UCM charter school may not reopen this fall

Written by Muleskinner Staff

By NICOLE COOKE (digitalBURG) – A Kansas City charter school sponsored by the University of Central Missouri is in danger of losing its charter in a few weeks.
Gordon Parks Elementary opened in 1999 and UCM has been the school’s sponsor since the beginning, but that 13-year run could be over after a hearing July 26.
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education decided in April that based on low scores on the Missouri Assessment Program tests, the school’s charter, which was up for its five-year renewal, would not reopen this fall. DESE notified Gordon Parks that the school would be closed after the last day of school in May, meaning summer school wasn’t an option.
The Gordon Parks school board filed suit against DESE, and an injunction was granted by a judge in Cole County, which kept the school open through the summer term.
This all comes after a turbulent three years for the elementary school. Three years ago, the school’s principal and executive director left midway through the school year. An interim principal took over, and two years ago a permanent principal and executive director was hired.
UCM had taken measures to look at the curriculum and instructional strategies to see if they were aligned with the MAP, and it was found they weren’t.
“The students were learning, but it wasn’t taught to be aligned with MAP,” said Vici Hughes, director of charter schools at UCM. “It was more cultural and fine arts focused.”
The school made changes to its curriculum to align strategies to the MAP and its score began to increase. However, that dramatic staffing change caused tension within the school, causing test scores to drop again.
After the new hire, the low-income school received the Missouri School Improvement Grant, which allowed the school to lengthen the school day and improved strategies with reading and math.
The school has recently been improving, and internal data this spring showed “tremendous growth,” Hughes said.
“The board presents info to us as a sponsor on why they should be renewed and we present it to DESE,” she said. “Gordon Parks has served a high-need, high-risk population and because of that, we’ve always looked at data other than MAP scores to look at their student performance.”
Gordon Parks has a student population of 227, with 98 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, and 15 percent that have special needs, two statistics that are much higher than other area schools.
Because of the internal data, UCM supports the school board’s decision to keep the school open. Also, MAP scores were not available at the time of renewal, so the board will be presenting those scores at the July hearing, along with the internal data, to show the school’s improvement.
Hughes said this is the first time a charter has been denied by DESE in Missouri when the sponsor advocated that the charter be renewed.
Now the final decision will be made at a hearing July 26. However, if the school remains open for the 2013-2014 school year, the school could go from a kindergarten through fifth grade school to a kindergarten through first or second grade school due to low enrollment and a small staff.
“The community is standing behind the school and teachers and parents want it to stay open, but many have had to go to other schools because they can’t be assured the school will be open,” Hughes said. “They don’t know what the future is for Gordon Parks.”
Hughes said that UCM officials and the Gordon Parks school board aren’t denying the low test scores, but they see a need for the school to stay open.
“UCM stands behind the renewal, and affirms what the school stands for and the academic services they provide, while understanding those low scores need to be worked on,” she said. “We’re not denying they need to be improved, we just know what great services and the learning environment that school gives the community.”
The school provides “nurturing and care beyond what’s academically available,” said Hughes. If parents need food or supplies for younger children that are not in school, those items are sent home with students to help their families.
Hughes said that there will be no fiscal or operational impact on UCM if the charter is not renewed.
“I think that not having the charter renewed would be more impactful to the students and families of Kansas City who are looking for a quality school in the urban core,” she said.
The Gordon Parks community has taken to the Internet to spread their message. More information and a petition can be found at savegordonparks.com.