University Academy – A Successful Brookside Charter School

University Academy

University Academy

Because my older daughter is pursuing a teaching career after college, I try to keep up with local public school news and national educational issues.  I’m closely watching the CEE-Trust  proposal presented to the KCMO public school district, and I’ve blogged about Hale Cook Elementary. I’m aware of the excellent reputation Academie Lafayette has–so good there is a waiting list for entry.  I didn’t know much about the University Academy  at 6801 Holmes. So, last week I toured the school and had a lengthy talk with  Executive Director and Superintendent Tony Kline.  

UA Kindergarten Class

UA Kindergarten Class

University Academy is a college preparatory charter public school, funded by KCMO tax dollars and sponsored by UMKC.  This attractive brick building opened in 2004, and has 1050 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.  It is an impressive facility–modern, clean, with lots of light, updated equipment and a beautiful theater.  Eighty percent of the students receive a free or reduced lunch program,and 96% of the students are African American. I suspect these stats are similar to several Kansas City MO public schools but with one big difference – UA kids have much higher overall MAP test scores.  The UA Upper School also received a Bronze Medal for the second consecutive year from U.S. News and World Report.

What is the key to University Academy’s success?

Tony Kline

Tony Kline

The number one thing, Mr Kline told me, is this school does not engage in ‘social promotion’–they will not move a child to the next grade level  until s/he has sufficiently mastered the current grade level. This school also emphasizes, from early grades on, that every child will attend college–and the teachers prepare the students accordingly. Junior and senior high students take ‘college seminar’: a daily class that teaches the kids  how to research and  apply to colleges, how to write entrance essays and pursue scholarships. These students receive intense tutoring for ACT tests and take field trips to various colleges and universities outside the KC area. Every acceptance letter is proudly displayed  on  classroom windows. In addition, all class sizes are small, averaging around 20 persons each, and teacher turnover is low.  Behavior incidents are few (mostly “social media drama”, according to Mr Kline), and all students follow a dress code.  There is an expectation here that every child can succeed academically, and the schoolwork it takes to make it happen will be done.  Parental support is very important, as well as individual student motivation.  

The kids here have some great extra-curricular activities too:  UA boasts an accomplished athletic and performing arts program, and just launched a middle school/high school robotics team this year.  I was impressed by the unique student-created ceramic art displayed around the school.

UA Library

UA Library

Like Academie Lafayette, there is a spring lottery for entrance to the school.  Demand is greater than the supply of spots available.  And students should start UA as a kindergarteners –it is challenging to transfer here from another school as there are very few open slots and attrition is low.  UA also offers on site dental and medical clinics, sponsored by UMKC and Children’s Mercy Hospital.  And through the generosity of the school’s supporters,  every graduate is eligible for ongoing scholarships each semester they are enrolled in college. The graduating class of 2013 received a combined  $1.35 million in scholarships among the 40 students.  

What’s the next goal for Mr Kline?  He would like to someday add a preschool, but that would mean adding another building.  He would also like to see the school more racially diverse.  Kline is well aware that  many Brookside area families jump the state line to attend Kansas public schools, or pay expensive tuition bills for private school due to serious issues with the Kansas City Public School system.

His challenge–even with the academic achievement recognition, college prep curriculum and a state of the art building in a convenient location–is finding incentives for parents to consider his school before making the decision to move or attend private school.

What’s Next for Hale Cook Elementary?

As a real estate agent, I am often asked about the public school districts in the metro area.  It’s no secret that many KCMO families move to Kansas or another neighboring Missouri school district when their kids reach school age.  A recent study by the Kauffman Foundation estimates that less than 10% of the approximately 6000 elementary school aged children living in zip codes 64112, 64113 and 64114 attend a public school. But that’s what Friends of Hale Cook are trying to change. Located at 7302 Pennsylvania, this non-profit group is trying to re-open Hale Cook as a  neighborhood school managed  by  the KCMO district .

So will the school be ready for the 2013-2014 school year?  Too early to say.  Kansas City School Superintendent Steven Green and Mayor Sly James are supportive,  and the  next step is the feasibility study which will be taken to the school board in the fall. Friends of Hale Cook welcome all area residents to take the study–and it’s easy to do.  Just go to the Hale Cook website  and click on the link.  It took me less than five minutes to complete.

Although operated by the KCMO school district, Hale Cook  will feature focused  and  constant parent involvement with volunteers in every classroom. The  advisory board will push to partner with the hiring of the principal and teachers.  Even though the school is still  in the  planning stages,  many teachers who live in the area have contacted the Hale Cook volunteers, expressing  interest in working at the school.

In the meantime, Friends of Hale Cook are maintaining a very visible profile in the community.  Yard signs are visible,  there are regular meetings and events open to the public, and the group has a grant from the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce to grow food on the school grounds for the needy–drive by and see the garden!

Friends of Hale Cook is the best example of a group of parents committed to changing the reputation of the KCMO school district by bringing back this community school. It’s a true grassroots movement. So how will the school district respond? Will they support Hale Cook, cooperate with parents, push through entrenched bureaucracy to get the school open? This will be a test.  The KCMO school board is always talking, talking, talking about ‘getting the community and business leaders involved’ to improve the schools.  Here’s the  opportunity to see if they mean what they say.  Prove it, KCMO school board, by supporting Hale Cook. Embrace the  advisory board, partner with the parents and volunteers. And please voice your opinion by taking part in the survey.

