Wendell Phillips school supporters fight closure
If there were a theme to the master plan that Kansas City Public Schools officials rolled out Wednesday night, it might be school within a school.
Among other things, the plan calls for moving the students, teachers and administrators who make up Wendell Phillips Elementary School into the building that is Crispus Attucks Elementary, a school that district officials for now are calling Phillips at Attucks.
The Phillips building would become a district-sponsored charter school — Kansas City Neighborhood Academy — backed by the Urban Neighborhood Initiative and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
Also, the district’s budget-neutral plan calls for the African-Centered Preparatory Academy, at 3500 E. Meyer Blvd., to function as a comprehensive neighborhood school.
Most of the 350 students currently at Southwest Early College Campus high school, which the district is closing, would move into the AC Prep building, formerly Southeast High School. Other Southwest students would move into Central, East or Northeast high schools. The AC Prep building would no longer bear that name.
But to save the African-centered education concept, district officials have decided to put the African-Centered Preparatory Academy on one floor of the neighborhood high school starting in the fall of 2016.
Students from an African-centered K-8 school, which is on that same campus, would feed into the single-floor African-Centered Academy.
This plan would allow students attending the African-Centered Academy to be a part of extracurricular activities such as athletics and clubs at the neighborhood school, said Vickie Murillo, chief academic and accountability officer. “We have a lot of parents and students who like that concept,” Murillo said, explaining that small enrollment has meant extracurricular activities weren’t feasible at the African-centered high school.
Board members peppered district officials with questions about putting one high school inside another. “It is like you were the owner of the house and now are being relocated to a room of the house,” board member Amy Hartsfield told district administrators.
The plan also would:
▪ Close Southwest Early College Campus and Satchel Paige Elementary School.
▪ Reconfigure school attendance boundaries.
▪ Reduce the distances students walk to school.
▪ Reduce the numbers of students per classroom phased in over two years.
▪ Implement college and career pathways for high schools.
▪ Phase in, over two years, year-round school for four of the lowest-performing elementary schools starting with Benjamin Banneker Elementary in June 2017.
But it was the fate of Wendell Phillips, at 1619 E. 24th Terrace, that seemed to have many parents in attendance upset. Phillips which gets a lot of support from community volunteers as tutors and mentors for students, is one of the district’s highest-performing schools.
“The worse part about this plan is that you just can’t transfer a culture like they have at Wendell Phillips,” said Gene Timmons, a Presbyterian minister whose wife volunteers at Phillips. “It has been honed over years. I can’t even imagine how you redevelop that.”
Lisa Barner, a parent of a first-grader at Phillips, said the district’s plan “makes no sense. … Why would you break up something that doesn’t need fixing? There are plenty of things in the Kansas City school district that need fixing, but Wendell Phillips is not one of them.”
The district has been working on a master plan for its schools for more than two years with the objective of “developing stronger schools, stronger communities and successful students,” said Al Tunis, interim superintendent.
Since November, district officials have held 116 meetings with students, parents and community leaders to come up with the plan presented to the board Wednesday night.
The recommendations, including the proposed closures, consolidations and attendance boundary changes, will affect about 15 percent of the 14,000 students currently in the district. Boundary changes will affect 16 elementary schools, two middle schools and three high schools.
The school board will vote on the plan Feb. 24.