven’t gotten the scores for this year, so how do they know whether they have improved or not?” Gilyard asked Tuesday. “We literally heard that the school was closing right after the fifth-graders stopped taking the test.”

Gilyard said her son’s math skills were below his grade level when he transferred from the Kansas City Public Schools, but he has now caught up after attending Gordon Parks.

The school is sponsored by the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, which wanted the state to issue a new five-year charter.

“Now that it’s in the litigation process, what we’ll need to do is let that process work and continue to support and affirm all the good things that Gordon Parks has done for the students,” said Vici Hughes, director of the Midwest Center for Charter Schools and Urban Education at the university.

Moments before the announcement Tuesday, Gordon Parks’ co-founder Dorothy Curry had been encouraging local community supporters to tend to the school’s garden after the building closes. And students had classroom photos taken earlier in the day, preparation for a packet of memories each child was to receive on Wednesday.

“We got Gordon Parks back,” yelled an excited Dylan Pitman, a third-grader at the school. Tuesday was Dylan’s ninth birthday.

The Star’s Mary Sanchez contributed to this report.

Related stories from Kansas City Star