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Parents Begin Campaign To Reopen Southwest As Project-Based Learning School

Elle Moxley
KCUR 89.3

Maybe you’ve noticed the yard signs featuring a pixelated, rainbow “U” popping up in the city’s southwest quadrant.

Parents who want to see the former Southwest Early College Campus reopened as a project-based learning high school met Wednesday at Bier Station in the Waldo neighborhood.

Kansas City Public Schools closed Southwest last spring after several tumultuous years. Jason Parson, spokesman for the Uniting at Southwest movement, stressed that no one’s approached KCPS yet.

“We’re not there yet,” says Parson. “We’re not having any discussions with the school district about whether it’s a partnership or not. None of that is happening. All we’re doing now is seeing if there’s demand.”

Southwest first opened in 1927. It was operated as a charter school from 1999 to 2005 before the district reopened it in 2008 to house its early college program. An influx of students from Westport High School after “rightsizing” dramatically changed the dynamics at Southwest. The school never really recovered. In 2014, Academie Lafayette, the French immersion charter school, approached KCPS about the possibility of a partnership at Southwest. But that deal ultimately fell through.

Academie Lafayette recently announced it would purchase the former Derrick Thomas Academy and open an International Baccalaureate high school in midtown.

Leo Dickson is the parent of two kids – his daughter is a second grader at Academie Lafayette, and his son will start kindergarten in the fall. Although it’s likely Academie Lafayette will have opened its high school by the time Dickson’s kids are old enough to attend, he’s more interested in project-based learning.

“I know I want a vigorous, diversified high school for my children,” Dickson says.

Dickson, who is black, says he wants his kids to go to racially and economically diverse high school.

“What I love about the project is it’s not just Brookside-Waldo focused,” he says. “It is focused on the east side of Troost. It is focused a little bit further north, a little further south. It’s trying to kind of embody the entire community of Kansas City.”

A town hall is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, May 6, at Southeast Library, 6242 Swope Parkway. As of Thursday, 980 people had taken a survey the group put together to gauge  interest in the project.

It asks if respondents would rather send their kids to a KCPS, charter or private high school.

But the district has distanced itself from the parents’ efforts. In an email, a KCPS spokeswoman wrote, “We are NOT involved at all.”

Elle Moxley covers Missouri schools and politics for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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