Academie Lafayette aims to open upper-class campus at Southwest - KCTV5 News

Academie Lafayette aims to open upper-class campus at Southwest High

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Southwest High Southwest High
Jon Hile, Stephen Green at Friday's announcement Jon Hile, Stephen Green at Friday's announcement

Popular charter school Academie Lafayette apparently will get its first high school at the trouble-plagued Southwest High School. A previous charter school effort failed at the Brookside area school.

The partnership between Academie Lafayette, a French-immersion charter school, and the Kansas City School District was announced during a noon news conference. The district will retain ownership of the building but the charter school will operate the school including hiring and retaining teachers.

The high school will be academically rigorous and provide foreign language learning opportunities, but the core curriculum will be taught in English. Each grade is expected to have about 100 to 120 students initially.

District officials said district students could apply to attend the charter school much as students have to apply and meet standards to attend the district's Lincoln College Preparatory Academy. However, current Southwest students who don't meet the standards will have to go to another public school.

Charter school and district officials said there are many details still to be worked out but the change at Southwest High is expected to occur at the start of the 2015-2016 school year.

Academie Lafayette, which has been opened for more than 15 years, has long been a kindergarten through eighth-grade school. Due to demand, the school has wanted to expand and had recently sought to move into the closed Westport High School.

But the school board, which included members no longer on the current board, earlier this year blocked that from occurring.

The new school board unanimously has approved the partnership with the charter school.

Representatives for both the school district and the charter school said they are excited about the opportunities.

Board president Jon Hile said it is a unique and innovative educational partnership that will offer "an academically rigorous and diverse signature public charter high school."

He also sought to erase some concerns.

"I want to assure our stakeholders that this announcement is the beginning of our process, not the end," he said, adding that public meetings will be held over the course of the summer to get public feedback.

The hope is both boards formally will approve the partnership in the fall.

"Nothing can change a child's trajectory like a quality education and that remains elusive for too many of our city's students," Kansas City Mayor Sly James said in a news release. "I applaud the leadership of both the district and Academie Lafayette for taking an innovative approach to increasing quality seats in our schools."

Southwest High is nearly nine decades old and was once one of the crown jewels of the district.

"When I was young man growing up in Kansas City, Southwest High School was synonymous with greatness," James said. "Today begins the school's journey back to greatness," he said.

"Having a school with an international baccalaureate and international language program contributes to my vision of Kansas City being home to world-class education and it is simply the right, smart thing to do," James said.

Superintendent Stephen Green said recent violence at the school did not lead to this decision, saying district and charter school officials have "been talking about this for quite some time."

The district and charter school will have an equal number of slots for students.

"It is our sincere hope that this partnership will be win for every family who lives within the Kansas City Public School boundaries," said Green, who once served three years on the Academie Lafayette board.

He added that the charter school setting up shop inside Southwest as opposed to Westport or another school "from a cost perspective and, I think, from a program perspective this seemed to be the best fit."

While others were enthusiastic, Green repeatedly urged caution and said this is "not a done deal," and it could fall apart before the agreement is finalized. Others at the new conference were more hopeful about reaching a successful conclusion.

In the 1990s, Southwest became a charter school. When that effort failed, the charter school shuttered its doors in 2005. The district reopened it as Southwest Early College Campus in 2008.

But its recent history has been turbulent with fires, fights and crimes occurring at the school.

In April, a 14-year-old girl said she was raped at the school. And last year, a 14-year-old boy and a 15-year-old boy were charged with first-degree rape after an attack at the school.

Some parents aren't happy about the proposal. One concern is that students who now attend Southwest won't qualify for the new school.

"They have Lincoln. Lincoln is one of a kind. They need to just let that bed. Don't try to be a trendsetter," said parent Tanya Warren. "The kids that are here. They are already struggling. I think they should just figure out the problems and the loopholes that they have and work on fixing that and making the kids better kids."

Existing teachers will continue to work through the upcoming school year. After that, they can apply for jobs within the Kansas City School District or apply to work at Southwest. An international search will be done for the principal.

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