Published Online: June 30, 2014

Officials: Kansas City charter school improving

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City charter school that sued the state last year in order to remain open is being praised for improvements it made during the last school year under a new leadership team.

Gordon Parks Elementary School, which serves some of Kansas City's neediest children, is a much stronger school this year, said Bob Taylor, the Missouri coordinator of the federal School Improvement Grants program. The school received the grant in the 2012-2013 school year because its academic performance was in the bottom 5 percent among all Missouri schools, The Kansas City Star reported (http://bit.ly/1m2hreU ).

"It's like a new school," Taylor said. "With everything we've seen so far, the compass is pointing north. It's like night and day."

This year's school served about 80 students in kindergarten through second grade, rather than the previous K-5 curriculum. It is sponsored by the University of Central Missouri's Midwest Center for Charter Schools and Urban Education.

A court ruling allowing the school to retain its charter came down last July 29, just three weeks before the first day of school.

That meant the new executive director, Steve Fleming, had to scramble to contact students' families, and find teachers, an office accountant, supplies, fundraising, custodial services, desks, food vendors and buses.

The work appears to have paid off. Instructional coach Ali Bunten said she has tracked progress in attendance, discipline and academic performance this year.

The school had 92 percent of its children in class at least 90 percent of the time this year, Bunten said. And on national STAR literacy and reading assessments, Gordon Parks reported the percentage of kindergartners meeting expected benchmarks rose from 63 percent at the start of the year to 86 percent at the end, while first-graders improved from 41 percent to 87 percent and second-graders jumped from 34 percent to 75 percent.

On math and number identification assessments, kindergartners at or above the benchmark went from 25 percent to 100 percent, first-graders rose from 70 percent to 87 percent, and second-graders rose from 25 percent to 95 percent, the school reported.

The improvement comes at a school where 98 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and many of its families have difficulty maintaining homes and properly feeding their children.

Bunten attributes the success to efforts to establish a strong culture around attendance, discipline and performance and to reacting to each child's needs on a daily basis.

The school will add a higher grade level a year at a time and will begin taking the state performance tests again next year.

"We've set the culture," Fleming said. "We've done the foundational things. I'm really looking forward to next year."

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com


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