KC charter school ends first year of longer days
Monday, June 18, 2012
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — These singing, chanting Kauffman School fifth-graders anticipated questions about fatigue.
"Kauffman School, good as gold, let me see your fingers roll.."
If there was any despair that they were still in school on June 12, they were hiding it well as they twirled their hands and counted up by fours to 48.
".La, la, la, la — that's how we roll our fours."
Since the end of August, they've been rising to catch buses as early as 6:30 a.m., plowing through the charter school's extra-long days, arriving back at their bus stops at 5:30 p.m., or later.
"We still show stamina," student A.J. Weston. Jr. said after the rhythmic demo.
"You have to wake up early," said Ryan Watkins. "I get tired a lot. But (ambition for college) is what makes me persevere."
When the school year started, 103 children were enrolled in the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation's attempt to run its own charter school — an endeavor being watched nationally as the well-known research foundation becomes the practitioner.
More than nine months later, as the inaugural class's fifth-grade year finally ends this week, 91 are still on board.
Between the longer year and the longer days, they've spent 35 percent more time in school than students on a regular school calendar.They've endured daily double doses of math and reading and extra tutoring.
In return, Principal Hannah Lofthus said, the students on average have gained 2.4 grade levels in math, 2.1 grade levels in reading and 2.3 grade levels in science.
Even so, because of how far they have to come, most of the students are still performing below the fifth-grade level, Lofthus said.
"It's not magic," she said. "We're not sprinkling fairy dust."
Education is hard work, and the school will need to do more to catch its students up with their national peers on the path to college and careers.
Even in the last week, a suggestion of letting up struck the wrong chord.
Some of the students in teacher Jason Zimmerman's math class dropped their jaws, smiled and cheered Tuesday morning when the teacher told them the news about the big grade level gains in math.
They had only four days left in the school year, Zimmerman said, and he asked the happy students what that meant.
One boy with his hand raised wondered if they might be able to "take it easy."
No. They're in the school-year equivalent of the ongoing NBA championship basketball games, Zimmerman said. Charging through the finals.
And even then they're not off the hook.
Student Melvin Harrison noted with a mix of pride and a little weariness that he has picked up the math and reading packets the school is sending home with them.
"I'll have no summer slump," he said.
The school, housed temporarily in a renovated printing company building in Westport, serves children primarily from Kansas City's five poorest ZIP codes.
It plans to enroll about 100 new fifth-graders every year, expanding the school upward one year at a time until it is serving the fifth through 12th grades. In two years, the school is moving to a new campus at the former Church of the Nazarene world headquarters.
The foundation wants to accumulate and demonstrate the best practices that can propel high-poverty students into college and careers, equipped to succeed.
Grade level performance growth at the school is based on the Northwest Evaluation Association's Measures of Academic Progress. The school also gave its students the Missouri state tests, and those results will come later this summer.
In many ways the school is operating the same as any public school, doing things that other schools can do.
"We didn't want to create a white elephant," said Munro Richardson, the vice president for education at the Kauffman Foundation.
But there are differences.
The school is only enrolling new students at the fifth grade. Those Kauffman students moving up year by year will be the only students in the higher grades. The school is not taking in new students whenever they come and at whatever grade as the Kansas City Public Schools surrounding it must do.
"There are pieces we haven't been able to do," Richardson said. "We're not claiming we have solved everything. (But) most of what we've done can be done in other schools."
The school also benefited from about $10 million the foundation invested in research, including touring high-performing schools across the country, and in obtaining and renovating the school property. But it is operating on the same public funds as other public schools. It pays its teachers at the same scale as the Kansas City Public Schools, yet it is adding 10 percent to compensate for the longer hours, Lofthus said.
Just as most of the students and parents survived Year One, so have most of the teachers.
It's been a tough year, Richardson said. The school had trouble smoothing out bus routes at the start. One teacher left in midyear.
But the school staff members believe they succeeded in laying down an environment that will serve the students beyond test performance.
Zimmerman remembers a school trip to the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and seeing students in the dorm.
"So many of them felt college in such a tangible way," he said.
Everyone, teachers and students, are trying to sustain "a growth mindset," said writing teacher Lindsey Dolge, "to never be complacent."
What remains to be seen is if the school can maintain its intensity going forward as it grows.
About half of the 12 students who did not finish the year fell out of the school because either the student or a parent chose not to keep up with the school's regimen, Lofthus said. Others moved away.
She has found room within the schedule, she said, to trim the length of the day by an hour next year, starting a half hour later and quitting 30 minutes earlier.
Richardson said he's been adjusting his approach, not thinking so much on how to help staff and students find a work-life balance, but rather to help everyone feel more supported and rewarded in the work they're doing. The challenge is to be able to sustain the work of helping children close wide achievement gaps.
"We don't know of any way but to put in more time," he said.
When it comes to all the efforts the Kauffman Foundation has put into education, he said, putting theory into practice "is the hardest work we've ever done."
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