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Education Opinion

Closing the Opportunity Gap at University Academy

By Tom Vander Ark — October 11, 2016 2 min read
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University Academy is a K-12 charter school, located in Kansas City, Missouri. Founded by philanthropists and community leaders Shirley Bush Helzberg, Barnett Helzberg, Tom Bloch and Lynne Brown, the school opened its doors in 2000 as a middle school with plans to extend to high school.

By 2005, the school grew to K-12 and moved to a permanent campus just a few miles south of its sponsor, the University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC).

Today, the school serves just over 1,000 students. 98 percent are African-American and 70 percent are socio-economically disadvantaged. Over the past six years, the school has risen to the ranks of the most elite public schools in the state.

In 2016, the Upper School (grades 9-12) had the highest standardized state test scores in Missouri, including 100 percent advanced/proficiency on the Algebra I exam. The class of 2015 earned a combined $6.3 million in college scholarships, as well as the school’s first Ivy League acceptance.

Since 2004, 100 percent of UA graduates have been accepted to college, and almost 60 percent graduate with a BA or higher. By contrast, the national average for low income college graduation is 9 percent.

So what makes UA different? Is the commitment and dedication of its founders and long-time board members? Is it the 23 community partners that help offer an array of enrichment programs to the students? Is it the high level rigor instruction and focus on mastery learning that leads to these results? Or, is it a combination of a variety of these things and more?

Probably the most important key to their success is the mindset and belief that all kids can achieve if provided the same opportunities afforded to the wealthiest communities.

From the board of directors to administrators to teachers, all are focused on providing not only a top-notch college prep education for their students, but also the opportunities to grow and develop as a leader.

To do this, the school is committed to extraordinary enrichment opportunities, such as travel abroad programs for upper classmen, guest artist workshops, robotics, summer camps for middle schoolers and the traditional American high school extra-curriculars that many charter schools leave behind. Activities like football, track, basketball, baseball, volleyball, band, orchestra, debate team and academic decathlon. Over time, these enrichment opportunities allow students to develop non-academic skills like leadership, grit, teamwork and competitiveness.

UA believes that it is necessary to address the “opportunity gap” in conjunction with addressing the “achievement gap” because they are inter-related. We think UA offers one of the most comprehensive, coherent approaches to college prep in the country.

We look forward to sharing more about UA’s approach to closing the achievement gap and opportunity gap over the coming weeks.

This post is a part of a blog series in the upcoming “Getting Smart on Closing the Opportunity Gap” Smart Bundle produced in partnership with University Academy. Join the conversation on Twitter using #CloseTheOppGap. For more, check out:

The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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