Kansas City Charters Plan New Downtown High School
Dean Johnson, the executive director of the successful K-8 charter school, Crossroads Academy, in downtown Kansas City, says the most common question he gets from parents is: when are you going to open a high school?
Now, he has an answer.
The Crossroads Academy and Scuola Vita Nuova, another Kansas City charter school with high test scores and a good reputation among parents, announced Wednesday they will merge organizationally in July 2017. They will keep their current campuses open and unchanged, with plans to partner on a new downtown high school that will open in August 2018.
"We thought, 'what if we got together?' You know, team up and ensure that all our students are guaranteed a seat at a high-quality high school downtown?" Johnson said.
Nicole Goodman, the principal of Scuola Vita Nuova, echoed that thought. Her school has served Kansas City's Northeast neighborhood for more than 15 years.
"Our families have been wanting a high school for years. When their kids get to eighth grade and they start looking around for options, it can be stressful," she said.
Many Scuola Vita Nuova's families end up sending their children to private schools in Kansas City, a "major sacrifice" according to Goodman. More than 90 percent of the school's students get free or reduced price lunch.
The new school will accommodate up to 600 students drawn from the two organization's existing campuses and a new Crossroads elementary school set to open this fall.
Johnson said the two organizations have been in discussion for the past several months. According to officials from both schools, they have much in common.
"Our curricular approaches, the professional development we like our teachers to engage in, the feel of the schools, the way we interact with our families, the overall school cultures — it's all very similar," Johnson said.
According to a release, the new high school will offer a "full complement" of advanced placement courses, a range of electives including music and drama, and other extracurricular activities. Johnson said a driving force behind the merger plan was both schools' need to hit a "critical mass" of students who could accommodate such a program.
Both schools' leaders emphasized that teachers, students, and families of the two existing schools "won't notice much of a difference" as the two organizations merge next year.
In addition, Crossroads announced Wednesday a new elementary school set to open this fall will be housed in the former United Way of Greater Kansas City headquarters on Quality Hill and will be called the Quality Hill Academy.
The announcement of a new high school promises to make waves as Kansas City's downtown undergoes a renaissance. Alex Krause with Show Me KC Schools says young parents who have moved recently to the city center are eager for their children to have education options, particularly beyond elementary school.
"It's hard for them to find a high school they like, and they may just not know the options that are out there. This will give them even more options and parents will be enthusiastic about it," she said.
Johnson said he is mindful of this dynamic. He noted that downtown Kansas City, with attractions like the Public Library Central Branch, Science City at Union Station, and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, is a good place to raise a family.
"Downtown has become a rich environment in which to have a school, and in turn, by the school being here, it helps make the city and downtown more attractive."
At the same time, the charter school landscape in Kansas City is growing more crowded.
Citizens of the World, a highly regarded charter network with schools in California and New York, is set to open a campus in Midtown this fall. Likewise, Kansas City Public Schools recently became the first public school district in Missouri to charter its own school, calling it the Kansas City Neighborhood Academy, focused on a neighborhood in the city's east side.
Aaron North with the Kauffman Foundation said the merger of two successful charter schools could set an interesting model for the future.
"It's not that common. These are two schools that will retain what they do well but will leverage each other's strengths. As you look around Kansas City, there are some great charter schools and some that struggle. Could we see more partnerships so that more kids can get high-quality schools? We'll see."
Kyle Palmer is KCUR's morning newscaster. You can follow him on Twitter @kcurkyle.