How Does the KCMO School District Affect Brookside Home Sales?

Like most places, Kansas City MO offers pros and cons for potential  home buyers.  So many of the city’s amenities are here:  the Country Club Plaza, Power and Light entertainment district, several museums and theaters, the stunning new Kaufman Center for the Performing Arts, Stowers Institute, the University of Missouri Kansas City..and more.  You can live in a condo downtown, or in a charming 1920s bungalow in Brookside.  Negatives include a high crime rate,  an earnings tax and the KCMO public school system, which once again is in danger of losing it’s accreditation.

Last week, the Kansas City Star featured a front page story “Housing Market Reflects School Woes”.  This story focused on a Brookside couple who has been trying to sell their house for over a year, and emphasized how the school district’s problems will even further spurn buyers away  from buying their home.


As a Brookside resident and agent who sells many homes in the area, I am actually  amazed at how Brookside remains a very desirable location for home buyers, despite the reputation of the public schools. The majority of buyers for this area already know the troubled history of the school district but want to live here anyway.  Buyers appreciate the older homes,and tall,mature trees, the ability to walk to Brookside shops and restaurants, the Trolley  Track Trail …they like the friendliness of the neighbors, the proximity to the Plaza, museums, the Crossroads district and downtown.  Many buyers are single, newly married with no children, or empty nesters moving in from bland suburbia. There are families with children here–who attend private schools or the excellent French immersion charter school, Academie Layfayette. Some do attend KCMO public schools.

Of course it would be better for Brookside residents if  the  school  district had an excelllent reputation.   And it’s true that some buyers specifically bypass the area due to the  public schools. But it’s a tribute to the local homeowners and business owners who keep Brookside one of the best places to live in the city.  The reason that house hasn’t sold in over a year  isn’t solely due to the poor school system. I’m guessing it’s a challenging location, priced too high, or needs much updating. Even if the school system improves–the house itself has to be desirable, not just the location.

Back to School Dates – Please Drive Cautiously in Brookside!

You drive the same route every day…but the next couple of weeks will be different!  The school calendar is showing start dates for area grade and high schools. Here in Brookside,  please note the dates below when children will be heading back to school that first day:

Monday, August 15:  Southwest Charter, 6512  Wornall          

                                                University Academy, 6801 Holmes         

Tuesday, August 16:  St Peter’s School, 6415 Holmes

Thursday, August 18:  St Teresa’s Academy, 5600 Main

Wednesday, August 24: Academie Layfayette, 6903 Oak

As you drive to your destination in the morning, please be aware of kids walking and riding bikes to school, and crossing the streets.  Be aware of increased auto and bus traffic for drop offs near these addresses. 

Thank you!



New Neighborhood School? Hale Cook Elementary

It’s well-known that the Kansas City Missouri school district suffers from a poor reputation.  As a real estate agent, I am often asked, ‘what about the schools?’. Answering that one in a diplomatic yet informative way can be a challenge.  I consistently tour houses for sale where the owners want to move to enroll their children in a Kansas school district.  Still, there are options for Brookside/Waldo families…and a group of residents is trying to add another one.

Hale Cook Elementary, at 7302 Pennsylvania, is trying to re-open in the fall of 2011 as a neighborhood school.  It would be operated by the Kansas City MO public school system, with heavy parental involvement.  I believe 300 students need to sign up before the school district will proceed with the details of re-opening the building.  This is GREAT news!

The school would have a pre-K tuition based program, and the elementary classes would run through grade 6.  Boundaries for  the school enrollment: State Line to Holmes, 75th to Brush Creek.  No bussing for these students, but hopefully before and after-school programs, plus art,  music and foreign language classes.  What is so different about Hale Cook is it’s  a community based movement to re-open the school, not a school district directive.  Strong parental input and participation will be expected and required, and these parents will have a say in faculty selection and budget.  Sounds like a promising formula for success.                                                    

Hale Cook Elementary, 7302 Pennsylvania

As a personal interest, I follow education issues closely. My daughter wants to be a teacher, and at one time, I did as well.  In an urban school environment, it’s often the teachers that get the blame for a poor performing student. The pay for performance reform has some merit. I won’t  get into the tenure argument here.  But the emphasis on learning and importance of a good education must come first from the home environment–and that means parents (or guardians) who take an active interest in the child’s education.  By having these local parents band together and actually do something about re-opening a neighborhood school shows the community, and the KCMO school district, that change can happen when parents get involved.  Wouldn’t it be nice if this initiative was coming from the KCMO school district?  Sure.  But I’ll bet you things will move along much faster precisely because the active residents want to make it happen. The big question?  How much of a help — or a hinderance–will the school district be?

Everyone is invited to the Open House at Hale Cook on  Sunday, January 30 from 3-5pm. Stop by, learn more, tour the building,  get involved if you like.  This is the beginning of a story that could provide another option for children in the Brookside/Waldo area.