Kansas City Public Schools and Academie Lafayette have reached a groundbreaking agreement that would blend district and charter students at Southwest Early College Campus.
The proposed international high school, announced at a joint news conference Friday, would give the charter school academic control of the school at 6512 Wornall Road as early as fall 2015.
Students graduating from the charter’s K-eighth grade French-immersion schools would flow into the school and join with at least as many district students, who would have to go through a selective application process similar to one for the district’s Lincoln College Preparatory Academy.
The proposal puts on hold the potential sale of the Westport High School building, which the district had recommended selling to a developer who had hoped to make Academie Lafayette a tenant there.
The school systems hope to strengthen neighborhoods by keeping more families in Kansas City and in public schools. But the district will have to provide acceptable options for many current Southwest students who could be displaced.
It’s a daring proposition, Kansas City Superintendent Steve Green told The Star.
“It’s worth the risk, not just for the students of the district and the students of Academie Lafayette, but for how this community can benefit,” he said. “I’m full of excited nervousness.”
If the community supports the plan, the charter would take over operation of the school and supply its staff and curriculum, but it would serve district students along with its charter students.
Students enrolled through the district would still count for the district, both in enrollment and in test scores. But they would be blended with charter students in the classrooms. The school would not be a French-immersion school, but emphasize global, International Baccalaureate programming.
A final decision likely will be made this fall after multiple meetings with parents and the community throughout the summer.
Both education agencies are stepping out on a limb. The district is putting trust in Academie Lafayette’s academics and school management. The charter school is trusting the district’s agreement to give the charter autonomy in the district school building.
The charter’s board is ready to make the leap and partner with Kansas City, Academie Lafayette board president David Cozad told The Star.
“If you don’t accept risks, you never do anything great,” he said. “At some point, you have to move past the ghosts of the past.”
Complicated issues are at play.
Because the new program would have a selection process, many current Southwest students could be displaced, and that is the Kansas City district’s biggest concern, shared by Green and Kansas City school board president Jon Hile.
The district plans to meet with Southwest families one-on-one throughout the year and discuss existing options and potential new ones.
Hile said that he was excited about the possibilities in the partnership but that the current Southwest families would have to be taken care of.
“The current students of Southwest are first in my mind,” Hile said. “I won’t support it if we don’t have an aggressive, positive plan for those students.”
The district has a lot of work to do rebuilding trust with many of the Southwest parents, said Elisha Verge, who has two sons in the school.
Verge was a 1985 graduate of Southwest, and his oldest son was in the original class of sixth-graders when the district reopened the school as an early college program — a class of students who will be graduating in 2015.
The school he had wanted for his sons unraveled after school closings in 2011 brought a sudden wave of students and discipline problems. His younger son will be a ninth-grader this year and may need to find another option if Southwest becomes a selective school.
“Academie Lafayette is going to come in and fix up the school, fix up the track and fix up the field,” Verge said. “Why not for our children? This is going to exclude some of our kids.”
Hile thinks that the administration can support all of its families and that a new Southwest partnership will increase the number of high-quality seats in public schools, drawing in and keeping more families in Kansas City.
“I hope this will give the community pride that Kansas City is on an upward swing,” Hile said.
The current Kansas City staff at Southwest would have to give way to whomever the charter recruits to the school, but Green said he was confident the district would have positions elsewhere for all of Southwest’s staff.
“Their jobs are not in jeopardy,” he said.
A second academically selective magnet school would pose potential challenges to Lincoln Prep that may also be a concern.
The district expects that a new Southwest would bring many new students into the district, but it is also likely that some students now at Lincoln or who might have chosen it in the future might opt for Southwest.
The board will be watching and taking feedback, Hile said, but he noted that Lincoln has a waiting list now, and he expects there will be plenty of students to support both.
“I hope there will be some friendly competition” between two selective schools, he said.
A second selective school also could place more strain on the district’s neighborhood high schools — Central, East and Northeast — whose overall performance would have to overcome the loss of many of their top students.
Kansas City Mayor Sly James said he thinks the partnership will result in more opportunity for strong education and a confidence boost in the city’s neighborhoods.
“This is a huge moment for the entire city, for the families of the district and Academie Lafayette, and for the families I work every day to recruit to this community,” James said in a written statement.
The news will no doubt bring some disappointment to many midtown residents who had been anticipating an Academie Lafayette high school possibly coming to Westport.
The district had recommended selling Westport to Foutch Brothers Real Estate, which was partnered with Academie Lafayette to put a school in the building along with other residential and community uses.
The sale to Foutch Brothers was never contingent on Academie Lafayette being a partner, Hile said, and the Foutch bid may still be a good plan, but the board wants to set aside Westport discussions for now.
“We want to give the community some time to digest it all,” he said.
Academie Lafayette was looking to open a high school in Westport, but the charter’s ability to manage the costs was a concern, Cozad said.
“We tried hard to make that work, and it could’ve worked, but we had a better option” at Southwest, he said.
Steve Foutch wished Academie Lafayette well Friday and reaffirmed his company’s interest in buying Westport.
“Our plans have always been adaptable,” he said.
The district and the charter school have been dancing around the idea of an international high school for several years.
Both had a keen interest in creating an international, multicultural-themed school to attract students graduating from each of their K-eighth grade foreign-language immersion programs.
Two of the district’s more popular schools are Foreign Language Academy and Carver Dual Language Elementary School.
Kansas City board member Airick Leonard West, during his tenure as president, worked for a solution for the district and the charter, Hile said.
The administration was eager to find a joint path, Green said.
“This was born out of the fact that we both long desired a high school … where students would be prepared to participate in a global society,” Green said.
“We believed we could get there faster and better working together than separately.”
Both the district and the charter school boards have received approval to pursue the partnership. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the charter sponsor, University of Central Missouri, have OK’d the proposal, say both board presidents.
Now they want to see what their communities think.
There’s no question it is a radical proposal, the board leaders agreed.
“I like the way the district and the charter are working together in a new and different way for the good of kids,” Cozad said. “It’s setting a new tone. It’s opening the door for more people to come forward with ideas and take a chance.”
To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parent and community meetings
The school district has set up a series of public meetings to discuss plans for Southwest.
Thursday, 6:30 p.m., Southwest Early College Campus, 6512 Wornall Road
July 17, 6:30 p.m., Paseo Academy, 4747 Flora Ave.
July 8, 6 p.m., Paseo Academy
July 22, 6 p.m., Paseo Academy