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Looking at whether KCPS could close schools as part of 'Blueprint 2030' plan

A look back at the last time KCPS closed schools
askew elementary school.jpg
Posted at 5:34 AM, Oct 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-18 09:04:14-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Monday afternoon, leaders at Kansas City, Missouri, Public Schools invite the public to get an update on the Missouri school district’s progress on a new long-term plan called “Blueprint 2030.”

A gallery walk will take place at Wendell Phillips Elementary School at 2400 Prospect Ave. from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Similar events will take place each day this week.

The district is months, if not years, away from completing the plan and implementing the goals of “Blueprint 2030,” but one item up for consideration is closing or consolidating school buildings.

The district last closed schools in 2010 when it repurposed 29 of the district’s 61 school buildings.

In the years following, 17 sites were sold, others are serving KCPS in a different role and some sites are sitting abandoned or have been torn down.

During the same time period, charter school enrollment has grown, while KCPS enrollment has shrunk.

KCPS says the 2021-2022 school year is the first time charter school enrollment within the district boundary surpassed the district’s own enrollment. Data shows 13,375 students are enrolled in various charter schools, while 13,343 students attend KCPS.

A decrease in student population is why the district is considering the possibility of closing schools as it creates the “Blueprint 2030” plan.

“It was very heartbreaking,” Rachel Riley remembered the schools closing in 2010. She’s president of the East 23rd Street PAC Neighborhood Association.

To this day, school sites closed in 2010 in and around her neighborhood are empty. Should the district close schools again soon, Riley would like to see public entities invest in the properties to create community centers.

“We have to go back to the drawing table and say, ‘What are we going to get out of this for our youth, our children, and how are we going to make it better for them?’” Riley said.

She pointed to the Boys and Girls Clubs’ investment at its JD Wagner Unit near East 24th Street and Elmwood Avenue as a success story of a community center keeping children occupied and teaching them life skills.

Dr. Cokethea Hill would also like to see things done differently this go around.

She was a school board member in 2010. She voted no to closing the school sites because she didn’t have information on student achievement at each school to help decide which buildings to close, adding she knew the district needed to close schools.

“What was a shock to me, and other board members that did not support repurposing, is that we would close school buildings absent a conversation about student achievement,” Hill recalled.

She now runs Blaque KC, a nonprofit focused on educational policy changes to help minority students get the best possible outcomes. Hill is also the vice-chair of the city’s plan commission.

Hill encourages district leaders to study the economic impacts of closing school sites as well as focusing on student achievement before making a decision.

“It is very hard to entice developers to come into a community that has three or four closed school buildings, we don't hear a family saying, ‘I’m choosing this community because of the number of closed schools,’ and so we really need to think about how do we prioritize the buildings we repurpose based on an economic impact study that hopefully, they'll commission,” she pointed out.

A decision on whether to repurpose more schools is still one of many considerations. For a schedule of this week's events hosted by KCPS, visit the district's online calendar.