Supporters rally to reverse decision to close Gordon Parks Elementary

Sister Berta Sailer rallied parents and supporters of Gordon Parks Elementary School yesterday, urging them to call state officials who have ordered the school to close. She says the State Board of Education needs to come to Kansas City to see the school for themselves, rather than just closing it based on test scores.

How would you judge the success of an elementary school?

The state, last week, said it judged Gordon Parks Elementary School in the Volker neighborhood a failure….because of low scores on state performance tests.

Parents, graduates and neighbors said yesterday they consider the charter school a success …and gave dozens of reasons why.

“Jefferson City made another huge error and we have got to fix it,” Sister Berta Sailer told a crowd of parents and school supporters at a press conference.

She was referring to the state’s sudden decision last week to shut the school almost immediately.

In fact, its staff was preparing to shut its doors today, but an injunction yesterday will allow students to finish out the extended school year into next month.

A court hearing on a permanent injunction against closing the school is scheduled in late July.

Sailer of Operation Breakthrough was instrumental in starting the school, which was founded by Dorothy Curry and Sue Jarvis, two Kansas City women who saw a need as they volunteered for her early education child care and social services facility at 31st and Troost. The charter school was intended to serve at-risk students and help them reach their potential.

Co-founder Dorothy Curry acknowledges school test scores were low, but said Gordon Parks caters to students who often entered the school system several years behind. About 95 percent of the students qualified for the free/reduced lunch program, a common indicator of low-income used by schools.  About 15 percent of the students qualified for special education classes.

“The people making this odd decision have not met these children and families,” Sailer said. “We need to fight to reverse this.”

A parade of parents and former students then took the microphone to tell their stories of success at Gordon Parks.

Nicholas Cooper credits Gordon Parks for giving him a good educational start. He plans to go to medical school after graduating from high school this month.

Nicholas Cooper entered Gordon Parks in 2000 when he was attending Operation Breakthrough. He graduated from the charter school in 2005, and will be graduating this year from Hogan Preparatory Academy, a public charter high school, in the top of his class.

“I’m going to go on to medical school,” he told the group, in great part because of the elementary education and extra help he got from Gordon Parks.

The school’s board president, Doug Curry, echoed the theme that those who have actually been involved with the school have seen many proofs of success.

“This is a shock to us because we have all seen the great work that happens at Gordon Parks,” he said. “We are outraged that a group of people from outside Kansas City are making this decision.”

Sailer acknowledged that there is no appeal process when the state decides to close a charter school, but she argues that there should be.

“People should call them up,” she said. “They need to let the school speak. They need to let these parents talk.”

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