Volker charter school’s closing shocks staff and students

The closing of Gordon Parks Elementary Charter School is a tragedy, according to one of the school’s founders.

Dorothy Curry said yesterday that the school’s board, teachers and students were shocked to learn the State Board of Education had denied their charter renewal, forcing the school to close next Wednesday.

A spokesperson for the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) said the department recommended the application renewal be denied. A presentation supplied by DESE showed graphs of Gordon Park’s test scores showing they were lower than average scores in the Kansas City School District and across the state.

“As you can see from the school’s performance, they are in the bottom of the state below the state average and below Kansas City Schools. The students have been falling behind their peers in other districts for the past 3 years. The State Board voted unanimously to deny their application for charter renewal,” DESE spokesperson Sarah Potter said .

The school at 3715 Wyoming in the Volker neighborhood opened 13 years ago. It was founded by Curry and Sue Jarvis, two Kansas City women who volunteered at Operation Breakthrough on Troost, an early education child care and social services facility that serves the urban core. Gordon Parks was founded to serve at-risk students and help them reach their potential, according to the school’s website.

Curry says the school was aware that test scores were low, but Gordon Parks catered 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 (the highest ratio among Kansas City charter schools) qualified for special education classes.

“Our students came to us with many needs that had to be addressed,” she said. “We were helping the students get to the place where they could learn.”

She’s angry that state officials who closed the school relied only on test scores.

“They never came to look at the school. They didn’t care to understand,” she said. “If there aren’t schools like ours, these children will be lost.”

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