Charter school closing, much to dismay of students - KCTV5

Charter school closing, much to dismay of students, parents, teachers

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It was a heartbreaking day Thursday at one area school after students at a Kansas City charter school were told they wouldn't be coming back to their campus next year.

Teachers at Gordon Parks Elementary, near 37th and Wyoming streets, said it was awful to have to tell their students that next Wednesday would be their final day at the school because the state is shutting them down for good.

Devastated parents said that teachers and staff cared about the students and did wonderful work, but the Missouri education board said after years of woeful academic performance that they could not justify allowing the school to remain open.

Some supporters say strides were being made, but the state refused to consider those improvements.

The school was supposed to be open until June 28, but now parents are left scrambling as they look for childcare, teachers have to search for new jobs and students are left dealing with heartache.

Children crying replaced the usual laughter that fills the hallways after students at Gordon Park Elementary were told the bad news they never saw coming.

"The school is closing. (I feel) sad. (I'll miss the most the) learning and teachers," said third-grader A'yana Walker.

"Because I've been here since kindergarten and it hurts my feelings that the school is going to close," said third-grader Precious Williams.

On Tuesday night, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, known as DESE, decided to shut down the school because of low state test scores.

But teachers said the state board isn't looking at the big picture. Ninety-eight percent of the students who attend the school live in poverty and the staff works hard to help the struggling families overcome many obstacles.

"We eliminate the barriers. Food, we send it home. We eliminate the barriers so they can focus on the learning," said Family Outreach Coordinator Wadandra McBride.

"We have a lot of staff that have been with them for a long time. Close relationships. It's a family here, not just a school - just a family," said teacher Stacia Milius.

The board president said the state has never even visited their school to see the impact they are making on the children's lives. He said they based their decision solely on last year's test scores and they haven't even had a chance to review the scores of this year's testing to see if any progress was made.

"It was shocking to see the disinterest by the DESE board on our student population. They didn't really seem to connect at all with the 98 percent of children below the poverty line and seemed not to care about children and in the cause that we serve," said Board President Douglas Curry.

Now all 230 students who were planning to fill the classrooms until June 28 have been told their last day is next Wednesday and parents like Joya Trice are in a big bind to find childcare.

"Very blind sided. I can't believe that happened, like I just thought this school would continue to progress and progress," she said. "It's going to be a burden to find somewhere to go, like real fast, in a week's time. Who knows how good that will happen? I'm just shocked. My mind can't process this right now."

Now many are left wondering where the students will go next school year. The school is having an enrollment fair Wednesday at 4 p.m. The goal is the help the parents review their options, like what charter schools they can look at, as well as schools in the district that are near their homes.

KCTV5 talked to the state education officials Thursday afternoon about their decision to revoke the charter.

"Our biggest concern was academic performance, because they are performing significantly lower than other public schools in Kansas City and throughout Missouri," said spokesperson Sarah Potter during a phone interview.

The department also issued a written statement about the decision.

"After careful review of the Gordon Parks Elementary charter school, the State Board of Education voted unanimously not to renew its charter school application and strongly urged the sponsor to close the school. Since 2007, academic performance at the charter school sponsored by University of Central Missouri-Warrensburg has been significantly lower than public schools in Kansas City and throughout Missouri."

Applications for charter schools last for five years. They have to renew the application at that point.

Gordon Parks was originally granted an extension through June 30. When the board looked at their renewal application for this year, they decided they could not let the school remain open.

KCTV5's DeAnn Smith and Dave Jordan contributed to this report.

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